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Tackling Transit Stress


By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program

Earlier this week we discussed stress involved in driving through traffic. And while being stuck in the car for long periods of time can be frustrating, there’s something to be said about having the personal space, comfort, and peace that a car can give commuters. But what about the rest of us? According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 14 per cent of Ontarians commuted to work via public transit. Unfortunately, Ontario also has some of the longest commute times in the country. As transit users, how can we deal with stress and frustration while sharing the same space with hundreds of others who are in the same situation?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – in Transit
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy can also be applied when dealing with   our daily commutes. In particular, it’s important for us to reflect on what is happening during our commutes, how we perceive the annoyances, delays and other setbacks that we experience and challenge our thoughts related to this. Knowing how these perceptions affect our emotional experience can go a long way in helping us accept and deal with them more effectively .

Keep your mind occupied
Whether you’re picking up that copy of Metro newspaper to read the news, working through that challenging Sudoku or crossword puzzle, reading a captivating novel, listening to a captivating audiobook, or playing a particularly difficult level of Angry Birds on your phone, an active mind can help alleviate the stress of our commute. And it also has the additional effect of making the commute feel much shorter than it is.

Choose your music wisely
If you’re someone who prefers to have their headphones on, consider the type of music or program you’re listening to, when you’re listening to it, and how that will affect your mood and stress levels. Will you opt for something loud and heart-racing in the morning when you’re just starting your day, or is relaxing and mellow music more appropriate for you? Would you rather listen to an informative podcast that requires some critical thinking, or just sit back and laugh along with a comedic one? At the end of a long day, are you more apt to unwind with something upbeat, or listen to a soothing tune? Normally we’ll just go ahead and play whatever music or programs we have, but perhaps organizing playlists based on your mood and the time of day could be a useful exercise that could pay dividends.

Give a helping hand
One way to feel good about the daily commute is to be considerate to those around you, especially if they need assistance. It’s tempting to stay seated when a pregnant woman, elderly person or someone with mobility issues is standing nearby, but offer up your seat. You may have to stand the rest of the way to work, but the satisfaction of knowing that you helped make the commute more bearable for someone else can pay dividends to your mental well-being. Revel in those good vibes and pay it forward.

Eat something
I know our dietitians will agree, but if you’re the type of person who rushes out the door in the morning without breakfast, you might want to consider grabbing a quick bite to eat before getting on that cramped bus or streetcar. The term “hangry” comes to mind, and although it’s not a scientific term, there is science to back up the fact that our mood and levels of stress are affected when our body doesn’t have the necessary nutrients it needs. Don’t let your body turn against you while you’re commuting to work and start the day off right by eating breakfast.

Get enough rest
In addition to not eating well or eating enough, not getting enough rest can also add to your stress level. When we are not rested it could lead to feeling “moody” or increased irritability or agitation. This can be a recipe for disaster. Lack of sleep and rest can put you at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with stress of any kind and particularly on commutes as this can rev up impulsive anger and decrease proper judgement when reacting to situations.

Acceptance and acknowledgement of things we can’t change
Delays will happen, and when we’re stuck in public transit, there may not be anything we can do about it. Sometimes, we just have to accept that we don’t have control over everything, and ride it out. However, if you feel that anxiety and stress are considerably impacting your day-to-day life, reach out to ConnexOntario or speak to your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist,or other specialist and ask for help.

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