Commuting Creates ‘Liminal Space’ for Mental Health, Says Experts

Your daily commute isn't an annoying hassle, recent science says — it's actually a helpful tool for your mental health.

A recent study from Wayne State University and Rutgers University reviewed various available research in the field of work science about the effects of commuting. What they found was that the average commute — 26 minutes to work and another 26 minutes back home — played a huge role in cultivating something called "liminal space." Liminal space is the notion of having time between activities to consciously transition from one to the other.

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This kind of psychological recovery was studied in a joint 2007 project from the University of Mannheim, Germany, and Portland State University. It was found that creating a space where one can healthily psychologically detach from work was imperative in fostering mental well-being.

Without liminal space, researchers found, many workers can experience a phenomenon known as "role blurring." This means that when working from home, employees see themselves as constantly on the clock, as they develop an inability to separate their work identities from who they are at home. They're never fully able to leave the stress of their work lives, as their phones, computers, and other office necessities are just a few steps away from their children's bedrooms, living spaces, and recreation areas.

This constant unconscious engagement in work can increase burnout, as it renders someone unable to fully immerse themselves in a world outside of work.

As many continue to work from home even after the global pandemic, it can be challenging to create liminal space before and after the workday. However, researchers recommend attempting to craft some form of transition time to emulate a commute so that work detachment can take place. Options include taking a fifteen-minute walk at the beginning and the end of the day. Or, rather than worrying about the day ahead at breakfast or worrying about work after the day is over, take some time to listen to a podcast, read a book, or meditate.