Published: 09September 2021. Written by: Joanna Sommerville.
You might be dreading going back into the office, but your journey to and from work can provide a welcome moment of peace, an opportunity to get fit, or even a space to train your brain. Here’s how to shift your mindset, making your commute something to look forward to.
After 18 months of clocking on and off with little more than a hop, skip and a jump down the hall to get to the office, the reality of a busy commute is leaving a lot of us feeling cold about returning to work.
‘Commuting has rarely been stress-free,’ explains Dr Audrey Tang, Chartered Psychologist, Wellbeing Expert and Author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience. ‘The usual anxiety has been compounded by the pandemic, making the experience of being in a busy, crowded place even less palatable. On top of that, the thought of disrupting a now familiar working from home routine – and the healthy habits you may have built into your day in place of your journey – can reduce the appeal of commuting even more.’
If you can reframe the way you think about your commute and consider it ‘me time’ that you can totally dedicate to yourself, then there are some serious mental and physical benefits to be had. Changing up the way you use your commute is a fast-track way to get more out of your day, feel more positive, reduce stress, get fitter – and even learn something new.
Making your commute a more social experience can make it an enjoyable part of your day. Studies found that people reported having a more positive commute when they spoke to strangers while using public transport. If, like most of us, talking to people you don’t know sends a shiver up your spine, using your commute to catch up with friends is a great way to pass the time, as building healthy relationships can help you cope with stress better too. Pop them on speaker phone if you’re in the car or simply drop them a WhatsApp if you’re not driving. It might make their day, too.
Have a laugh
Download your favourite funny podcast and hunker down. Not only will it distract you from your actual commute, but studies show that laughter releases feel-good chemicals in your brain called endorphins, which improve your mood, reduce stress and may even boost your immune system. Now that really should make you smile.
Energise first thing
You don’t have to work up much of a sweat before your 9am meeting to make your commute count as cardio. Swap four wheels for two and try to cycle to the office – or even just the train station – a few times a week. If running is your thing, lace up your trainers and start pounding the pavements – but simply walking is better than a sedentary commute.
Here are a few things you can do to make your walk work even harder:
- Invest in a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch, FitBit, Samsung or Garmin device and aiming to track the recommended 10,000 steps a day will be far easier and more fun.
- While walking, swing your arms briskly in a pumping motion, as this alone can increase your calorie burn by 5-10%.
- Incorporate interval training – alternating between moderate, fast and slower recovery walking bursts – to fire up your body’s metabolism, which is key for burning fat.
- If walking becomes your new way to commute, be sure to wear trainers, or shoes with a flexible sole.
If you’re feeling anxious about your commute, there’s never been a better time to try meditation. A study into how effective meditation apps are for mental wellbeing revealed that, after eight weeks of using the popular app Headspace, participants experienced a 31% reduction in anxiety. Got to be worth a try, right?
Take a deep breath
Sometimes simple things can be the most effective, and using your puff to ease stress or anxiety on your commute requires zero additional effort.
‘We are so used to spending time in our own space, going back to being in crowds often creates a response called “flight or fight’’,’ explains Nevsah Karamehmet, Breath Coach, Vedic Meditation Teacher and Founder of Breath Hub.
‘Although the fight-or-flight response and the changes caused by it are primarily unconscious functions, there is a way to calm the body down through breathwork,’ says Karamehmet.
‘Deep belly breathing utilises the lower parts of the lungs and expands the belly, as opposed to shallow chest breathing, which only utilises the upper chest,’ Karamehmet explains. ‘It stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps the body’s relaxation response, reducing blood pressure, bringing the heart rate down, lowering stress levels and improving your mood,’ she explains.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below the ribcage if possible – skip this step if you’re driving or getting strange looks from fellow passengers!
- Inhale deeply through the nose and let air fill your abdomen. Exhale slowly through the nose as you relax your abdomen (the hand on your chest should be relatively stable as the hand on your belly rises and falls with each breath).
- Keep breathing like this for five to 10 minutes or until you feel calm and relaxed.
‘Yoga is full of flows designed to make you feel empowered,’ explains Kirsty Lowe, Founder and Director of Sweat Studios. ‘And there are a number of less obvious poses that can help you attack your day with confidence.
‘Our body language impacts how we feel and how we are perceived. Emitting confidence is often the first step to feeling confident. So standing or sitting tall throughout your day with your shoulders back and holding your head high are all important in giving us the actual confidence we need.’
So what’s the secret? ‘Poses that activate the muscles in our back, enabling us to stand tall with our shoulders back and our chins lifted, are great not just for ensuring we have good posture, and don’t suffer from a bad back. They will also do wonders for how we feel about ourselves and, accordingly, how others see us.’
Want to give it a try? ‘You can practise yoga on your commute with a simple mountain pose,’ says Lowe. ‘Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Plant your feet firmly into the ground, pressing down the balls of your feet below your baby and big toes and the outer edge of your heels.
‘Draw up through the arch in your foot, engage your thigh muscles and lightly squeeze your bottom. Lengthen your tailbone to the floor and engage your core muscles by drawing your belly button up and underneath your lower ribs. Draw your shoulder blades lightly together as you let your shoulders fall away from your ears and your arms hang heavy.
‘Stretch the top of your head to the ceiling. Breathe in and out through your nose, focusing on lengthening your spine on an inhale and grounding down through your feet on an exhale. Not only will you improve your balance on a moving train or bus, you’ll start your day with a confident stance and mindset to take you through your day.’
Feeling shy? You can do this sitting down, too: grounding your feet and lengthening your spine instead of slouching.
Invest in yourself
Sassy cross-stitch? Coding? Learning French? We all have something we’ve been meaning to do but never find time for. Reframe the way you look at your commute and you’ll see a window of time just for you en route. Want to learn a new language? Download Babbel and aim for a 10-15 minute session a day. Learning like this is known as ‘microlearning’ and can be an effective way to learn a new skill. Considering a career change and want to reskill? Why not use your commute to learn to code with the Enki app, or explore the world of marketing and social media with Hubspot’s free courses. And if you just want to be better read and broaden the scope of your knowledge, then listen to a Ted talk on your commute.
Worried about what happens once you get to the office? Don’t be. Read our guide on how to make the transition back to group working.