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Hate Your Commute? It Might Be Good for Your Mental Health


A new study suggests that hating your commute to work might actually improve your mental health. Researchers from Wayne State and Rutgers University found that commuting creates a liminal space that allows your brain to switch off and recharge. The COVID-19 pandemic deprived millions of Americans of their daily commutes, which could explain the increase in burnout, anxiety, and depression.

“We believe the loss of this space helps explain why many people missed their commutes,” the authors wrote.

The liminal space gives the mind an opportunity to switch gears as it shifts its focus from productivity to relaxation. This creates what’s known as psychological detachment, which puts distance between you and your work, and psychological recovery, which replenishes some of the energy you lost during the day. The absence of psychological detachment and psychological recovery increases the risk of burnout.

The longer the commute, the bigger the impact. “We found that on days with longer-than-average commutes, people reported higher levels of psychological detachment from work and were more relaxed during the commute,” the researchers noted. “Longer commutes might give people more time to detach and recover.” For instance, it gives them more time to listen to music or a podcast.

But workers only realize these benefits if the commute isn’t stressful. Unexpected delays, bad weather, and reckless drivers will only add to the person’s anxiety.

“On days when commutes were more stressful than usual, they reported less psychological detachment from work and less relaxation during the commute,” the authors added.

They advise using your commute to think about non-work-related issues. “To help enhance work detachment and relaxation during the commute, commuters could try to avoid ruminating about the workday and instead focus on personally fulfilling uses of the commute time, such as listening to music or podcasts, or calling a friend,” they commented.

Constantly changing your route, racing through traffic, or jumping on a crowded train can also be problematic if it leads to additional stress.

It’s best to find the quietest, least stressful route. “Some people may find it worth their time to take the ‘scenic route’ home in order to avoid tense driving situations,” they added.

People who work from home may even want to try creating a fake commute by taking the train for a ride or going for a short walk to break up the day. “Our findings suggest that remote workers may benefit from creating their own form of commute to provide liminal space for recovery and transition – such as a 15-minute walk to mark the beginning and end of the workday,” the researchers said.

Recent statistics give us insight into how healthcare workers and RNs typically commute to work.

Most health employees commute to geographic areas outside their home. The average one-way commute time for these occupations ranged from 24.5 to 31.2 minutes, which is in line with the nationwide average commute time of 27.0 minutes.

Blacks, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and other non-White healthcare workers experienced 1 to 2 minutes longer commutes on average compared to Whites. On the other hand, Hispanics had about a 45-second shorter commute compared to non-Hispanics, which suggests they may work closer to home.

Not commuting to work can also impact your take-home pay.

Each additional minute of commute time was associated with a 0.13% average increase in individual wages. Wage gains associated with longer commutes tended to diminish for clinical lab technicians/technologists, home health aides, nursing/psychiatric aides, and dental hygienists.

Compared to driving alone, carpooling, commuting by public transportation, and relying on other transportation lowered wages by 9.8%, 21.4%, and 31.8%, respectively.

As a nurse, working from home may sound like a dream, but your commute to the hospital or doctor’s office might actually do you a world of good. 

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