Commuting hell? How to turn it into ‘me time’!

ImagePicture the scene: You step into a tube carriage that is fairly busy but breathable. All the seats are taken and there are a scattering of standers, but you’ve got a door or glass to lean against and no one is invading your personal space, so you can read your (insert newspaper of choice here) in peace.

Fast forward a handful of stops; your newspaper is almost squashed flat against your face, a commuter’s face is so close to yours you can smell the individual ingredients from his dinner last night with every exhale, another commuters elbow is digging into your side and someone’s hair is up your nose. You can not even lift your hand up to stifle a sneeze or turn around, and it’s getting so hot you think you might pass out.

But wait! It gets worse! At the next stop a stampede of commuters attempt to squeeze into the 1cm gap that is left and shove everyone forwards until the carriage is just a heaving pulp of human, even if it means half an arm or head gets caught between the closing doors, holding everyone up.

Just when you think it really, surely, can not get any worse, at the next stop a new commuter bounds forwards and charges at the mass of bodies, shouting ‘can you move down please?’.

This dear readers, was my journey one morning, and many mornings. However, on this particular day I must confess; I lost my rag. Many huffed and puffed in true passive Brit style at this woman who asked for impossible space, but on that day my Portuguese origins piped up from the pit of my angry stomach and out of my normally quiet mouth came the even louder shout ‘There’s no f****** SPACE!!’ For the rest of my journey I stood recovering from the adrenalin rush and chewing my mouth in irritation.

I wonder if people realise how much this kind of commute really affects their health? Just the daily rise in anxiety and stress levels can create shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness etc. It’s widely reported in any medical volume or website that regular exposure to anxiety or stress inducing situations can eventually contribute to cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and stroke.

These are worst case scenarios, but even if you downscale it, it’s still an unpleasant truth, and most of you are probably already experiencing how it can negatively impact on the rest of your day. It has a real ‘domino effect’ and you will often arrive harrassed at work. So it goes on…

Now in my case it’s not too difficult to leave a bit earlier, leading to catching an earlier, less busy train, or just giving me extra time to get off a packed train should I need to and wait for an emptier one. But what if you’re a busy mum? or you’re in a situation where you just don’t have the luxury of more time?

Why don’t we use the power of our minds more? Especially if your commute is a good chunk of time in your day, that time could be used wisely for positive thinking or relaxation techniques that could reduce your stress levels a notch, believe me every little helps!

How about these?

  • Ditch the newspaper! Do you really need to know about the latest murders and stabbings? or any other doom and gloom? Will it make you feel better and contribute positively to your day? Unless you work in the news industry, but what about trying some reading material that you really are interested in or that specialises in the specific current affairs you’re into. What about a good book? I have spent many journeys so engrossed that the journey went by in a flash. Bogging your mind down with tragic stories will just allow them to fester in there and darken your day, especially as you are stuck in a tube with no way to shake that negative energy off.
  • More time. If you can, give yourself more time. Do yourself a favour. Is it really lack of time or are you just being lazy and preferring to spend an extra half hour in bed? Then weigh up the pros and cons, what will be healthier for you in the long run? If the extra half hour of sleep wins then give yourself that half hour before bedtime to get your things ready for the next day so you’re not rushing about.
  • Breakfast in your belly! Getting into your commute well fed and watered generally gives you a sturdier and more grounded feeling so you can tackle any situation better.
  • Music. If you don’t read, get some of your favourite music on your Ipod or whatever contraption you have. The kind of music that makes you feel good, or puts a spring in your step, or just relaxes you.
  • Recordings. Google meditation recordings and see what you can download, or some chillout relaxation music, audio books etc. anything you can listen to that has you visualising, focusing and using your brain in a good way.
  • TV! There are loads of people looking chilled on the tubes these days watching a TV series or a film on their laptops or tablets. If that takes you away from the stress then do it!
  • Get Creative! This works best if you’re seated, but why not distract yourself from that person who keeps using your head as a table by getting your note book out, or playbook that I spoke about in my video and write something or do a sketch. Put that time to good use!
  • People watch. It makes you aware of yourself as well as others, because you will be focused. Especially when you spot a huffy puffy person, you remember to calm down because they look so silly! I’ve spent time looking discreetly at people, finding little clues about them and their personalities. I’m no Sherlock Holmes yet but it’s certainly worked a treat when I’ve forgotten my book or Ipod. Remember, practice discretion, it’s rude to stare!
  • Breathe! Breathe in through your nose to fill up your belly, hold for a second, and gently exhale through your mouth. Practice that a few times. Visualise the breath travelling through you, gathering up all the negative stuff and pulling it out while you exhale. let your body loosen up and relax with deep breathing. Breath is life!
  • Talk! Are you brave? Are you an extrovert? Or maybe neither but you want to challenge yourself? Try good old fashioned talking to someone! Oh did you forget they were people on the tube with you?! If you’re not ready for that yet, start with a smile. I’ve tried the smiling so far and it humanises the whole situation instantly. Give yourself a task- to smile at 5 people on your next commute when you meet someones eye. Ok you might get a few weird/dirty/suspicious looks every now and then, but that’s not your problem, it’s theirs, and this is your wellbeing at stake here! More often than not you’ll get a smile back.

So those are my tips, try whatever appeals but do try, especially if you do tend to have a stressful journey. Have fun with it and you’ll start having a more relaxing journey before you know it!

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