Friday, September 19, 2014

How I got more relaxed by no longer commuting by car

Yesterday was car free day, at least in Belgium, and by a happy coincidence I came across an article that pointed out a correlation between mental well-being and the means of transportation when commuting to work. It turns out that not using a car, fe. going by bike, on foot or by public transport increases your mental health. The author wonders about the reason for this.

I'm not a psychologist, nor have I done scientific research to investigate this, but from my personal experience, I can think of a few reasons why not driving by car to commute is better for you.

A few years ago, I was commuting daily by car. Construction works were going on for a few months, so every morning I spent 20-30 minutes in a traffic jam (on top of the 30 minute drive it took me to get to work).
Those 20-30 minutes of waiting, driving slowly, accelerating and breaking again, more waiting, ... well, it annoyed me, and I guess a lot of other people don't like traffic jams either.

A few months later, I was told the contract of my company lease car was about to end and I would get a new one.
Then I started wondering if I really liked spending that much time in traffic jams every day, 50-60 minutes of doing nothing else but stare at the car in front of me. So I started looking for alternatives. It turned out there was a train station at walking distance from my office, and it would take me 50-60 minutes to get from home to work. No gain in travel time (and it would take me less time by car if there would be no traffic jam), but I would spend about 45 minutes in a train, not having to pay attention to the cars in front of me, not having the stress and boredom of waiting in a traffic jam. I could listen to some music, read a bit, take a nap, stare out the window enjoying the scenery passing by or having a chat with a fellow commuter.
So instead of spending about an hour getting annoyed and stressed, I could relax while the train driver got me to work and I could get some things done in the mean time.

So I declined the offer of a new lease car and decided to commute by train. I couldn't have made a better decision. From that moment on I arrived more relaxed at work and at home. Of course, commuting by train can be stressful as well : delayed or cancelled trains, crowded with noisy people. But I was lucky to have a quiet commuter train in the morning, and I could usually avoid rush-hour in the evening, so I usually had a comfortable commute, arriving at work or at home much more relaxed.

Commuting by train can be annoying as well, if you have to cope with long commutes, multiple stop-overs, delays and crowded trains on a daily basis, as I experienced a few years later on another job (but at least I could still doze off or read a bit).
But I was relieved, when I found a job closer to home that would take me 20 minutes by bike. No reading this time while commuting, but having the daily physical exercise and cruising past rows of waiting cars was enjoyable (I'm not gloating, actually, I took a route through the car free city center, so I didn't see that much cars on my way to work), but I knew that if I would go to work by car I would end up in a traffic jam and it would take me much longer to get to work.

I don't use the car that much anymore, only for longer drives, places that are hard to reach by public transport, or when transporting heavy or bulky loads. And I like it. I can't imagine losing multiple hours waiting in traffic jams every week.
Overall I'm more relaxed because I don't get annoyed waiting, can do some enjoyable things while commuting or get some physical exercise (which is also known to reduce stress levels).

A a consequence you have to make some compromises and it will take some extra planning, but it's worth it.