The Benefits of Commuting to Work

Traffic building up on the M8 in Glasgow
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Mar 08, 2023
5 minutes read

Despite the rise in home working as a result of the pandemic, research has recently revealed the psychological benefits of a commute to and from work, resulting in people actively missing their daily commute. The study, conducted by The Conversation, labelled commutes as a form of liminal space, allowing for a disassociation between work and home. In a way, it wound people down and took their minds off work or disengaged them from home life on their way to work.

During the pandemic, where working from home became the new normal, suddenly people lost this liminal space. This had the effect of not allowing for a separation between work and home life, blurring lines and causing stress. The mental disengagement was lost, causing many people to start missing the time between work and home life every day.

Interestingly, the study revealed that the liminal space allows for commuters to start to rebuild levels of mental energy that was used up during their working day. It allows for a detachment from the office while allowing for recovery. While longer commutes allowed for more recovery time and detachment, the average commute by car or train could offer the same levels. On the one hand, drivers need to concentrate on the roads, while those on the train need to constantly check train times and look out for cancellations, leading to less usable time to disengage and recharge.

Further unpublished research revealed that more stressful commutes led to lower levels of work detachment and relaxation, even for those with much longer trips on their hands. Typically, variations in people’s day to day lives can predict how much detachment there might be on the way home from the office.

For remote working, it’s important to create some sort of liminal space as a way of destressing and separating work and home life. Even a 15 minute walk around the block both at the beginning and end of the working day can be all that’s needed for this detachment to work. If you’ve recently had to go back to the office, it’s important you utilise your commute as a way of relaxing as much as possible.

The worst thing you can do is focus on the negatives that happened during a working day, or fixate on how stressful something might have been. A commute, or liminal space, should be used to detach from work events as much as possible. Music, podcasts or phone calls with others can help in this regard. Car sharing can also promote the opportunity for socialisation.

The stress of a commute completely disrupts these benefits, whether on a short or long journey. Busy roads, for example, can cause more stress than they resolve, so scenic routes could always be sought to create a better detachment from all factors. Sitting in slow moving traffic for 10 minutes is never anyone’s idea of fun, so if this is unavoidable, consider what you can change, such as what you’re listening to or who to talk to.

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