Dealing With the Commute

Abena had achieved her goal—an entry-level position in an IT firm at the west end of Toronto. Smiling widely, she recalled the many courses and workshops she had taken since arriving in Guelph four years ago. Her efforts had finally paid off. Abena also felt confident about her driving abilities. Most weekends, she hopped in the car and headed for Mississauga, Brampton, Burlington, and other communities in the GTA.

But Abena had not experienced Highway 401 during weekday rush hours when that forty-five minute Sunday drive morphs into seventy minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. On Wednesday of her first week, she woke up with a queasy stomach and felt her blood pressure rising as she started the car. By Friday, Abena was ready to quit her job.

I would advise Abena and anyone else facing a stressful commute not to give up so quickly. While you cannot change the driving conditions, you can change your own behaviours and learn how to thrive while you drive.

Be Prepared

If you plan ahead, you can deal with almost any crisis. Schedule regular servicing for your vehicle and check the gas, oil, and windshield wiper fluid levels frequently. Whenever possible, fill up the night before. During the winter months, keep emergency supplies in your car, including a shovel, candles, matches and heavy blankets. Use winter tires and check the antifreeze levels. Consider obtaining a CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) membership. Their rates are reasonable and you can count on them if you have trouble starting your car, lock yourself out, or need towing services. Your membership also allows you to save on trips, admission fees to attractions, theatre tickets and insurance.

Have a Plan B in place for those mornings and evenings you are stuck in traffic. Keep healthy snacks such as trail mix, protein bars, fruits, and cut-up vegetables on hand and ensure that your cell phone is fully charged each day.

Create a comfortable cocoon

A clean and pleasant car interior will help your relax while navigating busy highways. Take advantage of the interior cleaning services offered by your dealer. Organize your maps, CDs, and other items in the center console, side pockets or trunk. This will prevent them from become projectiles in the event of a car accident. Use a remote starter to cool your car during a heat wave and warm it up on cold days.

Stock your car with audio books and language tapes and use that time in your vehicle to improve your English skills or relax listening to your favourite authors. Alternatively, you could listen to music on the radio or CDs.

Consider all options

While major highways may provide the most direct route, you should familiarize yourself with any parallel or side roads that will also take you to your destination. Carefully study your maps and try out these alternate routes on your drive home. As you drive, listen to the traffic information provided by the local radio stations. When you hear of an accident or other traffic tie-up, get off the main road and use an alternate route.

Consider public transit. In Southern Ontario, Go Transit and Gray Coach buses have regular runs to Toronto and other cities in the GTA. Check the departure times and experiment with them. While your commute may be longer, you can use the time to read, get caught up on email or simply relax before arriving at your destination.

Find out if any of your colleagues live anywhere along your daily route. Initially, it may be a hassle to organize arrival and departure times, but you will spend less time at the wheel and help reduce air pollution.

Juggle your work hours. As you become more comfortable in the workplace, approach your employer and suggest a more flexible schedule. Instead of working nine-to-five, ask if you could try a ten-to-six or eight-to-four shift. With today’s technology, you may even be able to work at home one or two days a week.

Manage your stress

Acknowledge that stress is a part of daily living and that you may feel its effects more acutely as you increase your driving time on major highways. Eat properly, exercise and get at least seven hours of sleep each night. At first, you may find it difficult to fall asleep at an earlier hour, but if you persist your body will adapt to the change. If you are sleep deprived, you could become easily frustrated at work and on the road.

A long drive to work doesn’t have to be a bad thing to wake up to. If you manage it well, it can turn out to be a great beginning to your day!

*Canadian Automobile Association http://www.caa.ca/home-e.cfm