I’m of two minds about the holidays—on the one hand, I adore twinkly lights, peppermint lattes, and any excuse to plaster my face with glitter. On the other, holiday travel is my actual worst nightmare. When winter rolls around, vacationing becomes a sinister odyssey in which I have to confront and conquer delayed flights, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the potential for family drama before I can even think about getting hygge. 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 this holiday season.
First off, I needed to know why getting around during the holidays—a time devoted to generosity, community, and mulled wine—stresses me out so much. I live in Los Angeles; it’s not like I don’t sit in traffic the rest of the year. But I’m not alone: a 2015 Healthline study found that 61% of millennials reported an increase in stress around the holidays. Another study confirmed that holiday travel, in particular, is crazy-making: One third of participants reported that they’d yelled at a stranger during past travels, while nearly a quarter said that stress had forced them to cancel a trip altogether.
“We can count on the fact that for most of us, the holidays are chock-full of last-minute credit card swipes and lack of vitamin D,” says life coach Bridget Chambers. “Family! Finances! The flu—oh my.” Drained bank accounts, scheduling, and seasonal illnesses can compound already stressful travel plans. Explains Neu Co. founder Jules Miller, “By the time it gets to the holidays, most of us are running on empty. In between the gift-buying, last-minute arrangements, and multiple bugs flying around, we can get pretty run-down. When you add into the equation you’re more than 100 times likely to get a cold during an airplane flight, the odds aren’t looking good by the time you get home!”
An important thing to realize, though, is that holiday stress isn’t always due to external factors. The number one stressor that Chambers sees in her clients? “Holiday joy. Life in December is lightning-quick, and the pressure to be perfect brings out the not-so-perfect in all of us,” she notes. Adds psychotherapist Shaina Singh, “Most people’s expectation of the holidays are of this joyous time and celebration, and they expect everything to be perfect. We often forget that holidays and holiday travel can be quite stressful for people and families.”
So what can we do to de-stress? I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were a number of simple and effective hacks, tools, and products to make traveling a little less miserable for the anxiety-inclined. Whether you’re facing off with your problematic cousins or snowed in 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 holiday 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 with you. 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 mid-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 is no supplement that supplants exercise—it helps your body, but it 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 holiday stress has a powerful bright side: It means we have more control over it than we think we do.
“It’s helpful to put things in perspective that planes will get delayed, highways will be full of traffic, our families will ask us personal questions, politics will come up, etc.,” says Singh. “Families have baggage and family members don't automatically start behaving any better or different during the holidays. Over time, stress can add up for people and they may find themselves dreading the holidays and family get-togethers altogether.”
Chambers adds, “There are lots of ways to survive the holidays, but I’m challenging you to try enjoying them. Start by using paper plates. Ask a family member how she's doing—and really listen for her answer. Write handwritten thank-you notes for gifts you receive. Skip the Saturday mall crowds, and meet a friend for hot chocolate instead. Find a local Toys for Tots and give your time. And when your brilliant, wonderful Christmas dinner overcooks, laugh and order pizza. Keep extra wine on hand. Always.”