So many of life’s major stressors are experiences that we actually choose— like getting married, starting a new job, starting a family, and travel! Why is that and how can we manage those feelings?
While travel is usually undertaken with a positive goal in mind—like pleasure, adventure, or reconnecting with family, travel disrupts our routine by nature. While the disruption can be the very thing that provides renewal and perspective when we return, the changes in routine can create stress. Humans depend on routine for comfort, and routines help us organize our behaviors in line with our personal goals.
For example, if it’s important for you to exercise every day, and you do so in your regular routine, then travel might present some unexpected barriers to that everyday habit, and that will cause you some stress in not having that so-rewarding experience of completing a daily goal. Most of us don’t even realize how many daily routines we engage in and how very comforting they are. Here are some tips to help you embrace the disruption and enjoy your travel!
Create routine while traveling.
Although you will not be able to engage in your “normal” daily routine, (and, really, why would you want to on vacation?), you can create brief moments of a familiar routine. If you always drink coffee at 9 am before work, then consider organizing your wake time around 9 am coffee. If you go to a yoga class twice a week, look into yoga schedules or portable yoga apps to help you continue that routine while away from home.
Plan the first couple of days in detail.
Since travel involves some factors beyond your control, a nice counterbalance could be to plan the first day or two of your visit in great detail. You can always change your plans, but having a few activities in mind will give you some structure in your day.
Allow extra time for everything!
I recently traveled through several cities for business and had meetings lined up along the way. I quickly realized that checking train schedules, purchasing tickets, and downloading city map apps added extra time to my planning that I hadn’t anticipated. If you are a person who likes to arrive just on time, then you should expect to add an extra bit of time to allow for your unfamiliarity with the new place.
Plan for the worst outcome and know that there will be some challenges that befall you. But stay mindful and notice the little pleasures and positive outcomes that the universe provides to you. Notice a friendly gesture that helps you on your way and connects you with humanity in a new place.
Stretch and move your body.
Regular physical activity, even just a walk, will help you regulate your anxiety and emotions.
Don’t drink too much alcohol.
Drinking alcohol can contribute to emotion dysregulation and poor sleep. That is, drinking excessively can lead to even more difficulty managing the mood swings and anxiety that accompany travel. On top of that, drinking alcohol can interfere with a good night’s sleep, which further compounds the problem since sleep is important for coping with anxiety.
If stressed, try some deep breathing to help you relax.
Try diaphragmatic breathing, or long, slow breaths with a focus on the exhale to slow your breathing.
Think of your anxiety as “extra energy”
for packing, planning, and enjoying your journey. If you’re hyperfocused on your anxiety, then try altering your language to reframe the apprehension as anticipation, energy, focus, and arousal. These words have a less “out-of-control,” negative vibe.
Use fun distractions to reduce anxiety while traveling!
Music, television, movies, crossword puzzles, and crafting can provide another focus for your restless brain.
Focus on the values that led you to travel.
Sometimes travel is unavoidable. Whether it’s travel you’ve chosen or travel that’s a chore, remember to focus on the overarching values for why you’re making the trip. It can be useful to accept the anxiety as a given and to then shift your focus on your own self-worth in tending to family duties, keeping your word, or taking care of business or something important that requires travel.
-Ali Behar, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker & Director of Marketing/Outreach Therapy Lab
Ali is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in evidence-based therapy including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based therapy. Ali trained and worked at UCLA’s Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, with children in the partial hospital program and with women in the Maternal Mental Health Program. She earned her Master’s in Social Work at New York University after obtaining her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Ali is committed to tailoring science-backed approaches to an individual’s goals, interests, and strengths. (LCSW84547)
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