Dealing with long commutes

MANILA, Philippines – You’ve got to admit: commuting is kind of a drag.

Every morning you wake up early, get dressed, and brace yourself for the average 90-minute crawl in Metro Manila traffic just to get to work.

If you drive, that’s 90 minutes spent in the car every morning, from Monday to Friday. That’s 450 minutes a week or around 7 hours that could have been spent working out, reading a book, or catching a few more winks of sleep. You don’t need to crunch the numbers to know that you could be doing something a lot more productive with your time, but that’s not the only reason commutes are a drag.

A study conducted by Canada’s University of Waterloo revealed that the people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life. Does that sound like an exaggeration?

Here are just some of the reasons why this is so. 

Stress

First of all, those with the longest commutes feel a constant sense of time pressure, especially if there’s the risk of being late for work or an important meeting, which in turn causes stress. That stress can also cause blood pressure to temporarily spike, which could lead to serious health consequences in the long run.

Physical unfitness

The same Canadian study above also showed that those who were able to make time for physical activity, like going to the gym, are able to mitigate some of the negative effects of a long commute. However, there’s obviously less time to exercise when so much time is spent on the road. Research shows a link between long commutes and ill health. Think: higher BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol, and as mentioned earlier, blood pressure. 

Diminished social activity

There are only so many hours in a day, so something’s got to give. More often than not, those with long commutes are forced to give up on different social activities, like dinner with friends or even children’s school activities. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that adults who commuted for 90 minutes or more each day had the fewest social engagements.

Finding solutions

With all this laid out, it’s easy to imagine why something as mundane as Monday traffic can result in an overall dissatisfaction in life.  In fact, long commutes are so physically and mentally taxing that Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow, happiness research, and author of Thrive: Finding Happiness in the Blue Zones Way, computed that cutting out daily commutes could make you happier by $40,000, or around P1,946,960.*

To curb the effects of a long commute, you can do a number of things. You can choose to leave earlier and avoid the morning rush. You can use Waze to avoid clogged roads.

Use your time in transit to prep your mindset. Julia Lee, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, found that those with higher level of self-control use their commute to prepare their mindset: they think about the day ahead, determine their goals, and create a plan. So once they get to the office, there’s no awkward transition in mindset. Conversely, you can use the drive to help leave work issues behind when you’re on the way home.

Or maybe, you can just look for work that’s closer to home. If that’s not an option, you can move closer to your place of work to shorten your commute to less than an hour.