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How to Use Your Commute to Your Advantage

Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

When living in a major metropolitan area it is unfortunately a part of our lives that we will have some sort of lengthy commute. This time spent commuting can not only be frustrating, but also easily squandered, it is all too easy to be sitting on the train ruminating about something that annoyed you at work, maybe reading work emails, or just scrolling through things that are unhealthy for you mentally and emotionally, on your phone. Whether you are biking, driving, or taking public transportation you can, instead of falling into negative traps, use this time to better your emotional wellbeing. Here are a few tips on how to maximize this time to your benefit:

  • Find The Best Way to Commute: First and foremost, if you don’t have to drive to work, don’t! Driving in the city can cause even the saintliest person to experience road rage. That anger from getting cut off can linger all day if you let it. Try to identify ways to get to work that are more controllable. The CTA or Metra will give you more time to do what you want. Love being outside? Try biking to work, you get exercise, it’s better for the environment, and you got to engage in your hobby while heading to work!
  • Calm Yourself: Your commute can, if you choose, be a time to unwind. If you had a stressful day at work, this is time to practice mindfulness, process what was happening, or even zone out and relax. If you’re not careful this buffer time between obligations can slip by and you are still stressed when you get home.
  • Cut Distractions: Is there an app that just eats your time? Delete it. It is so easy to get on Reddit and just keep scrolling. This can be helpful, but also easily can be problematic. Pay attention to whether or not you are mindlessly scrolling and taking in negative information while you’re doing it. This can be used in a positive way, maybe you are practicing self-care by looking at pics, gifs, or posts that bring you joy, just be mindful about what you are taking from this action. Another distraction is work email. If it can wait, don’t check your email while you’re commuting. Ideally, this is time to separate work and your personal life, if you don’t utilize that buffer it is easier to get burned out and stressed.
  • Do Something Enjoyable: Now that we discussed what to avoid, let’s take a look at what to indulge. Do you like to read? Now’s the time. Do you like podcasts? Get a queue going, preferably something that is different from your work. If you are an attorney, don’t listen to law podcasts, maybe a travel podcast, or sports podcast. Do you like video games? Maybe now is the time to get that Nintendo Switch you’ve been wanting. Make sure you are playing games that you find pleasurable and not games that will get you frustrated.

It is so easy to be frustrated with our commute times and easy to waste that time. Instead, identifying common traps, focusing on how to avoid them, and focusing on those things you find to be productive or useful can turn this frustrating time that can feel like a waste in to some of the most positive parts of your day. This is a time where you get to focus on yourself, do what is helpful and healthy for you. Try to take public transportation or bike to work instead of driving so you can focus on things you find healthy and enjoyable. If you do have to drive, podcasts can be incredibly helpful, but regardless of how you commute, don’t waste the time, use it to feel better and get yourself prepared for where you are going next.

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