Commuting can be tedious, no matter the circumstances. Traffic is a nightmare, the tube can be packed, trains can get delayed. Even walking or cycling to your destination can come with frustrations.
Since we can’t avoid commuting altogether, why not take advantage of having to get from point A to point B? Better yet, why not try to make it a happy part of your day?
“Taking time to purposefully check in with ourselves, and ask how we are doing at various points throughout our day, will help us make choices and schedules that better align with things that make us happy,” says Dr. Jessica Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
A perfect time to integrate self-care and boost your wellbeing in your routine is on your commute, whether you’re going to work or meeting up with friends. Not only will this make you happier, but you’ll go into your destination more alert and happy – and who doesn’t want that?
Here are a few little ways you can use your travel to your advantage:
Focus on your favourite song
Studies have shown that happy music is aligned with mindfulness meditation, which can improve your mood and increase your awareness.
“Listen to one of your favourite songs over and over again, focusing on a different layer each time, such as the solo, harmonies, guitar, bass, and so on,” says Dr. Chandan Khandai, an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “Not only will your favourite song bring a lot of joy, it will also cultivate mindfulness as you listen to a particular part and filter out the others.”
Smell a calming scent
If there’s a scent that appeals to you and brings you a lot of joy, smell it before you head out the door. It could mean applying a citrus-scented lotion or playing with a lavender-scented putty.
“Research has shown that aromatherapy may be beneficial for your mental health. Lavender and mint are two popular essential oils that may calm you down and boost your mood,” Gold says.
Take a few deep breaths
When we feel extremely stressed or anxious, our body goes into a “fight or flight” aka “survival mode.” In this mode, you may start breathing faster and experiencing tension in your body.
“Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system response in our bodies, which brings us out of the ’fight or flight’ feeling, and into a more calm, ‘rest and digest’ type of feeling,” says Kate Rosenblatt, the senior clinical manager at Talkspace. “You can try this by taking three deep breaths, inhaling for four seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds.”
Pairing this practice with a part of your commute, such as getting on the bus or turning on your car, will make it easier to stick to, Rosenblatt says.
Catch up with a loved one offline
Even though you may have a lot on your plate, prioritise conversations with people who bring you joy and happiness.
“Call a friend, family member, or neighbour on the way to or from work. Catching up with people we love can make us feel supported and nurtured, which improves our mental health,” Gold says.
Visualize expressing yourself creatively
Creative expression, through mediums such as art or music, can help you understand how you are feeling, work through difficult emotions and build healthy coping mechanisms.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, you can still enjoy this hack and derive happiness from it, says Dr. Neha Chaudhary, the chief medical officer of BeMe Health.
“Try thinking about what you’d write, draw or take a photo of at this moment if you could,” Chaudhary says. “Visualising ways in which to channel creative energy can leave you feeling focused and boost your mood pretty quickly, even if you’re not actually making something then and there.”
Listen to your favourite podcast
Listening to a podcast or creator that makes you laugh may help you feel happier, Gold says.
“If you don’t have a favourite podcast yet, you may want to listen to one that isn’t work-focused or news-focused as those can be stressful,” she says.
Mental health podcasts may be helpful as they provide coping mechanisms to help ease stress and anxiety. Try to seek out a podcast from a source you trust, like a therapist or psychiatrist.
Prioritise a splurge
If you’re able to, change up your commute a little to give yourself a little reward. Maybe it means grabbing an indulgent latte before you head into the office or driving the scenic route to enjoy the beauty of nature on your way to an appointment.
“Finding a small item of joy can be anywhere we find meaning. We just need to practice intentionally weaving it in,” Rosenblatt says. She recommends giving yourself these treats continuously so you’ll have something to look forward to that’ll make you happy.
First Thing is a weekly series giving you tips and advice on how to enjoy your mornings. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, starting your day off right will make for a happier and healthier day. We’ll be sharing exercise advice, nutrition guidance, as well as ideas on forming new habits. (And no, the answer to a productive morning isn’t just setting an alarm for 5am!)