The commute is often seen as a chore, but the pandemic has shown that it can be good for mental health.
You need sheltered time to mentally shift gears after work to prevent burnout, two experts said.
Longer commutes for office workers and false commuters for remote workers could also help, they added.
The dreaded commute to work could be good for your mental health, according to a recent study.
Researchers at Wayne State and Rutgers University have found that commuting creates a so-called liminal space that allows the brain to shut down and recharge.
In an article for The Conversation, the researchers argued that the pandemic has shed light on how important this liminal space is to preventing burnout.
“We believe the loss of this space helps explain why many people have lost their commute,” they wrote.
Commuters offer time to shift gears
People need time to mentally shift gears from work to home. This happens on two fronts, the researchers said: psychological detachment and psychological recovery.
Psychological detachment, as defined by a 2007 study, suggests that not only have you walked away from work calls and emails, but you’ve also stopped thinking about work-related problems or opportunities.
In psychological recovery, you are also mentally recovering from the energy expended during the day.
Without these two processes, people are at a higher risk of burnout, according to a 2014 study.
Longer commutes can be more relaxing
Commuters can offer that protected time to unplug and recover. In an unpublished study, researchers asked 80 university employees to discuss situations in which they were able to mentally disconnect.
“We found that on days with longer-than-average commutes, people reported higher levels of psychological detachment from work and were more relaxed during the commute,” the researchers said in The Conversation.
“Longer commutes could give people more time to unplug and catch up” by listening to music or podcasts, for example, they said.
It only works if the commute itself isn’t stressful. “On days when commutes were more stressful than usual, they reported less psychological detachment from work and less relaxation during the commute,” researchers said in The Conversation.
Consider a fake commute
Researchers suggest that embracing your commute could be a way to protect yourself from the negative effects of work and prevent burnout.
“To help improve detachment and relaxation during the commute, commuters might try to avoid ruminating about the workday and instead focus on personally satisfying uses of commute time, such as listening to music or podcasts or calling a friend ”they said in The Conversation.
Trying to get home as fast as possible by changing that route every day, cutting through traffic or hopping on a crowded train could backfire, they said.
“So some people may find it worth taking the ‘scenic route’ home to avoid tense driving situations,” for example, they wrote in The Conversation.
Even remote workers, who tend not to commute, can learn to unplug by creating a fake commute for themselves.
“Our findings suggest that remote workers may benefit from creating their own form of commuting to provide a liminal space for recovery and transition, such as a 15-minute walk to mark the start and end of the workday.” the researchers said in The Conversation.
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