How to Handle the Work Commute Stress

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One thing I noticed about long commutes was that they tended to take all my energy away. By the time I got to work my coffee was gone and I was tired again, I had wasted precious energy on 40 minutes or more of car-dancing, I had already talked to seven people at red lights, and I had panicked about traffic as well as mostly everything in the world.

I couldn’t sustain this any longer and I knew I had to do something. I’ve kind of narrowed it down into four basic strategies:

1. Wake Up Early and Leave Early
The classic mistake: wake up late, leave late, freak out for an hour in the car, get to work late. It’s true that the initial moment of getting out of bed is close to impossible, but when I wake up early, stretch, and drink a little water, I’m eternally grateful for the extra few minutes. I can leave earlier, too. And then in the car when I have to stop and let a pedestrian cross the road, instead of shouting “WHY IN GOD’S GREEN EARTH IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?” I can let the pedestrian go in a pleasant manner.

2. Pace Yourself
I’ve started trying different things to conserve my energy in the mornings. The first thing I realized is that, as much as I may want to listen to energetic rock-and-roll while chugging espresso at 7 a.m., it helps a lot to put on some soothing music and just calmly zone out during the car or bus ride. It saves my energy for when I get to work and keeps me in the right mood for it. The other thing that helps is to get your lunch and/or breakfast ready at night, so you can just grab it without rushing on your way out.

3. Or, Don’t
Feel free to get excited on your way to work. Car rides can be fun if you have the right tunes, the right weather, and the right mood. Roll down your window, drink your espresso drink (or your green tea), and think happy thoughts.

4. For Goodness Sake, Talk Yourself Out of It
As the cars creep inch by inch down the highway, stopping short just so, it helps to keep reminding yourself: I will not stress. It’s okay. I will not stress. This is not the end of the world. This also has to do with pacing yourself. What’s the point of wasting all that energy so early on? I ask myself all the time: Is this situation really worth feeling pure terror over? If not, just relax. Breathe. It’s going to be all right. Calm yourself with words.

Going nuts in the morning is no fun. But when I wake up early, pace my energy (or don’t), and remain composed in the face of unfortunate driving conditions, I find that the long morning commute is totally manageable and even a good chance to start your morning off right.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlotte May 4, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I’m very thankful for my 10 minute commute to work.. But I still find myself leaving early just in case there’s traffic.

Carlos May 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I used to have a long commute to work and most of it involved walking and a bus. It was rough! Atleast when you have a car you won’t be rained on or dealing with the outside temperatures.

Veronica S. May 5, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Good ideas! I hate being late so I always end up at work way too early. When this happens, I go for a walk or hit the company gym and make use of valuable pre-work time doing something that will make me feel better before starting my day.

Meagan May 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Donnie B, I like your first strategy. Wake up early and leave early. I do as much as I can the night before and make sure the kids do the same. No last minute searching for shoes, homework, etc. and I think the kids start their day in a better mood.
Once they are set I can drive to work relaxed, no matter how much traffic there is. And I’m at my desk with my breakfast, or reading the news, in plenty of time. Never late, in a good mood.

Stella May 7, 2015 at 11:35 am

It would be great if I could relax on a bus or train but I have to drive to work. One tip for everyone who drives – service your car regularly. Check the tires, too. Who wants to be delayed because a car has broken down? It could be dangerous to you if you have to get out to get help.
Didn’t bring to bring you all down, just trying to help.

Jim May 7, 2015 at 11:47 am

I’ve got a great commute with plenty of time to listen to all the news & sports updates. What’s not so great is the guy in the lane next to me, blasting away his music while we’re stuck in traffic. Even with the windows closed the vibrations from the beat drive me nuts. He’ll never hear a siren coming and that could be dangerous.

Melissa May 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm

So simple- if your car has player, pop in the CD of the book you’ve been meaning to read but never have the time for at home. What about a language course? They say you can keep your mind young by learning new skills and practicing them. Check the public library to borrow some CDs for free.

Nancy E May 8, 2015 at 12:36 pm

I know what you mean, it’s not worth the stress, it’s just a drive. It’s the other drivers who cause the stress. They are in a hurry while you’re the one who starts out early. There’s no way to avoid that type of driver. You just have to be calm. My radio and my CDs are a source of relaxation while I’m stuck in a traffic jam. Just be sure you’ve taken care of your anti-freeze, well before the sweltering summer weather.

Toni May 11, 2015 at 9:48 am

When can we expect these street closures to end?! It takes me twice as long to get to work no matter how early I leave the house. Even after the repairs are finished the road is a mess with extra bumpy black top for really long stretches. My soothing solution is my travel cup of hazelnut coffee and a few cookies to with it. They are great in bumper to bumper crawling traffic!

Judy May 11, 2015 at 10:43 am

I have never been as glad as I am now that I can take a bus to work and leave my car at home every other week. I car pool to the bus with a friend of mine and it’s worked out great with the horrible snow & ice we had this past winter. I relax with music, or with a book, and the bus driver takes on all the stress of traffic & bad roads.

Rocky May 12, 2015 at 11:04 am

Today the traffic at the GWB was bumper to bumper. I rummaged around in the console and found a few really old CDs I had forgotten about. Instead of tracking the tie-up on the radio or on my phone I listened to some Grateful Dead music and chilled until the traffic jam was over. Got to work relaxed, in spite of the delay.

Grace M May 13, 2015 at 11:40 am

Trying to deal with the stress over the work commute is very challenging. I completely agree with making it a practice to leave earlier. Recently there was construction on my commute so I had to leave at least 15 minutes earlier to leave time to sit in the traffic it caused. Now the construction is over but I’ve kept the habit of leaving those 15 minutes earlier anyway. So much more relaxing to have that extra time!

Teresa May 13, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Oh yes! After getting everyone out of the house on time I run right out and jump in my car for the 40 minute commute to work. Soothing moments all the way. Luckily I have a great CD changer so I have a choice of music or lectures to listen to.

Jack May 14, 2015 at 11:41 am

Okay, this sounds a little silly but I drink decaf coffee before I get to work. No caffeine, no jitters on the way to work. Can’t say the same for the commute home because I drink the high octane stuff all day. But I’m not on a tight schedule to get home; the only thing waiting for me there is a whole bunch of chores!

Monica Thompson May 21, 2015 at 10:46 am

I have 1/2 hour commute and I got tired of listening to music and being annoyed by traffic. So now I listen to the audio books. This allows me to zone out from the stress and arrive at work in the morning and home at night without feeling wiped out.

Liz June 8, 2015 at 9:53 am

Where you live makes all the difference. Live near a major metro area like New York? It’s way more stressful than the drive once you cross the Delaware Water Gap.

Good tunes or an engaging audio book help, but I’m glad I drive alone most of the time. No one should be subject to the words that come out of my mouth when stuck in traffic.

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