My total daily commute is two hours, one hour into the office and one hour back home, and if that sounds bad, you should talk to some of my coworkers. The hours we spend commuting in the car or on public transportation can feel like a time suck, which is why I try to make them as useful as possible. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m popping out my laptop on the train or emailing people while I’m walking home (usually). Since the commute eats up my time to veg out on the couch, watch a show, or read a book, I try to get that same feeling of self-care while walking home or riding public transportation. Turns out that, for me, commuting is a great time for a mental health break.
How I Use My Commute For a Mental Health Break
- Read. I especially love reading on my morning commute. It wakes up my brain and gets me focusing intensely on one thing (aka the opposite of social media), which prepares me to do my best work. I’m obsessed with reading as it is, so this is a two-for-one: a relaxing, fun thing to do that also gets me zoned in for the workday. (Here are some shiny new titles to pack for your own commute.)
- Listen to music. I don’t often listen to podcasts on my commute, but I do love to pull up a playlist and zone out. In the morning, I gravitate toward songs that wake me up and put me in a good mood for the day, while in the evening, I’ll choose more chill tracks. The music I choose gets me in the right frame of mind to either tackle my work or wind down for the night.
- Daydream. I spend my workdays focusing intensely on just a few tasks with little to no breaks in between, so zoning out on the train or during my walk home gives my brain the break it needs. I like to fiddle around with ideas for side projects, write, doodle, or daydream about anything: the book I’m reading, a new show, a vacation coming up. I value these introspective moments where I can think and dream without having to force myself back to the task at hand.
- Mindfully tune in to my surroundings. This is the opposite of daydreaming, but I’ll often do both in one commute. I like to notice a few things going on around me and ground myself in my body for a moment or two during my trip. I’ll watch the morning fog roll in on the way into the city, notice the flecks of dust floating in the sunlight on the train platform, or just close my eyes and feel my breathing. Those quiet moments center me before or after a long day.
- Work, if I really need to catch up or get ahead. I’m not one of those commuters who’ll pull out my laptop, fire up my WiFi hotspot, and create a moving office for myself (more power to you if that’s your thing!), but I will answer the occasional email or jot down a story idea. I try to weigh how I’ll feel doing the task now (stressed, or relieved to get it out of the way?) or putting it off until I get home or start work the next day. If it’s less stressful to do it right there on the train, then I’ll get it done.
Self-care comes in many forms. If you spend a long time at work or commuting to and from it, it’s important to take time for yourself whenever you can, even if that means meditating on the subway or sneaking in mindful awareness at a traffic light. Your commute might be long, but if you leave it mentally refreshed and ready for what comes next, it’ll never feel like a waste of time.