health

The unexpected wellbeing benefit of living far from work.

You don’t often hear the word ‘commute‘ without a complaint attached to it.

Those who catch public transport or drive considerable distances at the bookends of the work day can rattle off a long list of grievances — everything from miserable traffic to arctic air-con and fellow train passengers who seemingly haven’t been introduced to headphones (or deodorant).

Yet new Australian research indicates that for some people, long transit time comes with wellbeing benefits.

As part of the Commuting Life project — a venture by the Australian National University and Australian Research Council — researchers interviewed 53 people whose lives were significantly impacted by commuting, along with 26 relevant stakeholders.

They also conducted two ‘week in the life’-style experiments in Sydney to observe commuters during their journeys.

Watch: Six easy ways to de-stress. (Post continues after video.)

The findings established that while commuting could be a negative experience, thanks to unpleasant encounters with fellow passengers and concerns for personal safety (something female travellers unfortunately know too well), many travellers saw it as a positive part of their daily schedule.

For some, commuting is an important piece of the puzzle that is work-life balance, and a fixed period of time they had actually had control over. It gave them a chance to process work-related issues that might be “unwelcome” at home, and to temporarily escape from their responsibilities.

Many of the people surveyed said the trip to and from work was the only time they really had to themselves throughout the week, so they made the most of it.

Some used the time for relaxation and meditation, while many public transport users seized the chance to watch TV and play games on their phone, or to chat with friends.

Imagine what commuting would be like if the bus was always this empty. (Image: iStock)

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Similarly, the commuters of the Mamamia office use their travel time in myriad ways.

Several welcome the opportunity to take their eyes off their screen, opting to catch up on podcasts or sit with their thoughts instead.

Others read books, listen to music, people-watch, give their friends a quick call, or listen to online meditation exercises — "I even time it so I know what station to start it at that will give me enough downtime so I don't have to worry about missing my stop."

Look, if you're going to be crammed in a bus for an hour, you might as well use the time constructively. Like Drew Barrymore, who appears to be one of those people who applies her makeup mid-transit.

For some of the men and women surveyed for Commuting Life, travelling to and from the office provides them with extra time to squeeze in work tasks that don't require a lot of space or confidentiality; many said they even saved these tasks specifically for their commute.

Interestingly, some commuters said they found joy in their passing interactions with fellow passengers, and in travelling with roughly the same group of people each day and watching out for them.

Perhaps this is the key to a happy commuting life. In 2014, a study performed at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found commuters who were instructed to engage with their fellow passengers reported feeling happier than those who kept to themselves.

As for the urge to complain about your trip home from work... well, keep in mind that not everyone around you is on board with it.

Watch: A Paper Tiger-guided meditation to try on your next commute. Unless you're driving. (Post continues after video.)

"For some people, the journey ‘debrief’ is an important part of quickly overcoming the stress of travelling to and from work. For other people, however, having to listen to these gripes can get them down, particularly if it becomes a routine thing," the study authors explain.

In a similar vein, they found ruminating whatever commuting bugbear is bothering you can actually increase your agitation, making matters worse.

The solution? "Rather than getting caught up in these everyday commentaries, many people described how different relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, while on the commute were an effective way of reducing stress."

So next time you're sharing a bus seat with someone engaged in an ear-splittingly loud phone conversation, just remember to breeaaaathe...

How long is your commute? How do you spend the time?

Featured image: iStock

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