Do you get out of your car with a queasy stomach, a headache and your blood pressure registering through the roof? If you do, that energy vulture called stress may have sent your pulse skyrocketing. In a study conducted at the University of California at Irvine, researchers found that the stress of commuting takes a major toll on health. According to the study, it has direct physiological effects of raising blood pressure and releasing stress hormones into the body. Not only that, long commutes (more than 18 miles one way) may also increase the likelihood of having a heart attack due to exposure to high levels of air pollutants, which appears to be a risk factor for heart disease.
Although there is no antidote to stressful commuting, there are lots of ways to shoo off the energy vulture. Here’s how to thrive while you drive.
- Prepare in advance
One of the best ways to lessen the strain of road rage is to prepare everything the night before. Clothes, documents, attache cases, and even packed lunches should be set the day before to avoid the morning rush. With everything champing at the bit, you’d save plenty of time to do your morning routines, devour a good breakfast and enjoy special moments with the family. Best of all, you can dash out the highway free of traffic congestion.
- Sleep well and wake up early
A good night’s sleep rejuvenates the body. Make it a habit to have enough sleep and to rise early. If you are already stressed out the day before, an incomplete repose takes over cumulative stress effects into your life at work and at home. Your frustration levels at work eventually rise, your brainpower falters, and your mood at home sours. You have no energy left for enjoying life.
- Juggle your work hours
Why pack the freeways with all the other “9-to-5” ers when you can try a ten-to-six or an eight-to-four shift? Depending on your company’s work policy, try to check out other shifts that fit your lifestyle. Choose one that would help you get rid of energy-depleting stress and allow you to lighten your highway woes.
- Share your ride
It may be a hassle to coordinate your arrival and departure with another person or two, but carpooling is worth it. Studies show that ridesharing lowers commuter stress significantly. With carpooling, there is less air and noise pollution, less traffic congestion, and you can relax more while someone else does the driving.
- “Cocoon” in your car
Instead of getting worked up when traffic is at a standstill, utilize your time wisely. Listen to the radio or pop in some music tapes to take your mind off the stop-and-go driving and traffic tie-ups. If you like to read but just can’t have time to flip pages of a book, check out books on cassette. Many libraries have full-length books on tape as well as abridged versions. You can even learn a new language or do some car exercises like shoulder rolls, neck extensions and tummy tucks to help you stay awake and relax.
- Pillow your back and squirm
When you’re standing, the lumbar area of your spine (the lower portion) normally curves inward, toward your abdomen. However, when you’re sitting, it tends to slump outward squeezing your spinal disks and putting stress on them. According to back expert Malcolm Pope, Ph.D., director of the Iowa Spine Research Center at the University of Iowa, it helps to support your back by tucking a rolled towel or a pillow in that lumbar section. In cases of longer drives, since sitting in one position for longer than 15 minutes gradually stiffens you even with a back pillow, make necessary adjustments for a comfy ride. For instance, you can try putting most of your weight on one buttock and then the other. Then, shift the position of your seat or your buttocks slightly. You may even try sliding down in your seat and sit up again for fun.
- Work out after work
Since the evening rush is worse than the morning rush because of the compounded fatigue from the workday, it is best to wait out the traffic. Work out at a gym near your office or take meditation classes to relieve your stress. If you plan to go to dinner, see a movie or go shopping, try to do these things near work, delaying your departure enough to miss the maddening rush.
- Give yourself a break
It may be a good idea to give yourself some day off from work. Many companies today offer compressed working hours or longer working days to give way to work-free days for you to unwind.
- Move your office
If your job is a long drive ahead every day, inquire at work if the company would allow you to work at home some days of the week or if you can work near your place. An alternative work schedule would make you feel less tense and in control thereby reducing stress.
- Occasionally change your routine
An occasional change of commuting habits may be advisable too. Try walking or bicycling sometimes for a change. There’s nothing like a good walk to ease tension especially when it means you don’t have to get in your car and fight rush hour traffic.
By lessening the stress of getting to work, you are conserving enormous amounts of energy that may be lost over stressful commuting. It doesn’t only leave you a lot more energy to do your job and become more productive but it also makes you feel good and gives you a good reason to always start your day right.