The year we were married, my husband and I shared an hourlong commute to work. Our differences were evident from the first sound of the alarm. While I considered anything before the third ring to be just a friendly reminder, he set his feet on the floor on the very first note. As he moved from one task to the next, I’d lounge a bit more—and the tension mounted steadily. On the road, I’d dig for a favorite CD, he’d scan the radio channels for heated political debates, and the stress would worsen.
It turns out our morning routine is fairly typical: A 30-minute drive to work is a daily reality for 125 million Americans, and studies show that a longer commute can raise blood pressure, increase absenteeism, and decrease overall life satisfaction. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Leon James, Ph.D., professor of driving psychology at the University of Hawaii, who recommends a few simple strategies for making your morning commute a valuable part of your day.
Start your day the night before. Fuel your tank, set your coffee to brew, iron, and pack snacks or your lunch the night before to guarantee a calmer morning. Also, commit to a regular bedtime. A good night’s rest will keep levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol (which are naturally higher in the morning), in check.
Rethink your departure time. Allot an extra 20 minutes for weather, mishaps, and even opportunities for “random acts of kindness” on the road. If possible, adjust your office hours so you aren’t leaving during peak traffic times.
Avoid multitasking. Turn off your phone or PDA. If you must be available, put the ringer on low and allow non-urgent calls to go to voicemail.
Relish the time. Load your CD or MP3 player with your favorite tunes or books. (Keep CDs in an easyto- reach visor organizer.) Bring along your favorite healthy snacks and keep them within easy reach.
Humanize the experience. When frustrated with a driver, take a deep breath and try to envision him or her as someone’s husband, grandmother, or sister who also needs to get to a destination safely. Also, think of commuting as an opportunity to generate good karma, even if it’s just cheerfully letting that driver—who hasn’t yet discovered the importance of the morning routine—into the flow of traffic.
Create harmony. My husband and I soon struck a compromise. I learned to prepare the night before so my post-alarm lounge wouldn’t turn into a last-minute dash, and my husband learned to be less on automatic pilot in the morning so he could approach the commute with more patience. He even switched from talk radio to the softer rhythms of his favorite music.