Holiday Travel: 3 Ways to Reduce Stress

Stressed out by airport security lines and holiday traffic? How to put things in perspective.

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TSA advanced imaging technology

As stressful as it is to travel over the holidays, this year may prove even tougher given new airport security screening measures that involve whole-body imaging and whole-body pat downs (including genitals). "When traveling, you always face uncertainty; the question is, are you willing to have this uncertainty in order to see your loved ones or take a vacation?" says Jonathan Bricker, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who also conducts research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. There's no way to completely avoid feeling stressed when you're stuck in a mile-long airport security line or in holiday traffic. But you can better manage the frustration by following Bricker's three recommendations.

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1. Remember what this trip is about. "When you're waiting in line for security or feeling intruded upon by a stranger patting you down, stop and remember why you're flying," says Bricker. Perhaps you want to reconnect with close family members or friends. Maybe you're heading off to a relaxing beach spot. Remind yourself that you're taking a break from the ho-hum routine of your daily life and that this aggravation is a means to achieving that.

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2. Embrace the uncertainty. You have no way of controlling if (choose one): your flight will be delayed; you'll be stuck in an accident-induced traffic jam; your luggage will be lost; your child will get carsick. Allowing your mind to be open to uncertainty can actually help you cope. Asks Bricker: "Are you willing to give up some control for the sake of doing something that you care about?" If not, perhaps it's best to invite the relatives to you for the holidays.

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3. Don't dismiss your fears. "Telling someone not to think about plane crashes is the best way to get them to think about them," says Bricker. By the same token, those added airport security measures—while intended to stop terrorist attacks—actually remind us that they're a real possibility. As you adjust to seeing the new full-body scanners, allow yourself to feel scary thoughts. "Notice the thoughts, but don't take them too seriously," says Bricker. "Try not to judge them or react to them." This approach, called mindfulness, can paradoxically be far more relaxing than trying to reassure yourself when you're feeling anxious.

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