How to Stay Calm During Stressful Travel, According to a Psychotherapist

4 min read

Despite what social media makes it seem like, traveling can be a source of major frustration and anxiety. According to Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist and author, simply leaving the comfort of home or switching up your routine can throw off your body and brain. “Research shows that travel, even over short distances, is associated with higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” she explains. “As a psychotherapist and someone who struggles with anxiety, I’m all too familiar with this drill.”

Emily recounts a stressful trip she took to Italy. “I was scouting locations, venues and caterers for my upcoming wedding,” she says. “While we had a fantastic time and found the perfect place, it was still super stressful. Our flights were delayed, plus [there was] the stress from planning a perfect wedding. But, being able to honor and endure the pain of traveling is worth taking the time to do.”

Travel is difficult for everyone at some point, so what to do when you encounter stressful delays and cancellations? “The best thing you can do is be as prepared as possible, and to try and prevent your feelings from becoming negative,” Emily says. “Your feelings are one of the very few things that you can actually control about traveling; remove yourself from negative people and negative situations and you will feel much better.” Here are her four tips for stress-free travel.

Plan for the unexpected

“Get real with yourself and prepare for what could go right and wrong,” Emily advises. “Lower your expectations and recognize that delays happen and so does traffic and weather. Don’t focus on the negative, but do be aware of the realities.”

Emily offers these five quick planning tips:

  1. Give yourself extra time to get to their airport.
  2. Try not to arrive upset so you don’t take it out on fellow travelers or flight attendants. 
  3. Slow down and gain control.
  4. Be polite and understanding, and always ask for help if you need it.
  5. Remember that kindness matters and you’ll feel much less anxious because you won’t be feeling guilty for behaving badly or worrying about missing your plane.

Stay healthy

“Leaving the comfort of home will throw off your body and brain, which interferes with a more balanced mood, big time,” Emily notes. “Stick to your vitamin schedule because your immunity is lower when you’re stressed. I recommend taking Airborn or vitamin C on the plane and when you get [to your destination].”

Emily also suggests packing activated charcoal, which will help with an upset stomach. “Approximately 80 percent of your serotonin is made in your GI tract, so when your stomach hurts, your brain does too. Take probiotics and drink more water, as you will get dehydrated on the plane. Hydration [also] helps your brain; when you’re dehydrated, it takes longer for the synapses to connect and you’re likely to feel more out of control and less calm.”

Hunger can also exacerbate anxiety, so snack smart by choosing natural, high-protein and high-fiber foods that’ll keep you feeling full and help you power through.

Try guided meditation

“I’ve found that just listening to a guided meditation when I’m on the plane or about to take off can really help me focus on breathing and getting into my body, which helps me stop fixating on the fear of flying,” Emily shares. “Guided meditations can help relax your nervous system on the day before your trip, on your way to the airport, or even when you get on the flight.”

Download an app like Calm before your flight, or check your in-flight entertainment for guided meditations.

Stick to your schedule

How you treat your body can impact your entire travel experience. Emily recommends being gentle with yourself while focusing on fun. “Stick with your regular sleep schedule and eat consistently,” she says. “A balanced schedule will help too, as structure can aid you in dealing with anxiety throughout the day. Overscheduling yourself might put you on edge and make you feel less relaxed.” 

Avoid self-medicating

Medicine prescribed by your doctor might help your anxiety about flying or travel, but Emily cautions about taking it. “Anxiety medication is useful if you suffer from anxiety in general, but it can be ineffective for someone with flight anxiety or someone who is using it ineffectively. Discuss your concerns and medications honestly with your practitioner or doctor,” she advises.

The same applies to sleeping medication and medications you don’t usually take. “If your doctor prescribes you medication to take PRN (also known as “prescribed as needed”), do a test run at home and not on the plane. I’ve seen far too many people become disorientated or forget where they are on the flight, leading to embarrassment—or worse, even more anxiety.”


Interested in more ways to stay calm and anxiety-free? Try these 10 apps.

About The Author

Krista Gray

Krista Gray

Krista Gray is a web producer and freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. When she's not working with clients through her company GoldSquare, she loves reading, traveling and learning new things.



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