The holidays are right around the corner, and you may be making plans for travel this season. With unexpected flight delays, COVID-19 infections lurking around, and other disruptions to your itinerary, traveling during one of the busiest times of the year can be stressful.
Understand that it’s completely normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed during your trip, especially with so much outside of your control, said Nina Vasan, chief medical officer of the mental health platform Real.
Whether you are traveling home for the holidays or taking a vacation to a new destination, here are some expert-approved tips to make holiday travel less stressful this year.
If you’re worried about sudden changes to your travel itinerary, it may be helpful to make a plan ahead of time.
Vasan recommends thinking of potential situations like flight cancellations, weather changes and lost baggage. You can then incorporate steps such as knowing alternate flight options or taking only carry-ons, if you have the option to do so.
“Having a ‘crisis plan’ in place can decrease your feelings of anxiety because you already know what to do if something disrupts your itinerary,” she said.
Balance your itinerary
Trying to fit everything into your trip, from visiting multiple family members to touring new places, can be a lot.
“Don’t feel obligated to make a fully booked travel itinerary or feel like you have to be productive at all times. Focus on spending quality time with others and make sure to spend some time for yourself to take care of your mental health,” said Katie Duke, a nurse practitioner and member of FIGS’ health care advisory board.
If you’re traveling for an organized event like a holiday, give yourself some space before or afterward to take a relaxing break. Duke recommends doing something that gives you joy, like taking a walk outdoors or grabbing your favorite drink at a local cafe.
Mindfulness, the ability to be present in the moment, has been associated with reduced anxiety. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, like focusing on your breathing, journaling how you’re feeling, or engaging in a guided meditation.
“The physical action of taking a few deep breaths can be really useful in releasing stress and promoting a state of calm,” Vasan said.
During your journey, you may find yourself spending more time waiting than planned due to delays. While this may be stressful, think of it as an opportunity to do something fun and entertaining to boost your mood, Vasan said.
Be creative and engage in an activity you enjoy, like finding a new book to read, starting a new TV series, drawing or even listening to a podcast episode.
It’s easy to forget to drink water throughout the day, especially during the colder months. Make sure you’re drinking enough water this holiday season, said Supriya Lal, a registered dietitian based in New York City.
“Staying hydrated will not only help our bodily functions, but also help improve our mood and energy levels,” Lal said.
Whether you are on the road or taking a train, the journey to and from your destination may make it difficult to get enough shut-eye. Prioritize sleep while traveling by aiming to get at least the recommended seven hours of rest each night.
“Getting enough rest is essential to be able to regulate your stress and channel healthy coping mechanisms,” Vasan said.
Give yourself some positive self-talk
The unanticipated changes you may experience during your travel journey can feel overwhelming, but remember that it’s out of your control. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
“Tell yourself that your emotions right now are completely valid. Engaging in positive self-talk can uplift your mood and decrease stress,” Duke said.