According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute is 26 minutes, or about 18 miles. That’s a lot of time to be surrounded by people you don’t know.
In the too-close-for-comfort situation of your daily commute, we can all appreciate The Weeknd’s advice in his song “I Feel It Coming” to “take a breath.” After all, breathing actually works wonders for the inevitable anxiety that builds during rush hour.
While meditation can help ease things like anxiety, depression, and pain, it’s not always easy to do. But these potent rush hour tips just might help calm you when you feel this close to a commuter freak-out.
1. Avoid being in a stage of HALT
HALT is short for:
Despite the hustle and bustle, commute time is wholly yours. Use this time to give yourself a break and check in with your body. If HALT is potentially contributing to your anxiety, do what you can to address it.
Be sure to also get a good night’s sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. These things help lessen anxiety and the chance of hitting a HALT wall. Taking “en route” time for yourself is important.
2. Use humor to chillax
One sure-fire way to distract yourself from the situation is to make up stories about the folks around you. Guess what thoughts are going on in their minds. If you trigger your sense of empathy, your surroundings may soften, and the focus off of your own personal discomfort may lessen. Depending on what you think of, this can also make your commute more interesting and fun.
3. Practice diaphragmatic breathing
Filling up your bottom lungs as well as your upper lungs is a way to calm your nervous system and increase your resilience to stress, according to Natalie Moore, a psychotherapist who practices holistic psychotherapy.
4. Use your sense of touch
Engage your senses by having something tactile that feels good in your hands. Some people like running their fingers along the rough edges of gemstone or soothing themselves with the ridges of a seashell. You can also have a nostalgic piece of jewelry to fiddle with to remind you of a happy place. Bedazzle the strap of your tote bag for texture.
“Such cozy objects help us feel more centered and soothed,” says Jo Eckler, PsyD, RYT, yoga teacher, and licensed clinical psychologist. Stress balls or fidget cubes are also popular and let your brain unwind, which is beneficial.
5. Use aromatherapy to go
While the science behind essential oils and aromatherapy isn’t proven, some studies show they can help reduce stress in certain populations.
Each oil has unique properties, so it really comes down to what makes you feel good. For science-backed scents, there’s bergamot, a refreshing perk-me-up. Lavender and rose provide calming sensations.
To practice aromatherapy on your commute, drop a few drops of essential mint oil on a tissue or hankie. As you breathe it in, it’s possible your heart rate could lower, which could make you feel better.
Tip: Store essential oils in a separate zip-up case to avoid spills and leaks.
6. Skin care for self-care
Slathering on hand cream and lip balm, or using your favorite face mist is self-care for both the external and internal. For example, a face mist can help hydrate dry skin and awaken your senses so you feel less tired. There’s also slight pleasure in caring for yourself. As you apply these items, take your time and remind yourself to connect your brain and body.
7. Color your stress out
Coloring books for adults have been popular for a while now, and there’s a reason for that. For some, it connects them to their youthful carefree moments. For others, it helps them take their mind away from where they actually are.
Johanna Basford’s coloring books explore themes of enchantment, secret gardens, and the ocean. That’s definitely a plus when you need a little help visualizing a place that’s more pleasant than where you actually are.
8. Listen to your favorite music
Mellow music can be a physical barrier from noisy crowds. It decreases stress and lessens muscle tension, which also contribute to your stress and anxiety. And the definition of mellow doesn’t matter, cause it’s for your ears only.
Try traditional Japanese music, The Weeknd, or something entirely offbeat. As long as it helps you let go, then it works.
9. Imagine a cozy blanket (or bubble)
When there are too many people pushing up against you, visualize yourself wrapped up in a blanket that makes you happy, in whatever color, texture, and style you wish. This can help you feel less vulnerable. The blanket doesn’t have to exist, but it helps to have one at home so you know what to think of.
Another thing you can do is picture yourself encased in one big bubble. It’s another great visual to help diminish the chaos.
10. There’s an app for it (of course)
Insight Timer is a popular free meditation app that includes tunes, sound healing, and other relaxation tools. Somehow, it’s easier to meditate when a person with a British accent is doing the instructing — although there are a variety of other folks leading meditations who have accents from other regions.
It’s always a fabulous idea to prepare for your commute before you set out. Toting a few easy supplies will help minimize your chances of your brain and body feeling anxious when things turn hectic. If your goal is to arrive in a better state of mind, incorporating these practices into your routine can deliver serious “ahhhhh-om.”
Mary Ladd’s writing has appeared in Playboy, Time Magazine/Extra Crispy, KQED, and San Francisco Weekly. She is a member of the SF Writers’ Grotto and a co-author of The Wig Report, a graphic novel on catastrophic illness.