One of the biggest pros about the past 18 months has been kissing goodbye to the daily commute. We said so long to sweaty train carriages and replacement bus services and hello to an extra hour in bed and a blissfully stress free mornings.
As a result, many of us noticed a better work life balance with more time to pursue our hobbies, spend time with family or just make the most of being at home. However, this week saw the government’s recommendation to work from home fully lifted and many companies are insisting on employees returning to the office at least part time.
To prepare you for the return to the daily grind, we’ve called upon Stephanie Taylor, health and wellbeing expert at StressNoMore, for her top tips to avoid commuter burnout and reframe your journey to work as a positive time in your day.
Why is commuting stressful?
A huge part in reframing the commute is understand what it is about it that we find so stressful. “Firstly, we need to consider the psychological effects that unpredictable modes of transport have on us, as well as how busy rush hour queues and the sheer volume of people has on our emotional wellbeing,” says Stephanie.
“According to a recent study, the commute can induce stress due to lack of control associated with congestion, crowding and unpredictability, where mood was found to be lower than during other daily activities. After having so much control over remote working schedules, workers may find the sudden unpredictability difficult to bear.”
Then, there’s the length of time you spend commuting which can have a range of effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. “You may be travelling alone in a car for long periods of time, feeling increasingly lonely and getting caught up in a cycle of over-thinking. Or you may return to packed trains or buses, finding it anxiety-inducing after social distancing for so long.
“These, combined, can affect our mood when we arrive at work and impact our productivity and relationships with colleagues. Having a high stress response on your commute home can also affect how easily you can relax in the evenings and switch off at night to get a quality night’s sleep.
As well as a negative effect on our mental health, Stephanie also warns of an impact on our physical wellbeing, too. “There are also proven physical downsides of commuting, such as aching joints from uncomfortable seating, standing for long periods in hot, crowded environments, increased blood pressure and negative cardiovascular health effects from high levels of stress and the higher chance of unhealthy “on-the-go” eating. These physical effects can have long term effects on your health dependant on the length of your daily commute and how you spend your time commuting.”
How can I make the commute better?
Luckily, Stephanie has a simple 6 step plan to making the commute more bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.
1. Plan Ahead
“You must plan for the week before setting off on your journey on Monday morning. By mapping out your route, you can check the journey lengths and times, whether there is any maintenance planned for the road or train line and, plan an alternative route accordingly. This will cause less stress during your journey and might even leave you valuing your commute as a time for relaxation before and after a long day in the office.”
2. Distract yourself
“When commuting, there’s nothing worse than staring out the window or listening to your noisy neighbour chatting on the phone. Make sure you have something to distract yourself and stimulate your brain, such as reading a book or listening to music or a podcast to pass the time.”
3. Comfort is key
“It’s already enough that the seats are not always comfortable during a commute, so choose your shoes and clothing wisely. Pack an extra pair of comfortable shoes, a jumper (if it’s cold) and anything else which will make the journey a bit more bearable.”
4. Don’t rush
“Rushing is a major factor as to why the commute can be so stressful. With factors such as transport delays, cancellations or traffic, the unpredictability can make it easy to fall into the cycle of rushing to get to and from work. But, when you’re rushing, you use extra physical and mental energy, which increases levels of stress, weaken your immune system and interfere with your energy levels.
“To overcome this, make sure you plan your journey ahead of time, looking at any planned works on your journey, lose the ‘race’ mentality, leave a little bit earlier and always consider alternative routes for when problems do occur.”
“When getting back into the routine of a daily commute, it all comes down to preparation to prevent commuter burnout. Consider what you can get ready the night before, such as healthy snacks for the train, your lunch, and a bag of your work belongings, to ensure you’re not rushing around beforehand.
“Communicate with your boss and colleagues if you are faced with any delays, as this will eliminate your need to rush and stress about getting to work. And if there are any expected delays, ask whether it’s possible to work from home for a few days until your route is clear again.
If the commuter life is really not working for you, book in a meeting with HR or your manager. Forward thinking companies that care about the morale and mental health of their staff will be open to compromise. Always ask to chat through your individual situation and see if you can come to an arrangement that makes everyone happy.