Well-Being//

17 Ways to Make Your Commute Less Stressful

Your ride doesn’t have to be draining. It can even be fun.

 Craig Shuttlewood/Getty Images

The average American’s commute takes 25.4 minutes each way, and research shows that the psychological stress of the commuting experience can take a serious toll on employees, both mentally and physically.

Whether it’s the stand-still traffic that makes you anxious, train delays that put you on edge or the bustling crowds that ruin your experience, commuting has its pitfalls, and we’re all too familiar with the stress that comes with the journey.

We asked our Thrive community about the various ways they deal with commuting anxiety, and make their rides less stressful — and even fun.

Which of these will you try?


Mixing up your podcasts

“As an outside salesperson, I spend the majority of my days in the car in Atlanta traffic. I have found listening to podcasts to be more of an anxiety relief than music. I pull from a variety of genres. NPR’s This American Life has always been a staple of mine, but over the past year, I have discovered an overwhelming amount of talented people who are contributing a wealth of positive information. Some of my favorites are The Thrive Global Podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression, How It Is (Hello Sunshine), and Untangle, the Podcast from Mediation Studio.”

—Randa Vandenack, outside sales rep, Atlanta, GA


Inventing stories about other drivers

“When traffic is at a standstill, I look at drivers in the cars next to me and create stories about them, imagine who they are and what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes I make them out to be lonely wives who become FBI agents at night or kids who turn into tiny ants and spy on their parent etc. Yes, I let my imagination run wild. I also finish an 8oz bottle of warm water with lemon. No matter how crazy my morning is, by the time I get to work — I am as zen as a Buddhist monk in his temple.”

—Tami Shaikh, writer and citizenship coordinator, Orange, CA


Singing out loud

“I read somewhere that if you are singing, you will be happy and relaxed. For me, that means Sirius/XM radio alt 80s channel with the volume turned up so I cannot hear myself singing along. It really works!”

—S.A., sales and marketing executive, Washington, DC area


Turning the ride into a brainstorming session

“There are times when my commute into Manhattan (from The Bronx) can take four hours. Oftentimes, I will let my mind float. I am booked and busy during the work day, and having time to do nothing but think is precious. I have come up with ideas and thought them through to viability during these blessedly open periods.”

—Jennefer Witter, public relations, New York, NY


Cracking open a thriller

“I read books — mostly suspenseful thrillers or ghost stories. When I’m trying to figure out the mysteries that the story is working to reveal, my mind is active and engaged and I feel fresh when I get to work. It serves as a problem-solving warmup for my brain, and my energy lasts until I can get some more reading in during my lunch break! It helps me ease any stress and anxiety about the day ahead and by focusing my brain on something other than work.”

—Rebecca Taylor, technology, New York, NY


Doing the heavy lifting the night before

“Before the commute is just as important as during the commute. I prepare myself the night before as much as possible so that getting into the car is as calm as possible. During the commute in the morning I listen to podcasts that are more inspirational and motivational to get me pumped up for the day.”

—Randy Ksar, social media manager, San Jose, CA


Getting lost in a story

“I make sure an interesting novel from Audible is playing. Getting lost in the story helps me take a step back. Listening to fiction also helps everyone develop empathy. So listening to novels when I can’t be doing other things helps me reduce stress, gives my subconscious a chance to do deeper work and helps me create better relationships.”

—Mareo McCracken, software sales, San Diego, CA


Turning your car into a learning lab

“A long commute can be really draining for me. I’ve learned that changing my perspective about this time changes my experience with it and reaction to it. So instead of anxiety, which is exhausting, I lean into something that energizes me. If I’m driving, I’ve learned to turn my car into a learning lab, a university of sorts. I listen to podcasts, books on tape or a great interview on NPR. My love of learning is energizing grow so instead of feeling anxious, I feel lit up. If I’m not driving, I use the time to meditate. Nothing like meditating on a train or bus and training your mind to gently focus, even with distractions. That helps me center, relax and prepare for the day ahead.”

—Cha Tekeli, executive coach/sales maven, Santa Monica, CA


Playing mind games

“I make up little mini-races in my head. Even when I’m stuck in traffic. Ha, I beat you to the next junction, little red Corsa. It totally counts. Even at 5 mph.”

—Wendy Y., copywriter, Manchester, UK


Having your own private concert

“I listen to classical music at a very high volume. And it’s powerful pieces like Puccini. I feel like I’m in this cocoon with a private concert. By the time I arrive at my destination, I feel ready to jump up and say ‘bravo!’”

—John Whyte, M.D., chief medical officer, Washington, DC


Becoming better at mindfulness

“How often do we miss the amazing details of the world around us because we are worrying about what comes next? Simply noticing my surroundings, the trees outside the train window, the feeling of my being grounded firmly in my seat, calms the anxious brain. It has the added benefit of lengthening my gratitude list each time. Gears that are greased are easier to shift!”

—Robert Cox, licensed professional counselor, Richmond, MO

Visualizing yourself winning

“I also tend to visualize successful outcomes for any professional or personal pursuits I have. If I have an upcoming speaking engagement for work or an upcoming race I’m running in, I picture myself being confident and achieving my goals.”

—Reena Vokoun, health and wellness, Mountain View, CA


Enjoying gratitude and lemon water

“I’ve been commuting two+ hours a day in the D.C. metro area for almost two years. I’ve found that drinking ice cold water with lemon through my reusable straw, with absolutely no music or podcasts, while thinking about what and how much in my life I have to be grateful for, along with deep breathing, have all helped immensely when it comes to peaceful commuting, and not letting angry drivers ruin your good mood.”

—Megan, corporate recruiter, Baltimore, MD


Leaning on a trusty favorite

“Sometimes I put on the Tim Ferriss show podcast. I am fascinated by Tim’s ability to ask story provoking questions and his guests’ stories.”

—Hilary Burns, entrepreneur, Westport, CT


Learning French

“I don’t like to waste time, and being stuck in traffic used to aggravate me because it felt like a big fat waste of time. Ever since I’ve discovered Coffee Break French, a language learning podcast, my mornings have become productive, and thus have made me happier during my commute. The reality is, I wouldn’t find time to study French if it weren’t for traffic, so I’ve learned to associate morning traffic with something positive — growing intellectually and exercising my brain.”

—Tom Anderson, COO, Denver, CO


Tuning out the world

“I like to put my headphones in and not play any music to avoid people talking to me! As a professional dancer and fitness instructor, I’m surrounded by noise all day. Instead, I people watch and try to read every single ad in the train car. Sounds weird but it’s actually relaxing and keeps me alert and informed!”

—Michelle Brugal, dancer/fitness instructor, New York, NY


Epic journaling

“Whenever I have to get on a 5-7 hour plane ride to the West Coast, I bring my journal and go to town! The quiet time (with no kids, no husband, no clients, or no one needing something from me) is where I have some of my biggest breakthroughs. I’ve created business plans, mapped out renovations for our home, audited my time and productivity, and created vision plans for the next quarter. I know I’m not going anywhere fast, so I take my time and dream. It’s actually saved me a lot of time, money, and energy when I stop and reassess my life and my plans.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content expert, Ontario, CA

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