Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Blog - 8 practical ways to make the most of your commute 4502

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Blog - 8 practical ways to make the most of your commute


Do you feel like you spend a huge chunk of your time traveling to and from work? Do you wish you could make better use of that time? Even if it means using that time to simply relax or decompress?

Research shows that in 2021, a one-way commute took employees an average of 25.6 minutes. Based on this data, employees will spend just over 9 days (or close to 222 hours) traveling to and from work in 2023.

That’s a lot of valuable time.

And if you’re commuting to and from a job that drains you, it’s a good idea to have some time before and after to fill yourself back up. As you travel, the stresses of your nursing career are probably on your mind no matter how hard you try to “turn it off.”

Let’s keep that from happening. Regardless of how long your commute is, you can turn that idle time into something positive that benefits you. Use it to ramp yourself up for a successful day ahead or use it to reflect on the moments you just experienced.

*Note: While driving, it's important to prioritize safety and alertness and keep your eyes on the road. Don’t do any of these tasks while driving if they distract you, make you drowsy, and/or inhibit your or others’ safety.

Listen to Podcasts or Audiobooks
You’ve probably heard of a podcast, which is an audio program downloaded from the internet, and audiobooks, which are recordings of books read aloud. Both are exceptional options for making your commute more productive, and there are millions of options out there. Whether you want something work-related to get your mind on the right track, or not work-related to escape from job stressors, there’s something for everyone.

To find podcasts that interest you, a good first step is to turn to a search engine. Type in whatever niche or topic you enjoy, like “financial wellness podcasts” or “mental health podcasts.” Browse the results until you find one you like.

When it comes to audiobooks, you can take a similar approach. If you’re currently reading a hard or soft cover book, search for it online using its title followed by “audiobook.” You could also browse the wide selection of books on Audible, but note that it has a monthly fee after the free trial. Many public libraries also use apps, such as Libby, OverDrive, Hoopla, or Librivox, which allow patrons to check out and play audiobooks for free on their phones or other devices.

Try Audio Journaling
Writing down your thoughts on paper is a stress-relief tactic that’s beneficial for multiple areas of health. Obviously, it’s unsafe to do while driving, so unless you use public transportation for your commute, writing in a journal is off the table. Audio journaling may be an option, though. This is when you record your thoughts and experiences by speaking into your smartphone or tablet instead of writing them down.  There are many great audio journaling apps you can download from app stores.

For an app-free option, use the dictation or voice-to-text feature on your phone to speak your thoughts. You can put them in a note or in a text or an email to yourself.

If you’re looking for a way to unwind during your commute, talk it out. Studies show that talking to yourself about your issues will help you let go of any bottled-up emotions. Researchers call it "affect labeling," which is a technique that helps lower your amygdala's reactivity when you’re stressed.

Do Deep Breathing Exercises
There are several benefits to deep breathing. It eases tension, clears the lungs, sharpens the mind, and improves sleep. Because deep breathing helps to relax the body and mind, it’s a great way to prepare for the day or unwind at the day’s end.

Follow these steps for a calming 4-4-8 breath exercise:
  1. Breathe in and out slowly to become aware of your breath.
  2. Let your breath flow in and out without effort.
  3. Inhale for a count of 4.
  4. Hold for a count of
  5. Exhale for a count of 8.
  6. Repeat 4 times.

Learn a Language
Do you want to be more productive during your travel time? Use your commute to learn a new language. Find an app or audio lesson, play it while driving, or pop in some headphones and listen to it on public transportation.

Why learn a new language? It gives you:
  • Improved cognitive abilities, such as enhanced memory and problem-solving skills
  • Greater cultural understanding and appreciation, which can boost your empathy
  • Expanded educational and career opportunities and higher employability
  • Better communication skills and the ability to connect with a wider range of people
  • Boosted confidence and personal growth through the acquisition of a new skill

Practice Mindfulness
Have you ever commuted to work and not remembered the drive or train ride? Your mind was probably on autopilot, naturally wandering from the present moment to the past or future. This is called mindlessness.

The opposite of that — mindfulness — can help lower stress, anxiety, and depression. Because it only requires thoughts, your commute is the perfect time to be more mindful. Try any of these exercises:
  • Breathe: If you pay more attention to the rhythm of your breathing, you can focus more on the present moment. During your commute, notice the pattern of your breath. Keep it natural — don’t worry about how long (or short) your breaths are. Think about where in your body you feel your breath. It might be in your stomach, throat, chest, or nostrils. One breath at a time, try to focus on how you feel.
  • Use your senses: Your 5 senses — sound, smell, sight, taste, and touch — can help you slow down and stay in the present. Take a moment and savor the here and now by focusing on what you hear, smell, see, taste, and feel.
  • Repeat a mantra: Select a word or phrase that speaks to you and repeatedly say it in your thoughts or aloud.
  • Body scan: Focus on a specific part of your body, such as your feet, neck, or tummy. Think about how it feels.

Change Your Mood With Music
You know that indescribable feeling you get when your favorite song comes on? Music is powerful — it can turn your entire mood around.

During your next commute, try the "iso principle," which is when you match music to your current energy or mood, then slowly shift it to the energy or mood you want to feel. If you're sad, listen to sad music first, then transition to happier songs. Research shows this method can help you shift your mood.

Disconnect for Quiet Time
Even more so than music, silence has healing properties.

Researchers found that spending the same length of time in silence can drop blood pressure and heart rate better than doing so while listening to calming music. Our bodies and minds deal with noise all day, and it's taxing. Continuous exposure to noise can cause higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure.

During your travel time, ditch anything that involves noise — yes, that includes some of our previous ideas listed here. Get comfortable with the quiet. Use the silence as an opportunity to regulate yourself, still your mind, and reflect on your day.

Relax Your Muscles
Is your body feeling tense? Make your commute more productive by stretching and relaxing certain muscles. You can do these exercises safely while driving — just make sure to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. Try:
  • Shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders gently in a circular motion, one at a time or both together, to help relieve tension in the neck and shoulders. Then, switch the direction.
  • Seated cat-cow stretch: While keeping your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road, gently arch your back forward and backward, mimicking the cat-cow stretch. This can help relieve tension in your spine.
  • Jaw relaxation: Loosen your jaw muscles by gently opening and closing your mouth several times. You can also try softly clenching your teeth and then releasing them.
  • Neck stretch: Rotate your head in a circular motion, starting with your chin towards your chest and slowly moving it to one side, then to the back, and finally to the opposite side. Maintain focus on the road and keep the movements smooth and controlled.

Make Your Commute What You Need It To Be
While productivity is great, you don’t have to be productive 100% of the time to be happy and healthy. In fact, constant productivity isn’t healthy. While you can use your commute time wisely with any of the above ideas, it’s also OK to tune out and do nothing. And don’t feel guilty about it!

Listen to your body and give yourself what you need during your commute — whether that’s something, or nothing at all.

What’s your favorite thing to do during your commute? Share with us in our private Facebook group, or on Twitter, or Instagram and tag us with #healthynurse.


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Blog Quality of Life 08/07/2023 2:19pm CDT

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Quality of Life
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Your life is full and your work is often stressful. This domain focuses on the elements that improve the quality of your life: including resiliency and preventing burnout, restoring joy, and achieving a positive work/life balance.