Ten ways that you can turn your drive time into 'me time'
Between the weekday commute and chauffeuring kids to weekend activities and parties, it sometimes feels as though we spend our entire lives in the car. Here, our reporter shares 10 ways that you can turn your drive time into 'me time'
Feel like you're spending more and more time sitting in traffic? You're not imagining it. According to the latest Census figures, the number of Irish workers commuting has increased by 11pc, and the majority of them (1.23 million, to be exact) are travelling by car.
In April 2016, nearly 200,000 commuters spent an hour or more travelling to work - an increase of almost 31pc in five years; of these commuters, 14pc were couples with children under the age of five.
And spare a thought for cross-country and cross-border commuters. According to the same figures, 9,336 people travel to the North for work and 3,531 people travel abroad.
If you have more drivetime than you do downtime, we've come up with 10 ways to reinvent the (steering) wheel…
How often in the day are you really alone? Without kids competing for your attention or surrounded by co-workers, clients or just the hubbub of a busy street? For plenty of people, those minutes in the car, getting from A to B, might be the only bit of alone time they get in the day, making it the perfect opportunity for practising some self-care.
For the uninitiated, self-care isn't a face mask and a bowl of vitamins, but rather a chance to refuel mentally. Up to 80pc of our internal babble is negative (thoughts like 'I'm not good enough' and 'I'm going to fail') yet, while plenty of us are willing to admit to a gloomy internal dialogue, many are still oddly uncomfortable about trying to rewire that pessimistic voice with positive self-talk.
Mantras, or affirmations, have been around for some 3,000 years and the science behind them is simple - say something enough and you'll start to believe it. So why not use your time in the car to create a new constructive habit? The only person who can hear you is you, and that's the only person who needs to listen. Try these to start off:
● I choose to be happy
● I love myself and I love my life
● I am fulfilled and fearless
● I am strong, I am beautiful, I am enough
● All is well
Five quiet minutes in the car is also the perfect time to reflect on the day (simply asking, 'What did I do well?' and 'What could I have done differently?' can make you more successful) and it's a good opportunity for practising 'Three Good Things'. Studies have shown that reflecting on three things that happened during the day, and thinking about why they made you happy, can produce long-term increases in contentment.
2 Get some exercises
Spending a long time in the car is widely associated with a host of unhealthy problems such as higher cholesterol and high blood pressure (both warning signs of heart disease and strokes), high blood sugar levels (a precursor to diabetes), higher levels of stress, lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and more chance of reporting back pain. Last year, new research revealed that spending more than one hour in the car each day could add 1.5cm to your waistline and make you 5lb heavier than the lucky people who spend less than 15 minutes in their car travelling to work. While it's no replacement for getting out and moving, fitness expert Karl Henry has a few tips to steer drivers in the right direction for fitting in a (safe) workout behind the wheel:
1) Tummy tucks
Pull your belly button towards your spine and tense the muscles to the front, back and side of your stomach. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat five times.
"This is a simple one to do while sitting in traffic and great to help strengthen your core," says Karl.
2) Shoulder shrugs
Raise your shoulders towards your ears and hold for five seconds, then relax back down and repeat 10 times.
Karl says, "We hold so much tension in the shoulders and neck muscles, so these are a great way to loosen and strengthen them. Exaggerate the movement to get the most out of it."
3) Hand flexes
Keep your hands on the steering wheel (or on the wheel and gear stick) and tense your grip as tight as you can before returning to a normal grip. Repeat for 60 seconds. A simple way to strengthen grip as well as the muscles in your hands and forearms.
Take a deep breath and tense your shoulders and chest, hold the breath for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat five times.
"It's also a good idea to stock your car once a week with water, fruit, nuts and seeds," adds Karl.
He also urges against doing exercises when the car is in motion - save your moves for the traffic lights, tailbacks and when you're parked.
3 CHAT TO TEENS
According to psychologist Sally O'Reilly, the car is a perfect spot for important talks with teenage kids. "There are several reasons for this," says Sally. "One: the teen gets to avoid eye contact, which is a godsend for embarrassing or emotional conversations to be introduced.
"Two: you literally have a captive audience, so it's easier to be heard. Three: it's often the only time when there is space to talk, with no games, music or TV to distract, so a real connection can be made. And four: there's a sense of movement in a car, of literally journeying together in a forward direction, with a destination as an end. That can be enormously helpful in conversations, particularly difficult ones."
She has this advice for dealing with potential challenges: If they accuse you of 'trapping' them: "Say, 'Yes, you're right. I really do need your attention now, though, so I'd love if we could have a conversation where we won't be interrupted and we can listen to each other.' It'll mean keeping your end of that bargain, though, and listening as well as talking."
If the headphones go on: "Say at the start that you only want them to listen to you for five minutes before escaping to the headphones," says Sally. "If that doesn't work then explain later - calmly - that it was rude not to be listened to and you felt hurt and disrespected and that you'd like things to play out differently next time. Feeling-based words are more likely to resonate, even if it doesn't show."
If you need to hug them, pull over and give the hug and make up for a lack of eye contact at the end by switching off the engine, looking at them and thanking them for the chat. "Acknowledge what was difficult for you, even, and hand them their headphones with a wink," says Sally. "And please, please, don't get onboard WiFi in your car. The people selling aren't interested in your family being connected. The opposite will happen."
4 DISCOVER NEW (HOMEGROWN) PODCAST TALENT
There are lots of reasons to listen to podcasts - 21pc of Irish people do - and even more compelling arguments for listening to them in the car, especially since technology now makes it easy to pair your car with your phone.
"With the number of podcasts available, you essentially have an unlimited library of entertainment available on demand," explains Danny Murray from the What's the Story? podcast. "It's not like radio, where your favourite DJ is only on between 12 and 3pm. Podcasting is there when you want it and how you want it - skip ads, forget watersheds - you can opt for any length and never have to face a frustrating battle of trying to find a decent song on the radio or wishing you'd a different album in the CD player." The Irish podcast market is bursting with talent. Here are Danny's top tips for which ones to download:
● Obviously, Danny and pal Mero's WTS? podcast has to get a mention, not least because it's been twice named Irish podcast of the year. The lads host a variety of guests that would make The Late Late Show blush and deliver some highly entertaining interview techniques - such captivating listening, you'll want to keep driving.
● Second Captains: The former Off the Ball crew recently launched 'Second Captains' World Service', which costs €5 a month, but you get a minimum of six podcasts a week and, if you're a sports fan, your ears will thank you.
● Dubland: PJ Gallagher and Suzanne Kane let loose in an (often explicit) world of rants, laughs and heroes of the week. "The chemistry between the two makes this a gem," says Danny. "Whether you're hearing PJ's experience of white- collar boxing or listening to Suzanne making lists that make her cry when pregnant, you'll be laughing along within minutes."
● Those Conspiracy Guys: Was 9/11 an inside job? Was the moon landing faked? Gordon and Paul ('Those Conspiracy Guys') present compelling hours of research (with the occasional lewd joke) and don't shy away from controversy. Some episodes are epic (six hours long) so maybe save them for cross-country trips.
Did you know that belting out a few tunes in the car can make you happier and healthier? Research shows that unleashing your inner Beyoncé works muscle groups in the upper body (good for lung and cardiovascular health) and can lower levels of cortisol, improving the immune system while also releasing the 'happy' hormones oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Moreover, studies have shown that people who sing together become so bonded, they can even have synchronised heart beats. Bring on the Bohemian Rhapsody …
6 GET APPY
Downloading the right apps can turn your boring, time- wasting commute into a productive mobile office. Try Dragon Dictation to turn speech into text, making you able to send emails, update Facebook or Tweet hands-free. Speaking of Twitter, if you just can't cope without scrolling through your newsfeed, try Canary Radio, which will read out what everyone's posting while you drive. Need to know what's going on in your inbox? ASAM (AgileSpeech AudioMail) will read out your emails and respond to voice commands to delete.
7 LEARN A LANGUAGE
Many scientific studies suggest that aurally learning a language is the best way to wrap your head around unfamiliar pronunciations and tricky new grammar. You absorb a foreign language by listening - even if you don't understand it - in a way that closely mirrors how you first learned to speak. And what better place to do that than in the car? Check out the free language-learning app Duolingo for a start. If you're looking to learn something 'useful', the experts say the most in-demand languages right now are Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, German and Portuguese. But, obviously, what you tackle will depend on whether you're hoping to snare an international career - or just order a few beers on the Costas.
New research says that people who read more books are nicer, kinder and more empathetic - but you don't need to turn pages to access the benefits of 'reading' fiction. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, audiobooks are the fastest- growing format in publishing. As fans know, a great narrator - or even hearing the prose read by the author themselves - can add power to the text. There are plenty of sites to download from online or see what your local library has on offer.
9 FIT IN (HEALTHY) SNACKS
Be it consciously or unconsciously, many of us turn to eating when we're bored. So why not use the drudgery of a long commute to improve your health? Bring along a body-boosting juice or some of the nutritious items that you otherwise struggle to fit into your everyday diet, such as mixed nuts and dried fruits, to eat at traffic lights stops. Alternatively (and not to advocate an unhealthy attitude to food!), there's something quite wonderful about tucking into something tasty when there's no one around to see it or nab it off you. Sod clean eating and buy the jellies and chocolate bars at the garage check-out. But eat carefully - research shows that snacking behind the wheel makes crashing a whopping 80pc more likely. Also avoid hot drinks and soup (a bumps-in-the-road liability), chips (greasy hands equal slippy steering wheel) and burgers/doughnuts/ anything with messy fillings - all widely reported by insurance companies to be the most dangerous foods to eat while driving.
10 PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
Not 'mindfulness' again, I hear you cry…but listen up, because it might make you a better driver and a less anxious, distracted person. "Mindfulness really means 'present- moment awareness'," explains Josephine Lynch of Mindfulness.ie. "Many of us have the capacity to drive virtually on automatic, barely noticing how we got from A to B. But while this might sound like good news, it means our attention can wander off, usually into worry and planning over scenarios that might never happen. It's fair to say that we would drive much more carefully if we were present while driving."
Josephine advises little things like simply saying, 'I am opening the car,' to bring your mind to where you are, then noticing how it feels to sit in the car seat, letting it take your weight and noticing if your hands are tense gripping the wheel. "We need to do this regularly - maybe every few minutes - because we have such deeply ingrained habits, we will often find ourselves gripping the steering wheel again within a few moments."
Trying to multi-task in the car might bring short-term gains but, ultimately, focusing on what you're doing will reap long-term awards. Josephine explains, "We don't have limitless attention, so honing it to where we are, what we are doing and being more alive in our bodies allows us to be more present in the moment and, over time, less scattered and anxious."
NB: Never take your focus off the road when driving. For safe driving guidelines, see rsa.ie