Do you walk into your office in the morning feeling irritable and anxious from your commute? More of us are traveling longer to get to work. The average commute is 26 minutes, according the U.S. Census Bureau, which is the longest it as ever been historically. Plus, almost 20 percent of workers have commutes that are 45 minutes or longer. This commute time can make us feel bored, stressed, and even angry. Maybe we got cut off, suffered through heavy traffic, or just feel like we are wasting precious time.
Why not shift your mindset to make your commute a more pleasurable experience? That may sound impossible, but some mindful driving can do the trick. You can engage in mindfulness throughout your travel time to help you feel happier, calmer, and more focused throughout your day. Here’s what you can try for a stress-free commute.
Try This Before Driving
In order to start your stress-free commute in the right frame of mind, consider these steps before you even back out of your driveway.
- When you get into your car, acknowledge your intention to be mindful during your drive.
- Take a few deep breaths to calm your body and mind.
- Once buckled, become aware of your body as you sit quietly for a few moments. Feel your hands on the steering wheel, your body on the seat, and your foot on the pedal. Are you hot or cold? Are you tired or energetic? Are you calm or anxious?
- Recite this driving meditation written by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to encourage drivers to not get distracted by all the worries about how, when, and where you are going.
Before starting the car,
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
Try This While Driving
Practicing traditional meditation while you are driving can be a safety risk, but there are still some ways you can ‘focus on the now’ while the car is moving. First, pay attention to your breathing. Then relax your jaw and shoulders and loosen your fingers on the steering wheel, as they tend to tense up while driving. Next, expand your field of vision beyond the traffic to include trees, architecture, and cloud formations. Try to stay aware of your body, what you see, and what you hear so that you remain present as you drive. If your mind wanders, just pull yourself back to the present moment.
Kate Hanley, a yoga and meditation teacher and author of Stress Less and the forthcoming title How To Be A Better Person, suggests another really clever trick while driving called “Road Grace”. Meant to be the opposite of road rage, this approach involves practicing compassion to the other drivers who may be upsetting you. When someone cuts you off, instead of letting your anger boil up, send some positive energy in their direction. Try to see the situation from their perspective; maybe they are in a rush to visit a sick relative in the hospital. This exercise can change your negative emotions into more peaceful ones like compassion and understanding.
Try This When Stopped
Being stopped can be a major source of stress and frustration when we are trying to get to our destination on time. Many of us instinctively reach for our phone to check messages or scroll through social media. Instead, try these tips to keep your cool and return to a mindful state.
- Taillight Meditation: Ronald Siegel, author and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, suggests drivers practice a taillight meditation while sitting behind other cars. Simply focus on the colors and shapes of the taillights in front of you while remaining relaxed and alert.
- Red Light/Stop Sign Meditation: Instead of getting angry and frustrated that you are stuck at a red light or stop sign, smile at it and thank it for helping you return to the present moment. Think of them as friendly reminders to be mindful even amongst the hustle and bustle of the traffic around you
- Soak In Nature: When you are stopped, look around and savor nature’s beauty. Notice the luscious trees, colorful flowers, and ever-changing clouds in the sky. Nature provides so many health benefits to us, offering peace and comfort.
Try This When You Arrive
Kate Hanley also recommends that commuters not rush out of their car when they arrive at work. It is incredibly beneficial to create a buffer between home, driving, and work by practicing some mindfulness. This will help you transition more easily and improve your overall mood. Take three deep breaths and use that time to do some positive self-talk to get motivated for a successful day ahead. When you start to feel stressed later in the day, bring yourself back to that special time in your car when you felt so relaxed and energized to help you get back on track for the rest of your day.
How do you handle a stressful commute? Let us know in the comments below.