How to Survive Stressful Holiday Travel (Without Killing Anyone)

by  Yahoo! Travel | Nov 24, 2014
Woman in airport
Woman in airport / VladTeodor/iStock

By Leah Ginsberg for Yahoo! Travel

It’s that time of year — traffic, flight delays, staying with the family — yes, it’s the holidays. For a time that’s supposed to be happy and merry, getting to where you’re trying to go sure does cause a lot of stress. We feel your pain. So Yahoo Travel asked Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide to Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior for tips and tricks to help you hold it together during the most frustrating holiday travel situations.

Stressful Situation 1: You’re stuck in traffic — forever.

You’re getting stressed out just looking at this traffic, aren’t you! (Thinkstock)

First, realize that it’s not actually going to be forever, says Dr. Wallin, so stop that negative thinking and self-talk because it will just make you more upset. In reality, it will only be a couple of hours, tops. Then adjust your expectations — “It’s the holidays, so this is just part of the deal,” says Dr. Wallin. “Think of it this way: It’s a good time to listen to music, play a game, look at your phone, or have a conversation with your fellow passengers.”

Stressful Situation 2: Your flight is delayed or you’ve been bumped.

There are plenty of people in the same boat at the airport. (Thinkstock) 

"Make a new friend," says Dr. Wallin. Really. Talk to someone — whether it’s another passenger in the same situation or just someone nearby, "it will create a more positive experience and memory of the situation," she explains. If you’re not the sociable type, then try taking pictures of what’s happening: the people waiting, the line of people yelling at the desk agent. "The act of snapping photos detaches you from the emotional stress of the situation, and you become an observer, which can calm you," says Dr. Wallin. Just one caveat: If you start posting the pictures, be sure not to comment with negative thoughts. Instead, find something funny to say about the situation. After all, if you’re going to laugh about it later, you may as well laugh about it now.

Related: Air Rage: Why Does Flying Make People So Crazy? 

Stressful Situation 3: Your flight is packed, you have no legroom, and there’s a child screaming.

Say hello to your seat mate. (Thinkstock) 

Remember that your time on this plane is finite, probably no more than a few hours. Focusing on this will actually help you deal. “We are better able to deal with a high level of stress if we know when it will be over,” says Dr. Wallin. As for the child, keep in mind that everybody has a story — the parents are probably embarrassed and stressed out, too. “Thinking about that will immediately cause you to feel empathy or sympathy for the offenders,” she says.

Related: Confessions of a Flight Attendant: the Most Annoying Things Parents Do on Planes

Stressful Situation 4: You’re visiting the in-laws, and they’re driving you crazy.

Fake it ‘til you make it. (Thinkstock)

Stop ruminating on how it will go before you even get there. “Most people spend days or even weeks thinking about annoying habits, quarrels, and other negative things without even realizing it,” says Dr. Wallin. So stop. “If you keep rehearsing it in your head, you’ll already be stressed before you even step through the door.” Once you’re there? Fake it ’til you make it, baby. You can also try the “at least” game — at least I’m not stuck on a cruise with no escape. At least they’re not staying at my house. You get the idea — things could always be worse, reminds Dr. Wallin.

Stressful Situation 5: You’re staying with your own family, and they’re driving you crazy.

Um, any room left at the hotel? (Ben Geldreich/Flickr)

"Pretend that you’re watching a movie," advises Dr. Wallin. Yes, a movie — because most likely it’s one you’ve seen before. You and your family have a recurring routine: The same issues come up, the same fights happen, the same things annoy you each year. That’s because family situations trigger old memories, like hearing a song you used to play over and over, explains Dr. Wallin. You know darned well you’re not going to change anyone, so just watch the movie. "It will remove you from the situation," she says, "and maybe you’ll even see it as a comedy, since you know that you can predict what’s going to happen next!"

Related: Ditch Your Family and Celebrate Thanksgiving at Sea

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