Tips To Help You Enjoy The Holidays This Season

How to Conquer Your COVID-Related Travel Anxiety This Holiday Season

Travel stress and anxiety is nothing new but this season we’re not just talking about extra long security lines or a fear of flying. As the holidays approach, we’re facing what some call “a new wave of travel anxiety” triggered by—what else?—COVID-19.

Why COVID-19 Makes Travel Anxiety Worse

Typical travel anxiety tends to anticipate what may happen in the worst-case scenario (think getting in a car crash, missing your flight, or losing your passport). While those incidents have little to no basis in fact or real data, COVID-19 is an actual danger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the more you travel, the more you risk becoming exposed to the virus.

“Often when we’re talking about anxiety management, we’re talking about managing false alarms,” says Lily Brown, PhD, director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. “The problem is some of the anxiety about COVID isn’t irrational. We can’t be as confident that some things are objectively safe from a COVID perspective. We’re living in this grey area.”

If you’re trying to decide if traveling is worth the risk of exposing yourself and/or loved ones to the virus, Brown says it’s important to think through the logistics. The risk of traveling might be worth it to see your terminally ill grandparent, for example. “Choose your behavior based on what you care about as well as your values,” she says.

Factors such as the COVID-19 infection rate where you live and, in the community, you’d be traveling to should be considered, along with the size of the gathering and whether or not it can take place outside. “If there is a safe way to connect with family and friends, then it might make sense for you to pursue.”

7 Ways to Tackle COVID-19 Travel Anxiety

To keep anxiety about COVID-19 in check, it’s important to distinguish between real risks and overblown catastrophizing. Here’s how to prepare for a stress-free trip:

  • Do your research. As with all anxieties, anxiety about COVID-19 is often fueled by uncertainty. How safe is it to fly on an airplane? Can I get sick if I stay in a hotel? What sort of masks are most likely to prevent infection? To ease your fear of the unknown, seek out reliable, scientific sources that can help you make decisions regarding travel, like the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local health department.
  • Take precautions. After you get the right information, do what you can to mitigate the risks you’ll be taking. That way, you’ll feel safer, more confident, and more prepared (more on that below).
  • Just don’t go overboard. Preparing too much can actually have a negative effect on anxiety. “It’s all about toeing the line of what’s productive behavior versus what’s only being done to regulate anxiety,” says Brown. “It’s important to be mindful of excessive behaviors. There’s no reason why you need to wash your hands for 10 minutes after you touch a surface, for example.” Instead, be mindful of those expert recommendations.
  • Be kind to yourself. One unique aspect of COVID-19? A lot of people are struggling with the same issues all at once. “Most people are going to feel anxious about travel this holiday season,” says Brown. So rather than asking yourself “how do I stop feeling anxious?,” acknowledge that your emotions aren’t unusual and that there’s no need for judgment.
  • Know your triggers. Before you travel, take a moment to think about what you’re dreading most. “Is it getting on the train? Sitting in the plane seat? Usually anxiety is anticipatory,” says Audrey Ervin, PhD, academic director of the graduate program in counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University. Once you’ve identified what’s making you sweat, prepare some techniques that will make the hardest part of the journey more bearable.
  • Ignore social media. This time of year, the internet, and social media in particular, is full of travel shaming. Once you’ve made the decision to travel, it’s best to steer clear. “I would advise against jumping on the internet and searching for horror stories just to scare yourself to death,” says Ervin. “Be very intentional in choosing information that is science-based. Unvalidated information only fuels unnecessary anxiety.”
  • Trust yourself—and let go. Once you’ve made an informed decision, it’s time to stop the internal agonizing. “Trust yourself to know that you weighed out the pros and cons,” says Ervin. “You made a choice, it’s your choice, and you can be okay with that.” That also means working to relinquish what you can’t control. While you can wear a mask, flying on a plane means you’re going to be in a small space with other people.


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