5 tips to tame travel stress during the holidays

Editor’s Note: Known as the “Mobility Maker,” Dana Santas is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”


For many people, travel is a necessary part of celebrating the holidays with loved ones. This means putting up with all the stressful hiccups that can come with traveling and spending time outside the comfort of your own home.

Every year my family kicks off the season by watching the classic comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. In it, the two men are strangers who end up stuck together and must solve a comically inordinate number of travel-related problems while trying to get home for Thanksgiving.

Chances are, your vacation trip won’t be as complicated as Martin and Candy’s, but you could face delays, diversions, and many hours of sitting that can take a toll on you mentally and physically. So whether you’re driving to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving or flying to see family in another country, try the five tips below to reduce stress and tension so you can enjoy the holiday.

If you sit for long periods of time while travelling, your posture often suffers. Given the intimate relationship between your breathing pattern and your posture, slouching while seated leads to shallow, rapid breathing, which triggers your body’s stress response. It is a vicious cycle that increases physical and mental tension.

That’s why it’s important to take control of your breathing at least once an hour while traveling to restore your posture and cultivate a sense of calm. Taking just five or six long, deep breaths while focusing on moving your low ribs, as demonstrated in this video, can make a big difference!

Optimize your breathing with these tips


– Source: CNN

Taking just 90 seconds of deep breathing induces a relaxation response that, according to research, lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone production.

Those muscle cramps and aching joints you experience along the way could have a lot to do with your fluid intake. Since our bodies are mostly made up of water, hydration is important for proper lubrication and circulation of the joints. But your hydration level doesn’t just affect you physically. When you’re dehydrated, it increases cortisol (primary stress hormone) levels in your body, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and overall irritability.

Holiday travel can cause tension, but you can relieve stress with strategies such as mindful breathing and walking breaks.

Your access to drinking water may be limited while traveling, so it’s important to plan ahead. You can’t take bottled water through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, and no one likes to pay the exorbitant prices for bottled water at the airport. Fortunately, most airports have filtered water stations to refill bottles for free. So take a reusable water bottle with you and if you are going to drive, don’t forget to bring a cool box with water.

Even when you’re not traveling, it’s easy to get dehydrated during the holiday season. With all the festivities, we often forget to drink as much water as usual, especially when the cocktails are flowing. But alcoholic drinks are not a substitute for water because they are dehydrating.

Alcohol suppresses the natural production of the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, which keeps us from urinating too much. Without it, we find ourselves in the bathroom more often. Counteract the dehydrating effect of alcohol by drinking a glass of water before each cocktail.

Numerous studies have been done on the health risks of prolonged sitting, but few people seem to make an effort to avoid it while traveling. If you look around the airport, you will see that almost everyone is waiting at the gate to board their plane, where they will inevitably spend at least a few hours or more.

Interrupt periods of sitting by taking advantage of opportunities to stand and walk around whenever possible. At the airport, take a walk around your terminal. Some airports even have yoga rooms with public access. If you are traveling by car, find a park or even a shopping center on your route where you can get out and walk for 10 minutes.

Sitting a lot while traveling also means compressed side hip muscles, overworked hip flexors and tight lower back muscles. If you want to be more comfortable and avoid pain while traveling, stretch those muscles whenever possible.

My go-to travel stretch is the warrior hip flexor release.

Dana Santas demonstrates the release of the warrior's hip flexor.

Here’s how to do it:

Stand to the right of a wall, chair, or other stable surface. Place your left hand on it for support.

Step your right foot back into a short lunge position, drop your back heel and point your toes slightly out as shown.

Bend your front knee to align above your ankle, while keeping your back leg straight.

Inhale as you lift your right arm up and over your head.

Exhale as you bend to the left and feel your left lower ribs rotate inward.

Avoid arching your lower back.

Hold for three long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Watch the video at the top of this story for more exercises to counteract the negative impact of sitting.

You may be so relieved to arrive at your destination that you think plopping into a comfy chair is all you need. But it’s even more beneficial to keep your legs elevated above your heart, which promotes venous blood flow and helps reduce lower body swelling.

The yoga posture known as

A great way to accomplish this is with the popular restorative yoga pose known as “legs against the wall.” You can do this on the floor with your legs straight against the wall or with your knees bent and calves resting on a chair seat. If you don’t want to lie on the floor, lie back on your bed and put your legs against the headboard. Feel free to put a pillow or folded blanket under your head.

Once in position, stay there for a few minutes and take a few long, deep relaxing breaths.

In addition to changing your relationship with gravity to ease tension, it’s important to get enough sleep. This is especially true if you have traveled to a different time zone. If necessary, work in naps to make up for any sleep deprivation that could be negatively impacting your health and well-being.

Despite all the joys that come with the holidays, it’s important not to overlook how seasonal travel can unintentionally drag you down. By using the five tips above, you can keep travel stress at bay and your holiday spirit high.

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