7 Apr

Do You Need a Fake Commute? Experts Say Yes.

By Erika Turan, APR

For millions of us, March 2021 signaled the one-year mark of working from home. We’ve mastered (or attempted to master) Zoom meetings, cats-as-coworkers, creating home office spaces, and juggling children who need extra support and attention of their own.

It may come as no surprise that there’s a particular stressor that’s emerged during all of this: the lack of “me time” that many of us used in our daily commutes, for whatever we used it for. Our daily commutes have become a shuffle to another room, not a drive to another zip code (or area code). Without the need to drive to work, there’s less opportunity for mental unwinding. Without the evening train or subway home, there’s less chance to listen to a book or podcast, work on organizing a mental to-do list, or talk our brains through an issue or victory we encountered.

I used to work with a woman whose commute was perhaps 10 minutes. She was a creative, a free spirit, someone who thrived living close to the hubbub of the city. Until one day, she announced she’d purchased a house 40 minutes away, beyond the suburbs, in an area still more farmland than anything else. She explained that she needed more time to unwind on her drive home than 10 minutes allowed, and that she didn’t like arriving home with pent-up frustrations or annoyances that she then dumped on her family.

There are, of course, lots of downsides to long commutes that many of us don’t miss: the stress of traffic, exposure to pollution, gas costs, and just the paralysis of sitting there when we have so much we’d rather be doing.

Enter the “fake commute.”

“Commuting was a great legitimate experience to set up a barrier between the outside world of work, family, [or] social life and demanding your attention,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Jeannette Raymond. “‘Fake commute’ time is about setting up personal care boundaries — emotional oases and a guilt-free space [and] time to check in on themselves.”

My own fake commute has emerged as a walk every day before work starts. There’s not much weather that can stop me: I’ve put on two coats and snow boots to stomp through six inches of the fluffy stuff. I’ve wrangled the big umbrella, rainboots and a rain jacket to brave the rain. I don’t particularly enjoy that kind of weather, but I find being outdoors helps me clear my head and feel more ready for the day.

I also enjoy podcasts — lots and lots of podcasts — which have the added benefit of keeping me informed of current events, providing learnings I can apply to work, and giving me some good banter for the dinner table. Some particular favorites include The New York Times’s “The Daily,” “Revisionist History,” Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” and NPR’s “This American Life.”

A fake commute helps to draw boundaries between work and home, a critical function for our brains and our emotional health, not to mention our physical health. Try a short drive, a jog, a bike ride, a walk, or whatever gets you out of the house and allow you to delineate between home and workday.

Have you started your own fake commute? If not, let today be the day.