September is upon us, so for many the commute has returned to the pre-summer crush. The stress and anxiety associated with commuting is well known, and not only when public transport doesn't work as planned. The average commute for workers is around an hour a day, and studies show that commuting reduces wellbeing, with longer commutes having a greater impact. All that time adds up too. Just an hour a day commuting works out at 240 hours per year, the equivalent of an extra 30 working days.
One of the hardest elements of the commute is the lack of control. There's usually just one route to work and one realistic choice of transport. You are at the whim of traffic issues, strikes, breakdowns and signalling failures, and there's very little you can do about it, as changing jobs, work hours, or relocating are unlikely options in the short term.
But there is one choice you can make. Why not decide what you want from your commute? Is there anything you can do to take back control? Whether you want a space to switch off or to feel you've achieved something during your commute, you have the option to choose. It may seem unlikely, but it's possible to meditate during a crowded train or bus journey. There are many guides available online and lots of free meditation apps to guide you through the process.
Perhaps you need to feel some tangible progress, to have something to show for all those hours commuting. A few years ago I commuted for three hours a day, three days a week. I was also studying at University, and found that all the time on the train gave me the space to complete my required reading. As a result my stress about commuting was reduced, because studying during my commute gave me more freedom at other times. If you're not studying, using the commute to prepare for your work day can make you feel more in control and help you deal with a longer commute.
When it comes to finding something meaningful in your commute, you are only limited by your imagination. Commuters have taken up photography, painting, jewellery making, or even writing a novel. Although not compatible with traditional British sensibilities, another option may be to talk to your fellow commuters. A Greek study has suggested that contrary to participant expectations, people feel better when they talk to strangers on their commute. You don't have to take it as far as the group of commuters who arranged their own Christmas party, but even making a brief connection with a fellow commuter can have a positive effect upon your day.
For many of us, commuting is a fact of life. It can be a source of stress and frustration, but it doesn’t always need to be that way. If you accept your commute and choose how to make it work for you, there’s a chance to see it as something to look forward to rather than dread.
Chris Mounsher is a BACP registered humanistic counsellor working in private practice in Brighton and Haywards Heath. He offers both long term and short term counselling and has particular experience working with anxiety, addiction, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.
Epley, N., and J. Schroeder (2014) Mistakenly Seeking Solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143 (5) pp1980-1999