For many people, after spending more than a year stuck at home abstaining from travel, it can feel a little weird to even think about heading back to airports or transit hubs — and that's totally normal. Though if you have an upcoming trip, you may need some strategies to work through those feelings.
“To mentally prepare, I tell my clients to listen to the nervous part of them first,” said Dr. Frank Anderson, a psychiatrist based in Massachusetts who works with trauma patients. “It’s important to remember that there is always a positive intention to any symptom you’re experiencing, even if it’s upsetting or appears negative on the surface.”
From there, Anderson encourages his patients to listen to and validate their own concerns. “After all, who doesn’t calm down once they’ve been heard, seen and validated?” asked Anderson.
While you may not be able to quell all of your concerns, you can look ahead and prepare as much as possible going into a travel day. Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic in London, has a few tips:
- While it’s possible that a travel obligation will pop up that you can’t control, if you’re just searching for a nice vacation spot, consider an old favorite. “Take baby steps and don't rush into doing something or traveling somewhere you don't feel comfortable,” said Konstantopoulou.
- Invest in travel insurance; it can take some of the pressure off.
- Finally, go easy on yourself. “Take it slow and have compassion for yourself,” said Konstantopoulou. “You will make more progress if you allow yourself to return to the world at your own pace rather than rushing the process."
It's a good idea to travel with your vaccination card in case you need it.
How to handle anxiety-inducing situations during travel:
Due to COVID-19, anxiety-inducing situations can include something as simple as another person having a coughing fit or refusing to wear a mask. Know this: Your concerns are valid.
Anderson encourages focusing on your breath. “Breathing exercises can be helpful when someone gets into an anxiety spiral while traveling,” said Anderson. That said, he notes that it’s common for the anxiety to override the focus on breath work.
Anderson suggests using a practical line of questioning. “I prefer the ‘What is your fear, and then what?’ line of questioning when someone is spiraling out of control with anxiety,” he explained. “For example, (if someone says) ‘I’m afraid of flying,’ ask them ‘What is your biggest fear?’ ... Sometimes naming the worst fear out loud, will help bring someone back into reality.”
If someone near you is coughing, Konstantopoulou suggests actively questioning your negative thoughts as they arise. This, she notes, takes practice. “Once you get into the habit of questioning the negative thoughts that come into your mind, the process will become more natural, and you will start to do this without even realizing it.”
When all else fails, remind yourself that there are a few protective steps in play. For one, masks are still required on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of "how the air circulates and is filtered," but being on a crowded flight or in a crowded airport for hours may increase your risk for COVID-19 exposure.