As with every other September, now that school is back in session there seems to be twice as much traffic on the streets. People are more anxious, they’re hurrying more, and they’re moodier. While the stress commuting to work places on our health (and the health of the environment) has been well-documented, as individuals we tend to overlook just how much it weighs on us and affects our overall happiness.
Commuting to work can feel like being trapped in one place.
How do you get to work? I currently have two options: 1) transit, which takes an hour; or 2) cycling, which takes 45 minutes. In warmer months I cycle – my preferred method – but in winter months I begrudgingly pack my bike away and switch to transit. Driving is out of the question for me because of the expense of it and because I really don’t need (or want) a car living in downtown Toronto – but for some there’s no other option but to drive.
Regardless of how we get to work, for most of us options for commuting are limited – which includes the option to not commute (aka, telecommute). Commuting is a burden we’re stuck with, but it’s not hopeless.
Escape Commuting Hell Using This One Simple Trick
To understand why commuting is so hard on us, it helps to step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s true that commuting can be hell because it’s time-consuming, expensive, frustrating, and dangerous – but there’s a more visceral reason commuting sucks so bad:
Commuting always “beats” us.
Consider the competitive mindset we fall into when we’re in traffic. When we think of leaving early to avoid the mad rush we say that we’re trying to “beat” traffic. When we see a traffic light changing ahead, or another vehicle slowing us down, or a guy trying to cut in, we compete with them to “win” something.
So what is it that we think we’re winning?
We think we’re winning back what commuting takes from us: our time, our money, our frustration, our safety. If I can get through that traffic light before it turns red, I’ve won. If I can beat the traffic before it gets heavy, I’ve won. If I can speed past the guy who just cut me off, I’ve won.
What we don’t realize is that all the effort, energy and pressure we put on ourselves to beat traffic volume, road rules, and other commuters is really ultimately about trying to regain a feeling of control over ourselves. But the reality is we can’t control traffic, and if we try to “beat” it we will always, always lose.
That is, until you change the game.
There is one thing, and only one thing, you have any measure of control over when it comes to commuting and fighting traffic: Yourself. The active responses we make to commuting stress – racing to beat the red light, for example – are not obligations placed on us by traffic; they are choices. The act of fighting with traffic in order to beat it is a choice we are making.
So what’s the alternative choice?
Simple. Don’t fight it. Don’t sign yourself up for a battle you simply cannot win. Make the choice to get there when you get there. Is that red light about to change? Make the choice not to rush it. Is traffic heavy today? Make the choice to not care, because you’ll still get there. Is there a bicycle in front of you slowing you down? Make the choice to not be annoyed by it.
Making the choice to not fight with traffic is the only way you can actually beat it.
There Are Choices You Can Make
1. Choose to give yourself 15 or 20 minutes extra to get there.
You’d be surprised how a few extra minutes sets you free.
2. Choose not to rush red lights.
This one is so simple, but it will make the hugest difference in your commute stress. Don’t believe me? Just try it one day and see how it feels. I guarantee it will make a difference.
3. Remember this mantra: Not my issue.
Everyone else can be a cranky pants on the road – but that doesn’t mean you have to be. When you encounter other commuters who continue to think they can “beat” traffic, just sit back and say this to yourself: “It’s not my issue.” You can even have a laugh at their expense – I do all the time.
Of course there are situations where it is your issue – like if another commuter puts you in danger. I used to get angry on my bike when cars would come into the right lane directly beside (like I’m talking an inch from killing me) to speed around a left-turning car or a slow-moving streetcar. But then it occurred to me that I still have a choice: I can anticipate these situations before they happen – and instead stay back (or even pull over) until all the cars have rushed past. What’s the hurry? You’ll see all the cars you let go ahead at the next red light anyway. 😉
4. Try a different route.
We can forget that we’re not married to one specific route. My cycling commute to work has undergone many revisions in order to cut out the maximum amount of stress (like the stress a dangerous intersection causes). You may be limited in your choices – but even the tiniest little revision to your route can make a big difference simply because it’s a choice you’ve made.
Comparatively, my commute isn’t so bad, even though at the end of the day I wonder how I could put that 1.5-2 hours commuting time to better use. I might even be able to write two blogs a week, rather than one. ☺ So I’ll continue to dream of a day when commuting to work is no longer necessary – but until that day comes, managing the stress of it will be an ongoing effort.
While you’ll never fully remove the stress of commuting from your life, you can make little choices here and there, and each choice you make chips more of the burden away from you. Choice is synonymous with freedom, and there are always choices to be made – you just have to look for them.