What You Need To Know About Travel Anxiety Amidst The Terror Attacks

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Photo credit to Gratisography

Tis the season for increased travel. Whether your recent promotion blessed you with the opportunity to take a holiday vacation this year, or you’re just heading to a relative’s house to eat, drink, and be merry, millions of people will be hitting the airports this season. While for many people, the month of December is an exciting time, it can also be a time for increased anxiety — especially for people who tend to feel uncomfortable with the travel process. Large crowds, unpredictable flights, and new places can easily leave you feeling uneasy during this time of year. Now, with terror attacks occurring across Europe, and countries being  stricken by war, it may be difficult to overcome the fear of traveling to places both near and far.

Just in the last week, A Russian Ambassador was fatally shot while attending an art exhibit, and a truck plowed into a German Christmas market by a man affiliated with ISIS.

In times like these, finding ways to cope with the stressful time in between the workday grind and the holiday unwind is of the utmost importance.

This year, I personally won’t be flying anywhere (I’ll be visiting a sibling in my home state of North Carolina), but I did travel to Mexico last winter. For the most part, the trip was a blast, but my anxiety definitely reared its ugly head when I nearly missed my flight out of Mexico due to an airline scheduling error, and wound up being flown to Chicago rather than home (FYI: my holiday vacation clothes did not hold up in the Chicago snow). Ever since then, I’ve made sure to be fully prepared — or as prepared as I can be — for mishaps, scary situations, or anxious moments.

First, I’ve learned that it is crucial to really do my research before traveling, especially if I’m flying to an airport or location I’ve never visited. It helps me to read travel blogs, watch YouTube Vlogs, and read about airports so that I feel like I have a better understanding of the lay of the land. When I feel like I know exactly where I’m going, I’m less likely to feel panicked or overwhelmed when I get there if I’m not being picked up from the airport by a friend or family member. If I’m really worried, I set up what I call a “virtual travel companion”. A virtual travel companion is a friend or family member who roughly knows your itinerary and is prepared to take calls from you should you need a little help. If you’re traveling to a foreign country over the holidays for example, you might want someone in your home country who knows where you will be for the majority of your excursion. It can give you a little peace of mind if you are prone to feeling alone or lost, and if something does go wrong, you have someone you can call and talk to, get advice from, or ask to google translate something when you can’t figure out the word for “Wi-Fi” in another language.

If you get nervous when you’re up in the air, it can help to distract yourself as much as possible. I very rarely pay for music (read: I am a broke college student) so, as a special treat, I usually buy myself news songs or a new album when I fly. Having new music to listen to on the plane keeps my brain engaged with something other than the possibility of a plane crash, and it really helps the time pass. You can also make the travel process less uncomfortable by giving yourself other self-care treats, like getting your favorite snack to eat on the plane or buying yourself a box of chocolates. Trying all the the different flavors of truffles and cremes in a “Whitman’s” box can be a fun way to relax during an otherwise stressful experience.

If you do find yourself having an anxiety attack while traveling during the holiday season, use deescalating techniques to calm yourself down and move forward. Personally, I find that it best to redirect myself from thinking about questions. When I catch myself thinking a million thoughts that start with the phrase “what if”, I pause and switch myself to statements. When my internal monologue asks, “What if the person who is supposed to pick me up from the airport can’t find me because I got lost? What if they don’t show up on time and I’m alone in a strange place with a lot of bags?” I stop, take a breath and respond to my internal monologue: “If I get lost, I’ll find a map or ask someone in uniform for directions. If my ride is late, I’ll find a very comfortable chair and read a funny thread on Reddit”. Once you do that, it may be easier to take several deep breaths and be on your way.

The holiday season might always bring a little stress, and scary news stories often make it worse, but travel doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence now, or any other time of the year. Go forth, and enjoy all the greatness of the world this December and all throughout 2017!