Counteracting the ill-effects of your commute to work

What is the impact of your commute on your body and mind?

Those who live in the city know full well the horrendous nature of commuting to work. While our time on the underground, on buses, and in traffic jams can sometimes yield some surprising delights (!) it is more often a stressful experience that leaves us drained even before the working day begins.

How can we do our work well when our whole mind-body system is flooded with cortisol? What are the real effects of this type of stress on the brain? See this great report on Mental Health and the elephant in the room from Business in the Community.
Louise Aston, Business in the Community Wellbeing Director, said of the Thriving at Work; A review of mental health and employers

“We welcome this review ….. Crucially it calls on employers of all sizes, including the public sector, to be transparent and accountable on how they measure and manage mental health, which in turn will help to close the current gap between bosses’ misguided perceptions of how well they are doing, with the reality of the rest of the organisation.

“To truly develop more open, inclusive workplaces where physical and mental health is on par, employers must track their progress. We know that what gets measured gets managed.”


Being stressed like this makes us much more snappy and irritable, less patient with others, less able to problem solve or think creatively and overall, makes us less fun to be with.

Studies have shown that the length of the commute directly impacts on stress levels and mental well being. We might recognize this from our own experience. The most stressful thing for the human brain is another human being, and especially another human being who is stressed or distressed. Mostly we deal with this by ignoring it, putting our head in the paper or our phones and pretending that others are not there.

Travelling in close proximity to one another, each person hurrying to their destination and fully believing that their work, their experience and their time is more important than anyone else’s. This is not a nurturing experience for your brain.  So what can we do?  There are some practical things we can do in the moment, as well as some deeper investigations if we are really curious about how we are, when things are not as we want them to be…

There are some interesting ways of measuring well-being in this type of situation. See this article by Daniel Kahneman on an innovative experience sampling method that showed that women found the commute the least enjoyable part of their day (no surprise there, especially seeing the huge number of women who report harassment of some kind on their commute ….note   TfL is doing it’s best to tackle the issue).

Check out #whatismindfulness for some great tips on how you can make all aspects of your commute more mindful with knowledge of the four simple steps to a mindful moment. Or try some of the suggestions below.


Applied Mindfulness – Train your brain

A great applied mindfulness practice while you are commuting is to really pay attention to that impulse to push through or get ahead in a crowd at the tube or bus or train. Pause, pull back and train those inhibitory brain networks that underlie our self control. Let someone else go first, pause to let someone (or even maybe two) go through the turnstile before you.

Might you even smile and connect to that person in that moment?  If you are in your car, this is letting someone else go in front of you – and giving them a cheery wave. Feel joy in your heart that you have made someone else’s day a little bit more pleasant as a result of your actions.


Advanced Practice – Feel the Rage

All the trouble and strife on the commute to work is rich pickings if you want to develop your emotional intelligence and practice the mindfulness skill of “allowing”.  When you start to feel irritation, anger, rage, or whatever you are feeling, THIS is the moment to come out of your “poor me” story and get into the body and investigate. How is my body, my emotional life, when things are not going the way I had hoped or planned?  The mind may try to take you away (yes, I am sure it is a personal vendetta against you that led the bus driver to ignore you at the stop and not pick you up ….) but try to stay directly with the feelings in the body.   Where can you feel the sensations? Can you describe them (poking? squeezing? tightening? moving? still? clenched? churning?).  Stay directly with sensing in the body.  What is the time course of this emotion? How does it start? Arise? Fade away?



As part of Thrive in the City we are trying to map the emotional life of London’s worker and residents.  If you have time, you can complete this exercise in person at Shoe Lane Library (between 11-2pm on Nov 27th 2017, facilitated by artist Gary Malloy) or at City Hall (between 2-4pm, facilitated by Dr. Tamara Russell).

If not, listen to this reflective audio exercise (below) and use this worksheet to draw, colour, describe or scribble anything you like that conveys the feelings you have in your body as you make your commute to work in the morning. Is you heart singing? are your toes tapping or dragging? Is there a spring in your step or can you barely lift one foot in front of the other. Send it to and we will collate the work and share it.  Don’t forget you can also sign up to the MCoE Mailing list to keep up to date with what’s new and innovative in the mindfulness world.













In order to press RESET when you get into the office – try this “Bruce Lee” mindfulness practice. Learn how to be alert and relaxed in the body and your posture, to facilitate the same state in your mind. If you can’t change your mind, change your body to help give your mind a gentle nudge in the right direction.