4 Ways to Ease Travel Anxiety During the Holiday Season

Stressed woman in the airportFall and winter bring the holidays and, for some of us, the dreaded burden of having to travel. Although I enjoy this time of year, the stress of having to get somewhere that my two feet cannot take me can rob me of some of my holiday joy. For some, it may completely overshadow holiday plans. If you are like me and have family far from home, the prospect of having to deal with the airport and get on a crowded plane is almost enough to settle for a family reunion via Skype.

So, fellow anxious travelers, this is for you. Here are some tips on how to address travel anxiety—no matter your mode of travel or how far you’re going.

1. Identify and Dispel Negative or Unhelpful Thoughts

Our minds are tricky! Thoughts pop up whether we want them to or not. If you are not aware of what’s happening, you may find yourself in a downward spiral of thinking patterns that trigger and exacerbate negative emotions. Being able to identify and dispel these thoughts can go a long way toward helping you gain control over your behaviors.

A common thought trap is putting unhelpful pressure and judgment on yourself. You feel anxious about driving and then suddenly the thought “I shouldn’t feel anxious about driving; I’m so stupid!” pops into your head. It’s a thought trap! You’ve just judged your own anxiety, which creates another layer of negative thought and emotion. Try acknowledging that you do feel this way—without judgment—and then decide how you want to tackle it.

Another thought trap is filtering out information. You might think, “Accidents happen every second!” only to soon find yourself counting all the ways the trip may end in disaster. Do accidents happen every second? In the world, perhaps, but is it a helpful thought to you in the moment? Probably not. There are positive events that happen every second, too, like a child being born or someone saying “I love you.” Remove the negative filter and try to disengage from unhelpful thoughts by literally telling yourself to stop.

2. Set Reasonable Mini-Milestones

Rather than looking at the trip as an epic three-, five-, or seven-hour journey, set smaller milestones that let you know you are making progress. Driving? Set your mini-milestone for a gas station or use your GPS to determine a good break point.

When I’m flying, my mini-milestone combines a healthy distraction and a milestone. I typically bring a book and set the bookmark to a random page. When I reach that point in the book, I’m allowed a break.

Not only do mini-milestones give you a sense of movement and accomplishment, but they help break a journey into manageable chunks. You can also build in other “rewards” for yourself for reaching milestones. Do what you need to do to keep yourself positive and steering clear of thought traps.

3. Use Healthy Distractions

The less you allow your mind to wander into thought traps, the less anxiety you may experience.

The less you allow your mind to wander into thought traps, the less anxiety you may experience.

A healthy distraction is one that keeps you present and out of your head. If you’re driving, try queuing up that audiobook you never had a chance to listen to or play one of your favorite playlists. If you are lucky enough to be on a plane that offers in-flight entertainment, try watching a movie. It’s also a great time to practice mindfulness exercises.

If a negative thought comes up, let it come and go and gently redirect yourself back to what’s happening in front of you.

4. Breathe, Stretch, and Let It Go

Make a point to practice even breathing throughout your journey and, when possible, take time to do light stretching and focused deep breathing. This will help your body and mind relax.

If you are driving, take time at a rest stop to release stress from your body and re-center yourself before getting back on the road. In a plane or train, try walking the aisle to give your legs a chance to stretch. If the idea of walking around the train or plane is too stressful, try engaging in seated activities such as progressive muscle relaxation or small stretches with your ankles, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck. Small stretches will help release any built-up tension without disturbing your neighbor.

Integrating some of these practices may lead to a smoother and less stressful trip so that you can spend your energy on the things and people that matter to you. Safe travels, and happy holidays!

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deanna Richards, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • diane

    diane

    November 24th, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    I have tried to come to the conclusion that whatever happens, happens, and I do not have any control over it. If it is meant to be then that’s what is meant to be.

  • Mollie

    Mollie

    November 24th, 2015 at 2:39 PM

    Well you could do like my mom and take a valium before heading to the airport

  • Max

    Max

    November 25th, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    My family and i always take turns from year to year and switch it around as far as who has to travel and who doesn’t. This is my year to fly across the country and while a little intimidating right now, I just have to keep the faith that everything possible is being done to maintain my safety as well as that of my fellow travelers this year. Deep breathing also always helps me through the flight and some good music.

  • Grandy

    Grandy

    November 26th, 2015 at 6:25 AM

    It’s one thing to profess that we will do all of these things in the spirit of calmer travels but you know as well as I do that the minute something goes wrong, the lines are long, you get pulled out of line for further inspection, it just ups the stress and anxiety.

  • Zoe

    Zoe

    November 27th, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    Well I made it cross country, now I just have to worry about making it back home with no delays on Sunday!

  • virginia

    virginia

    November 28th, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    When I have to fly, and I don’t really love it but there are of course times when it is a necessity, I always bring a good book, and some headphones to tune out the drone of the plane and the conversation aorund me.
    I try to use it as time to focus on what journey I am traveling toward and what I can take away from this new adventure.
    But now I also try to focus on the good that I am also traveling toward and not the bad that I could encounter. That sort of would ruin it.

  • Flolrence

    Flolrence

    November 28th, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    I have a big overseas trip coming up over Christmas, and I have never been out of the country.

    Given the state of the world right now I am frightened to go but then I am afraid that I might not ever have another chance to do it if I don’t take this chance right now.

  • wynne

    wynne

    November 29th, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    I say travel and don’t let them scare you!
    That is their goal, to make us all frightened and to change the way we live our lives.
    I don’t want to let the bad overcome my chance to do something good!

  • Carolyn

    Carolyn

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:04 PM

    I had a really bad wreck a few years ago and now I am scared to drive.
    My family tells me that I need help but the thought of driving again just terrifies me.

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