Travel season is officially upon us. Whether you've got mileage points piled up or you're more of a homebody, we all encounter a time where we need to grab our suitcase, pack the essentials and jet off somewhere far away from home.
But for some, it isn't that simple. The mere idea of boarding a plane is enough to induce elevated breathing, sweaty palms and panicking thoughts that race through our minds. If you suffer from travel anxiety, you're not alone. "According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the percentage of Americans who have a fear of flying so intense that it qualifies as a phobia or anxiety disorder and keeps them off airplanes is closer to 6.5 percent," says The New York Times.
Regardless of whether you have a diagnosed fear or not, most of us can agree that traveling is stressful. Struggling to make it to the airport or train station on time, remembering to pack specific items in your suitcase, crowds of people with limited space, having to choose from a limited amount of overpriced foods… There are too many anxiety triggers to name.
But this year, instead of gritting my teeth and texting my therapist, I decided to consult a panel of experts on what I can do to avoid a mid-trip meltdown. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were a number of simple and effective hacks and products to make traveling a little less miserable for the anxiety-inclined. Whether you’re facing off with your problematic travel buds or delayed at the airport en route to your sun-soaked island getaway, we have the ultimate guide to taking care of your body and mind during the travel season.
Prep for Stress
“Expect that the airports will be packed, security lines will be long, planes might get delayed, and highways will be full of traffic,” advises Singh. “Give yourself plenty of time for travel. Visualize your travel day, whatever it might look like. I’ve found that this helps with making sure everything is packed, helps one feel more grounded, and can reduce stress.”
Add Comfort to Your Carry-on
Singh recommends that you take a piece of home along on your travels: “If you have a comfortable blanket, pillow, headphones, or essential oil that helps you, take it with you. You’ll be surprised how much comfort this might bring you.”
Work Out Your Worries
Exercise might be the last thing on your mind while you’re on vacation, but it’ll provide a major endorphin boost to combat crummy feelings. “Take daily vitamins, keep your smartphone in the bathroom while you sleep, and motivate yourself to move,” counsels Chambers. “There’s no supplement that supplants exercise—it helps your body, but it also transforms your mind.”
Take a Vacation from Your Vacation
“Take a minute to yourself,” instructs Singh. “Wherever you might be, find a minute or five so you can check in with yourself. Grab a drink of water or a cup of tea, and pamper yourself. Some airports have chair massages, which I have found to be extremely helpful with relaxation, as they help stretch your muscles and improve blood flow.”
Nurture Your Gut
For sustained energy and stability, says Miller, supplement your mashed potatoes with a side of sauerkraut: “I have a really sensitive digestive system, so this time of year can end up leaving me feel bloated and run-down if I indulge to the level I normally do! To keep everything in balance, I try to eat lots of fermented foods, which are naturally packed with good, probiotic bacteria. Things like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha are so easy to add to your festive plate, and make a huge difference to your gut.”
Let Yourself Recover
Stress doesn’t stop the minute your homebound Uber arrives. Don’t forget to allow yourself a little extra self-care after traveling, says Singh: “Schedule some post-holiday stress-relief healing time. Maybe that looks like a massage, a therapy session, meditation, or a spa day. Whatever works for you.”
OWN YOUR ANXIETY
Chambers says, “Here’s the truth: Stress is not a circumstance; it’s a state of mind. It’s too easy to get lost in this place.” This might sound pat or daunting—after all, on top of all that commuting pressure, who wants to feel blamed for their anxiety?—but owning our travel stress has a powerful bright side: It means we have more control over it than we think we do.
This post was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.