Holiday Travel Anxiety – You Are Not Alone

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Traveling during the holidays has never been for the faint of heart, but COVID-19 has brought a new layer of concerns for people looking to leave town. Many who never previously experienced travel anxiety are feeling skittish at the thought of navigating a crowded terminal or sharing space with a plane full of strangers. And it’s no wonder, seeing as we’ve spent the past two years conditioning ourselves to avoid close human contact. So, first and foremost, be gentle with yourself. Remember that these nerves are a natural, healthy response to the circumstances at hand and you are not alone in feeling this way.

Here are some other things you can do to ease anxiety around travel:

  • Consider. Ask yourself, how important is it to take this trip? Everyone’s answer to this question will be different. What matters most is that you weigh the pros and cons and make the decision whether or not to travel based on your own priorities, not outside pressure from anyone else.
  • Prepare. If you decide to move forward, do your research on the latest protocols and recommendations from the airline, your destination city and of course, the CDC. Then make a plan for what needs to be done in advance, as well as on the day of.
  • Trust. Once you’ve done the above and booked your travel, give yourself permission to stop thinking about it until the day comes. You’ve made your choice based on research and what you think is best. Trust your judgment and preparations. And accept what is beyond your control.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed on the day of:

  • Breathe. If you can, close your eyes. Inhale as you count to four, then hold for another four seconds and release slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat for at least 5-10 breaths or however long it takes. This is one of many simple and powerful mindfulness exercises that you can use anywhere, anytime to relax your nervous system.
  • Listen. Pre-download a relaxing playlist or album for the flight. Many studies have shown music to be a powerful regulator of anxiety, particularly if the songs are familiar to the listener.
  • Touch. Bring a small object that can easily fit in your pocket or purse. A shell, a stone or even an earring will do. If you start to feel anxious, bring it out and look at it with intense focus. Examine the texture of the surface, where the light hits and the shadows lie. Then put the object in your pocket or simply close your eyes and turn it over between your fingers, exploring it by touch and visualizing what you feel. This exercise helps us to shift out of emotional autopilot by grounding us in a sensory state of being.
  • Remember, pandemic-related travel anxiety is completely normal. Learning to accept the things beyond our control and navigate our anxious feelings is a vital part of the post-COVID “reentry” process and an invaluable skill for life in general.

    If you or a loved one are experiencing persistent, overwhelming feelings of anxiety, there is a way through. Therapists at NYCC are here to help.

Written by Rebecca Morehiser, MSW-I