5 Tips for Combating PTSD (Public Transportation Stress Disorder)


This week I finally got around to doing the annual re-certification for my public transportation subsidy program benefits (I started getting emails about it in September, so clearly I’m on top of my game). Before I clicked “submit” I took a minute to think about what I’m really getting out of this program.

YES, in general it’s the least expensive option for commuting. Except for maybe riding a bike but you would be hard pressed to find me doing that in and around DC traffic. I value my life. Those of you who do bike to work, I commend you. You are brave souls.

YES, I get to reduce my carbon footprint, likely reducing the decimation of a large swath of forest to a much smaller chunk of forest each year (it’s not a perfect system).

And YES, I get a TON of reading done during my commute.


I also get to jockey for seats on buses and trains rather than enjoying a comfortable seat in my roomy vehicle, listening to music of my choice rather than whatever noise is blaring out of the headphones on the person six seats ahead of me. How the people who blast their music so loud that I can hear it across the train still have use of their ears is beyond me.

I get to try to not touch anything, anywhere, on any leg of my journey because every day I see someone sneeze or cough and wipe their hands on something I might have to touch to, oh I don’t know, keep myself from falling over when the train comes to an abrupt stop. Of course, having someone sneeze directly on the back of your neck is just fabulous too.

I get robbed occasionally. Okay, that only happened once and I got my phone back when I went after the guy, but still…it’s highly unlikely anyone would have taken my phone if it were resting comfortably and safely in the cup holder of my car on a drive to the office.

I won’t even elaborate on the days where there are weather-related delays or mechanical problems on the Metro. It’s a nightmarish underground jungle.

I could go on, but my public transportation stories go from generic observances to specific, sometimes gross, stories. Hence PTSD. Taking public transportation can be rough. Sometimes I get comical stories or Twitter quips out of it, but is it worth it? Is my sanity the high price I have to pay for a free ride to work whilst saving the forest (I kid)?

At the end of the day, the likelihood of all the things I dislike about taking public transportation happening in one commute is actually pretty low. Sometimes my rides are quite pleasant and without incident. However, traffic is a guarantee every day. As is the exorbitant cost to park… not to mention gas and insurance and maintenance, oh my. Oh…and accidents…yep those are also a very real possibility. So, all that considered, I gladly clicked “submit” to request a renewal of my subsidy benefits.

There are pros and cons to every possible way you can get to work. Don’t believe me? Click here to see ten things commuting does to your body. No matter which method of transportation you choose, you just have to deal with it. Death, taxes, and commuting, am I right?

Going to work can be hard enough. Getting there has the power to set the tone for your entire day. For those of you entering the public transportation fracas on a daily basis, here are a few tips to make your commute a bit more enjoyable.

  1. Find a good podcast to listen to. I am extremely new to the podcast party (I jumped on the bandwagon with Serial and am not looking back!). There are so many interesting podcasts to listen to on any number of topics. Here’s a list that helped get me started. With a podcast, you are more likely to reach a good stopping point by the time you finish your commute than, say, an audio book.
  2. Listen to an audio book. You probably thought I wouldn’t recommend an audio book after number 1, but not so. You’ve got to switch things up once in a while! Some days I crave a plot over a podcast. Audio books are there for me when I need them. With the flexibility to download audio books from local libraries to your music device or smartphone instead of buying them, all you need invest is your time.
  3. Read a real book. This isn’t a groundbreaking idea but it’s a solid choice. Not sure what you want to read next? Check out Goodreads to connect with your social networks and see what they are reading and recommending. Don’t trust your networks to recommend something you’d like? You can always peruse Goodreads’ many lists, or let it create one for you based on other books you have read and enjoyed. Then check to see if your local library has it to borrow or to download to an e-reader, if that’s your preferred method for reading these days.
  4. Be productive! Learn a new skill. Make a to-do list for your day. Help cure cancer. Didn’t see that last one coming, did you? I’m not kidding. Check out Cancer Research UK for apps you can download and play on your smartphone. By playing these games, you actually contribute to cancer research by analyzing real data in a fun, innovative way.
  5. And of course, you can always people watch. Sometimes disengaging from your environment is necessary to preserve your sanity (suggestions one through four are good for that). But sometimes watching the people around you is completely fascinating. Don’t creepily stare anyone down, just casually take note of the people around you and try to guess what their stories are.

If none of those ideas really tickle your fancy, there’s always the option to catch up on some sleep or telework to avoid the whole thing completely.

Mackenzie Wiley is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Great post! I wish more people took public transportation (turns out that about 80% of us still drive to work), but there are some inconveniences to any mode of transportation. Too bad that our transit subsidy is only half of the parking subsidy. Seems that even the Congress has a bias against public transportation.