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The Hidden Relationship Between Commuting and Mental Health

With over 40.8 million vehicles registered at the end of September 2022 travelling across the country, driving is part everyday UK life. We spend a lot of time in our cars, particularly when we’re behind the wheel commuting to work. Research from Statista into duration of commutes in 2022, finding that the average worker spends between 15 to 29 minutes travelling to work. This means that many workers may spend nearly an hour travelling in their used Audi A3 commuting to their workplace. 

With the amount of time spent in our vehicles travelling between our homes and workplaces, is there a relationship that’s formed between the act of commuting and workers mental health? In this article, we’ll look at how mental health could be improved when travelling to and from our jobs. 

Cars as our sanctuaries 

With us spending a lot of time in our cars when we commute, this could mean spending a lot of time travelling by ourselves. Talking about being alone in the context of mental health can set off some alarm bells, but there’s an important distinction to draw in the conversation. 

There is a significant difference between loneliness and being alone. While loneliness is the absence of connection, being alone is the act of being in your own company. Being alone can help to unpack our concerns, worries, and anxieties without feeling like we must justify our thoughts to others. 

Cars can give us this sanctuary away from the fear of judgement, and our morning and evening commutes can act as self-therapy. Look at it like giving yourself some much-deserved alone time rather than a daily isolation. 

What aspects of commuting should we look to optimise? 

While we can’t control the levels of traffic or change the distance of our homes from our workplaces, driving should be enjoyable whether you’re going to work or a quick trip to the shops. So, we should make sure we’re improving our experience while we’re on the road as possible. 

Our mood can be affected in different ways and when we’re behind the wheel, those emotions can be accentuated by the traffic around us. An important thing to remember to avoid this is to remind ourselves that every other driver on the road is a human with their own lives and problems. This can help to actualise anger and dissipate the negative emotions. 

One small thing that could make the world of difference could be building a playlist for your commute. This is a customisable idea, so you can choose your vibe based on what music you feel you’ll need to get yourself in the right mood for work. We can’t control everything when we’re driving, but we can definitely choose which tracks make it onto the playlist. 

We all love our music choices, but you might feel like you want a change media to listen to while driving. There’s a whole world of audio content at your fingertips where you can discover new things and even help stimulate you in different ways. 

There’s no greater example of this than podcasts. Being so accessible when it comes to creation and release, there are estimated to be around 4.7 million unique audio podcasts on Spotify alone. No matter what you’re interested in, there’ll be a podcast out there that you can jump in to and learn something from. 

Listening to narrative stories can also help to stimulate positive and new emotions in our brains, which was found in results from a study by UC Berkeley in California. Most podcasts will follow a topic structure and there are so many genres to choose from, whether you want to listen to stories from the world of sport or laugh along to comedians. 

It can feel uncomfortable changing routines, which is why it’s important to change up your commute to inspire the difference in mood. Not only could it have a positive impact on your mental health, but your productivity at work could see additional improvement as well.