HealthMental Health


How can commuting be good for your mental health?

A recent study found that commutes are a sort of "liminal space" – a time free of both home and work roles.
Posted at 7:42 PM, Mar 29, 2023

Commuting everyday can seem daunting, but the commute can be turned from a downer to uplifting. 

According to the Census Bureau, more than 126 million Americans commuted to work in 2021. Nearly 18% of employees worked from home. And guess what?  

A 2020 New York Times report found some of those working remotely missed their daily ride during the pandemic.  

How often do we have time by ourselves during the course of our day? 

Leadership professor James Bailey, at George Washington University, says the daily ritual can have psychological benefits.  

First is initiation and closure — transitioning from home to work.  

"When we start blending our work and our home life, I think there might be a psychic cost to this that we start to kind of confuse the two," Bailey said. 

A recent study found commutes can provide a "liminal space" – a time to psychologically switch gears.  

Researchers found that commuters were able to detach and mentally transition from their home roles, to their liminal space, and recover for work. 

Scripps News talked to some Chicago commuters about their ride to work.  

"Is peaceful and, is always beautiful, is, sculptures, statues, buildings to see when you passing through downtown. So I always enjoy that," said Wallace Kator, a commuter.

People wait to drive through the Holland Tunnel into New York City

These cities have some of the worst traffic in the world

New York and Washington D.C. are the cities with the worst rush hour traffic, according to TomTom's 2023 Traffic Index.


Next is structure: commutes organize our days into a pattern and in this pattern, our brains find safety and predictability.  

It’s very rare for us to snatch those few moments to yourself. And those centering elements, of course, allow us to prepare ourself better for all of the curveballs that life throws us. 

Bailey says it’s also about preparation. 

"When you head from home to work, you're preparing yourself for your work day. You're thinking about what's going to happen that day, who you have to talk to, what are you going to be talking to them about and how it is that you might be talking to them," Bailey said.

And whatever it is you’re doing while commuting — it can be restorative.  

"You could do mindfulness. You know, you could do meditation," Bailey said. 

But every rule has an exception. Other studies have found that commuting can increase the risk of stress and anxiety. 

"It's the traffic. That's what gets me," said Patricia Bulsok, a commuter.

According to Bailey there is no definite answer on the effects of commuting. But he says the benefits depend on the circumstances of a commute – not the type or duration. He notes even those working remotely can benefit from a virtual commute. 

"By creating this ritual, even if you're not commuting — and that ritual could be 'I get up at this time, I do this, I take this walk, I take the dog out for a walk' and so forth — you're trying to reclaim some of what has been lost," Bailey said.