Subway delays are nothing new, but this summer in New York City seems to be particularly stressful. News reporters are even dubbing this season the MTA’s “Summer of Hell.” (Reassuring, isn’t it?). With extra-packed trains and the anxiety of being late for work, it can be challenging to stay calm and cool-headed during the NYC commute.
Here’s a handful of self-calming techniques to keep you from losing your mind on the next ride to work, so you can arrive refreshed and have a productive day.
It goes without saying that getting lost in a good book can help your mind drift into another world. But did you know there is scientific evidence that reading makes you happier?
According to The New Yorker and a 2011 brain scan study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, “When people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves.” In other words, people who read fiction tend to be better at empathizing with those around them — which can lead to stronger relationships and social interactions.
In addition, “Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”
Use guided meditation apps
If you’ve never meditated before, it can be challenging to focus your mind and eliminate distractions — especially in a city like New York (let alone on a crowded subway car). Luckily, apps like Headspace, Calm, and InsightTimer make mobile meditation easy, with guided mindfulness exercises that you can do in just a few minutes a day.
Track your breathing
Another DIY way to lower your heart rate and be more present is by simply counting your breaths. Try the analog method, or use FitBit’s built-in “Relax” guided breathing exercises, which prompt you to breathe for 2 or 5 minutes to the beat of an on-screen visualization. “Deep breathing has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety,” according to research.
Sit like a mountain
For more intermediate mindfulness practitioners, a common teaching is to sit like a mountain, says Sharon Salzberg, New York Times bestselling author and Buddhist meditation teacher. When the metaphorical clouds pass by, you can acknowledge them — but remember that they do not affect you. You simply watch them come and go.
Close your eyes
With all the sensory stimulation of 6 million commuters rushing around, in-your-face ads, claustrophobia-inducing crowds, and the alluring glow of your iPhone’s unchecked notifications, it’s no wonder you’re maxed out. Sometimes all it takes to calm down on the subway is to simply shut your eyes.
Dr. Elaine Aron, bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person, writes that 80 percent of sensory stimulation comes in through the eyes. Take control, and tune out the madness for 30 seconds or so — then see how you feel.
Inhale and exhale slowly while you’re at it. You can even paint a mental picture of a more spacious subway scene, where there’s more than three inches between you and your neighbor. Just don’t fall asleep standing up.
Trick your brain with reverse psychology
Repeat after me: “I hope this MTA ride lasts longer.” (Said no one ever.)
In all seriousness, there is a way to trick yourself into shortening the underground commute. One way to speed up time is by partaking in an activity that you find enjoyable (time flies when you’re having fun), or something that requires long periods of focus.
Dig into a deep task where you’d normally say to yourself, “I wish I had more hours in the day to finish this,” like writing an article or planning a personal event. Then once you get lost in the task, time will inevitably whiz by — as it tends to do — and you’ll have arrived at your destination before you know it.
Best case, you make actual progress and get a nice chunk of the project done. Worst case, you run out of time because the trip flew by too quickly and — wait, that’s what you wanted in the first place. Where did the time go?!
Think happy thoughts
When all else fails, the simple act of visualization can flip your frown upside-down during the daily commute. Use the power of mind-over-matter. Instead of dwelling on what annoys you about the smelly guy standing way too close for comfort, shift your mental energy toward life goals and positive aspirations. It will make this tiny blip of a transit ride feel like a means to an end in a much bigger picture.
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