In a few days I’ll be flying to Chicago. This time I’m accompanying my husband who’s attending a conference there, and we’re going to make a mini vacation out of it.
Being summer, it seems that more people than usual are on the go. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, traveling – and in my case specifically flying – can become a rather stressful experience.
We’ve all experienced delayed or canceled flights, tight connections, missed connections, having to sit in uncomfortable seats for long periods, hours waiting around, and “annoying” fellow passengers. We experience fatigue, frustration, anger, boredom, discomfort, tension, and even pain.
These situations really just go with the territory. The stress we experience, however, derives from how we react to the circumstances we find ourselves in. You can’t stop a plane from being delayed or a baby from crying when you’re trying to sleep. You can choose how you respond though.
The following seven tips will, in different ways, help you find a different response. They are the things that help me the most when I’m on the move:
Pause to stop and notice how you’re reacting, without judgment. Aim to simply observe the thoughts and emotions that are whirling through your mind. Don’t add another layer of stress by telling yourself off for getting upset, or that you “shouldn’t” feel a certain way. Give yourself this moment to pause, to gather yourself, so you can respond intentionally rather than be in pure reaction mode.
Acknowledge how you are feeling and give yourself permission to feel your anger, anxiety, boredom, frustration, or whatever it is you’re going through. You are free to feel like this. It is the reality. Paradoxically, by accepting this, the possibility to choose another option, or to be with that emotion in a different way, opens up.
#3 Notice Ease
We’re wired to put our attention on the tension, the negative, what we perceive as danger or things going wrong. To balance this tendency intentionally and specifically also notice what feels easy or is working well. Ask yourself “Where’s the ease?” in terms of how you are in body and mind. You’ll find there’s almost always something, even if it’s just that your little toe feels good!
#4 Breathe Out
Exhale! Release your breath! The breath is one of the first things we hold or restrict when we’re anxious in any way. So breathe out, and then simply take a moment or two to be with your breath.
Be aware of the contact of your feet with the floor, or your sit bones with your chair – literally grounding yourself in the present moment. Like the breath, we lose this sense pretty quickly when things aren’t going our way.
Be aware of your neck. In keeping with noticing ease, ask yourself, “How easy is my neck?”1 Ask this lightly, in a spirit of curiosity, and with no hidden agenda (e.g. I don’t want to tense my neck!). Just the act of asking this question can be very helpful, and is something, like your breath and your contact with the ground, that you can come back to over and over again.
#6 Take Up Space
As an antidote to being cramped in uncomfortable seating, find ways to expand and stretch out. In your seat maybe you can raise your hands up over your head for a moment, and stretch your legs out in front of you. If you have the space, stand up, arms outstretched, your stance wide, letting your whole body experience expansion. You can do this in the privacy of the restroom if there’s nowhere else you can do it! Ask yourself “How easy is my neck?” as you do it!
When you’re waiting around at the airport, take the opportunity to walk around as much as possible. (The same goes for a rest stop on the highway.) If you have a companion or companions take turns to watch the luggage, so you can walk around unimpeded by the weight of your bags for a while, allowing your arms to swing. Explore thinking, “I am free!” as you walk. Does it seem easier or not? Take advantage of the opportunity to stretch out and move around as much as possible. When in flight and not much movement is possible, take advantage of getting up and going to the restroom, adding an expansive stretch when you’re in private (per #6).
While these tips won’t stop planes from being delayed, or traffic jams on the interstate, having tools like this we can turn to when things aren’t going so well can turn a potentially stressful situation into a stress-free one. It would be nice if I don’t need them as I travel to Chicago on Saturday, but I know I can rely on them if I do.
Bonus Tip: Practice
Take time to practice these even when things are going well – during travel and otherwise. The more you practice, the more they’re available when you need them most.
Wishing you well if you’re travelling this summer. Let me know if you try out any of these tips. Do you have other things you do that help you out when you travel? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comment in the space below.
(1) The first of Alexander Technique teacher Mio Morales’ 3 Easy Questions.
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