The delight of fresh coffee, a crisp newspaper and an empty train table, the bracing winter air at 5am as you blast your car heater and contemplate the sun rising over the highway, or the absolute despair of a three-car pileup on a Friday evening, as you realise you won’t make dinner with your loved one. Everyday around the world we climb into our cars, onto buses and trains or even don our sneakers to travel to and from work.

Recently we did a call out to our WeekDay Space platform community to explore what drives people to travel long distances for work and how we can care for ourselves better in the process. So, what drives us to commute long distances despite the financial and personal cost in lost time and well-being? Do we base our life around our work or simply just work to have a better life? And if so, what does a better life really mean?

Commitment to Work

Over the years I found myself committing to long commutes for different reasons – a contract opportunity with a dream employer, a sea change to enjoy life by the water or commuting further but less days a week after having a baby. For many of us it’s a balance between pursuing a career, our own lifestyle aspirations, and at the basest but most important level our own health and well-being.

Reaching out to our community we heard stories of the butcher who travelled 45km, 6 days a week for 33 years for not a lot of pay but a job that he loves. A policeman who did a 300km loop every day to service a rural community, the dentist who flew from his regional home to the capital every week to care for patients or the teacher travelling an hour each way to secure a permanent job in a higher demand area. And at the extreme a husband who flew to Iraq every 4 weeks away from family, to work on an oil field.

For many of us our commitment and sense of purpose from work and the need to “get ahead” is what drives us, to provide for ourselves and family or realise what we think is a better life for ourselves. But how do we make sure our commitment to ourselves and our own health is as voracious as the commitment we have for our profession?

Self-Care When Commuting

A member of the WeekDay Space community Dr Greg Schwager has worked in mental health for over twenty years, and regularly commutes to work from the city of Sydney to a hospital an hour and a half away. He kindly shared his tips for self-care when commuting.

1. Creating Connection. One of the biggest reasons long commutes can be challenging is the potential disconnection and loneliness. One of the strangest aspects of modern-day life is that someone can sit in a crowded train carriage every day but still lack of feeling of true connection with another human being.

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Sharing your journey by methods like carpooling is not only good for the spirit but also better for the environment and more cost-efficient. If you commute a long distance you can also consider staying closer to your work during the week for a few nights with friends or as a weekday lodger. This has an added social benefit which is great for mental well-being.

2. Fuel a Past Time or Passion. An alternative approach is to try to make your commute a time to explore new interests, enjoy a current past time or learn something new. Someone once told me that the only difference between you now and in a few years’, time is the people you meet and the books you read.

Listen to comedy shows or audiobooks, explore new music, learn a language or challenge your thinking. Even singing along to your favourite track can have clear brain benefits. Singing, no matter how bad you are, can help reduce stress hormones and increase positive emotions.

3. Take Time to Reflect: Our commute can be a rare opportunity to take a broader perspective on where we are and where we want to go from here. How many times have you had a great thought or idea in moments of reflection?

A long commute can also help put work behind us at the end of the day. Creating greater physical distance between home and work can be a good thing, to the extent that it helps us keep the two realms psychologically separate. This can help us transition more comfortably from one to the other.

Often, it’s only after life’s big changes like illness, redundancy, an unexpected opportunity or an old door closing they we are forced to look at the life we lead and what we are truly passionate about.

If you are driven by your commitment to work, then don’t forget the commitment you have to yourself and your well-being. Otherwise life can sometimes have a funny habit of finding a way to remind you.