Commuting Sanely in DC, Maryland or NOVA is Not Easy – But These Tips Can Help
Now that the government has avoided closing, many of us are returning to the office at least part-time. You might have noticed that there are more and more cars on the road in the morning. For many of us who have seen. Although traffic patterns are likely to be much improved, Washington DC, Bethesda MD, and North Virginia will likely remain among the worst commutes in the United States.
How you start your day matters. The headspace you create for yourself on the way to your destination will follow you there. And, so, in the spirit of creating a healthy community of commuters, mind the following tips for a healthy start to returning to your DC commute:
Give yourself enough time.
SO much stress can be alleviated by getting up ten minutes earlier. Aim to arrive at your destination a half an hour before you need to be there. You can’t count on DC traffic to stay the same from day to day and so it’s really important to give yourself a lot of wiggle room. The sense of ease and calm that result from knowing that you will arrive on time cannot be overestimated.
Consider your comfort.
Make sure that your car is clean and calm. Consider a soothing scent such as lavender – the part of our brain that senses smell is more connected to the limbic system or “emotional brain” than any other sense. Make sure that you get garbage out of the car whenever possible. Adjust the seat carefully, paying real attention to how your body feels and making sure that you are well supported. Consider devices to enhance your comfort such as lumbar support or wedge seating.
Rethink your route.
Is there a way to get there that might take you through nature, or avoid a lot of congestion? What you lose in time, you might gain in peace of mind. Consider getting yourself on pleasant routes with lots of trees such as the Clara Barton Parkway or the GW parkway if that’s at all possible for you.
Listen to calming music.
The research suggests that, unsurprisingly, people report that listening to calming music helps them to feel calm. How do we define calming music? Partially it has to do with what we enjoy and are familiar with. People also find that a slower, downbeat tempo helps them to feel more at ease. It doesn’t really matter too much what you choose, but that you choose thoughtfully and pay attention to how what you are listening to makes you feel inside of your body. If a song makes you relax your muscles and untense your jaw, put it on repeat. If you find yourself tensing up and leaning forward, you might want to skip the track. Take a look (or a listen) at some of these calming Spotify playlists for inspiration.
Consider books on tape and podcasts.
If you are the type of person to get lost in a story, it can be really helpful to engage in that fantasy world during your commute. People report that type passes more quickly when you are. If you really enjoy non-fiction, no problem, but do not use this time to “improve yourself” or get better educated unless that is truly thrilling for you. The exception to the rule is if you are learning about ways to keep yourself calm, like listening to Mindfulness for Beginners. But look at the skills-based books, not the let’s-work-through-trauma-on-the-way-to-work ones such as these otherwise excellent suggestions by one of our trauma experts Dr. Seymour. The important thing here is to be your best self during your commute, because it is a sensitive and important time, not to be working on yourself for the future.
Do not multitask.
The temptation is strong, but it may help to remember there is actually no such thing as multitasking. The human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So when you think you are doing more than one thing, you are actually shifting your focus back and forth from one task to another second by second. This means that neither thing really has your full attention, and for driving it only takes a split second to miss your turn, not notice a car in your blind spot or fail to notice a pedestrian. Now that’s stress. Keep some perspective.
I mostly say this to be cute, because I just said the opposite thing. So clever of me. But seriously, if the multitasking bug has got you bad, it is ok to do one specific thing while you are driving – breathing. Yes, of course we are always breathing. But we are often breathing shallowly and quickly, particularly if we are stressed out. This is a part of the fight/flight response, the way that our bodies activate when we are under stress. But when we breathe deeply and fully, into our stomachs, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system, this is the part of our neurology that calms us down and makes us feel at ease. So breathe while you are driving, and pat yourself on the back for being efficient.