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The 5 Best Things to Do During Your Morning Commute

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These apply whether you drive or use public transportation.

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If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic or on a stalled subway car when you’re supposed to be at a meeting with your boss in 15 minutes, you know the toll a rough commute can take on your wellbeing. (Let’s be honest: even a smooth commute can be unpleasant when you feel packed into a sardine can of a bus.) To minimize the negative effects of the daily grind, try one of these activities on your next journey.    

Consider talking to a stranger 

You don’t have to force a conversation, necessarily, but if you find yourself in a position where it feels appropriate to interact with another commuter, doing so might improve your experience. In the 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that commuters had a more pleasant journey when they talked with their fellow passengers than when they avoided them. It doesn’t have to be a huge, deep conversation. Next time you’re impressed by the scarf someone is knitting on the bus, consider letting that person know it.   

Practice mindfulness  

Perhaps you’d prefer to use your commute to respond to emails or draft notes for a presentation you have to give later that afternoon. That’s understandable; you’re juggling a busy life and you want to be productive. But that very impulse—the desire to be productive—can cause more distress than necessary, particularly if you can’t accomplish your desired tasks for reasons out of your control (like getting stuck underground with no service). Psychotherapist Anne Dutton of the Yale Stress Center instead recommends practicing mindfulness, the state of being aware of one’s present moment, whatever it may be. “You have to throw out all ideas of achievement,” she says. She suggests closing your eyes, listening to a guided meditation, and turning your attention to your breathing. Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and author of the upcoming book The Little Book of Being, recommends the meditation app 10% Happier

Even a packed train can provide the right setting for mindfulness. Dutton encourages you to explore what you can feel in and with your body. For example, “you can feel your feet on the ground, you can feel the people pressed all around you, you can feel the swaying of your body with the movements of the subway car, you can probably smell somebody’s body wash.” Engaging those senses rather than resisting whatever unpleasantness you might be experiencing allows you a sort of freedom, she explains. 

Read a book, listen to an audiobook, or start a new podcast 

According to Robert Bilder, a professor of psychology at UCLA, one key to stress reduction is “the sense of being away,” which you can achieve by immersing yourself in a storyline. Still haven’t read a book by Elena Ferrante? Now’s a good time to change that.  

Write a to-do list  

Tweets, emails, news blasts: The barrage of information coming at you every day puts your brain in a “responsive or reactive mode,” Dr. Bilder explains. But there’s another mode your brain can be in: a “goal-directed mode,” he says, “where you’re looking forward to the future and laying out your plans for how you’re going to achieve that.” Making a to-do list can put your brain in that otherwise underserved state of mind. “We have to be able to prioritize action toward our own goals relative to responding to the various messages that we get throughout the day.” 

Ditch public transportation for walking or biking 

According to another study on commuting, the most satisfied commuters are pedestrians, followed by train commuters, cyclists, drivers, metro users, and bus riders. If you have the opportunity to forgo driving or public transportation for a more physical mode of transportation, you should take it. You’ll lose the stress of your commute, reduce your impact on the environment, get some exercise, and save money — seems like a win all-around! 

Get more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.