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How I Learned To Love My Commute (And How You Can Too)

12/05/2017 15:00 | Updated 21 August 2017
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Like thousands of workers across the UK, every day I commute from a sleepy suburban town into London for work. But unlike the majority of commuters, I do it with a smile on my face.

Now I realise that may sound like one big lie, but let me reassure you it is possible to enjoy spending long periods of time on a train with someone's sweaty armpit in your face - you just have to train yourself in the art of happy commuting.

My journey to this travelling smugness started back in August, when my boyfriend and I decided to buy a flat in a little-known Hertfordshire town called Royston.

My boyfriend works in Cambridge and I work in London, so moving halfway between the two seemed liked the fairest option. We rented there first but soon fell in love with countryside life (the fields! The space! The pubs!) so last summer we took the plunge and bought our own place.

I didn't love the commute by any means when we were renting, but somehow my feelings around it became so much worse when we became homeowners.

I'd sit on the train home and would feel the knots in my shoulders getting that little bit tighter throughout the painfully slow journey. I found myself working out how long ago my colleagues would have walked through their front doors in London and I'd be overwhelmed with jealousy.

I'd silently rage over fellow commuters eating smelly food or listening to loud music and I'd spend my time scrolling through work emails, bringing the day's stresses onboard with me. On more than one occasion I arrived home with a headache.

It all came to a head a few weeks after moving in, when there were some serious delays and I realised I wouldn't be home until gone 8pm. When I finally got on a train I spent the entire journey struggling to hold back tears, thinking about the mortgage I'd just agreed to and feeling trapped.

I was stressed and I was anxious and I knew something needed to change. I couldn't move house so soon after paying the (extortionate) fees, so I was going to have to learn to love my commute.

My first step was to ditch the work emails, establish some work-life balance and download some mindfulness apps. While they did help me to chill out initially, after a few weeks I started to find them patronising - like someone telling you to "calm down" while you're in the midst of hot rage.

But the apps did teach me one thing: you can't change your commute, but you can change your mindset.

Instead of seeing my commute as precious time lost from my day, I started seeing it as an opportunity to have some much-needed me time. After all, when do you ever get an hour to yourself, where you know no one will talk to you?

For a couple of months I created a timetable of things to do each day while on the train, consisting of jobs I'd usually save up for the weekend alternated with things I actually wanted to do. It went something like this:

Monday: Read a book.
Tuesday: Order mum's Christmas present.
Wednesday: Watch something on iPlayer.
Thursday: Pay water bill, ring Nan.
Friday: Read newspaper.

I was astounded at how quickly these small changes improved my mental wellbeing. For the first time in months I arrived home feeling relaxed and I had more free time at weekends thanks to picking up odd jobs while on the train.

At first I stuck to this timetable regimentally so I wasn't tempted to slip into old habits, but as I felt my mood improving I switched the activities over depending on how I felt on the day - and now I don't bother making a timetable at all.

I always make sure I have a book, some headphones and a "to-do" list in my bag and pick a show to download and watch on my iPad once a week. If my train is delayed, I tell myself it's a good thing (more me time!) and I find a place on the platform to step into my own world.

As Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) comes to an end, I'd urge anyone reading this to think about the fact that every one of us has mental health, just as we have physical health. We go to the gym to keep our bodies in shape but we rarely take proactive steps to improve our mental wellbeing.

The theme of this year's MHAW is surviving or thriving, promoting the idea that we can all make changes in life to improve our resilience and ensure we're "thriving".

There are still days when I feel negativity rearing its ugly head on my commute - like when I don't get a seat or someone's eating one of those foul-smelling pies they sell at King's Cross - but I've definitely built up my resilience. I've accepted the fact that you can't control everything in life, but you can put your headphones in, switch off and crack open a window, with the knowledge that tomorrow will be better.

So if there's a part of your day that you dread, do something to address it. You'll be surprised at how big an impact a few small changes can make.

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