Master the art of zen travel with these tips on how to prepare for your trip and what to do if everything doesn’t go according to plan.
Picture this. You’re on a beach, miles from anywhere. Your toes sink softly into the sand as you listen to the gentle sounds of waves washing onto the shore. You hear your loved ones chattering gently in the background. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Why is it then, that achieving that holiday zen is so difficult for so many of us? You would think that sun plus sea equals instant relaxation, but in actual fact we can feel under pressure when going on holiday.
The lead up to your first day of holiday is often tricky, with worries about packing, travelling to the airport and missing your plane only made worse by the inevitable long queues, flight delays and annoying fellow passengers.
Don’t worry, it’s normal
On paper, holidays exist to prevent and combat stress, but hidden in the small print is the fact that the very act of saying goodbye to your home and all that’s familiar to you (albeit temporarily) is likely to leave you feeling nervous.
Have I organized someone to feed the cats? Will the plants need to be watered? Have I finished everything I needed to at work? Have I packed enough clothes? What have I forgotten? What time am I flying? What will my hotel be like? What could go wrong? So much to think about, so much cause for anxiety and stress.
Warning signs of stress
We all know the feeling – heart beating faster, clammy hands, racing thoughts, worry; and it’s what our bodies do when we feel under pressure or anxious. We may find that we are more irritable, unable to make decisions, angry or emotional which isn’t ideal when you are preparing to travel.
Stress is a fight or flight response in action. Remember that stress in itself isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, but its effects are. Short-term stress is common in most people at times when we feel overloaded, under pressure or in tense situations – and this is perfectly normal. You can ease stress and the effects eating a healthy diet, limiting your caffeine and alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep and doing regular exercise.
When stress becomes a longer-term problem it can have a negative effect on your physical health, as well as your psychological health. Your body produces a surge of hormones when you’re in a stressful situation which can increase your blood pressure, causing your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow. By understanding what triggers stress in your life by regularly measuring your blood pressure you can start to understand how to manage your stressful periods – pre-holiday or otherwise.
Three tips to help avoid holiday stress
Holidays are meant to be stress busters, so recognizing the signs of stress and taking steps to reduce it are important. After all, if you’re on holiday to relax and that can’t happen, you’re unlikely to benefit from any just-back-from-holiday productivity boost when you get back.
1. Plan in advance what needs to be done before you can go away
A calm mind is your best antidote to stress. It’s easy to forget all those things that contribute to tranquillity in the rush to get away, so take time well in advance of your holiday to plot what needs doing and when. There are some great online checklists available. Just before your departure date, try to avoid any last minute unnecessary need to rush.
If you’ve got your to do list, don’t be tempted to go to bed late because you have too much to get done. Sleep deprivation is a prime cause of stress as when you don’t get enough shut eye, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. Combine that with those aforementioned pre-holiday nervous worries and you have a heady cocktail bound to bring its own set of headaches.
Travelling itself can be long and tiring, so try to get some sleep in transit if you can. Pack a pair of earplugs, a travel pillow and a thin shawl or blanket to increase your chances.
2. Be careful what you eat (and drink)
Too much alcohol, both before you go away and during your trip, is best avoided. It might be tempting to reach for the wine when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but evidence suggests that the effect is actually the opposite of what you want. Although alcohol may seem to improve acute stress, it slows the brain’s ability to process things which, over time, can make stressful situations more difficult to cope with.
Healthy food can also play a huge role in bringing more zen into your life. Take green leafy vegetables as an example. Spinach, pak choi, and kale all contain folate, which produces dopamine, a brain chemical that helps to keep you calm. These vegetables are common across the globe and should be easy to come by wherever you choose to travel.
To be sure of where your next meal is coming from, and remove another stressor, it could be a good idea to have a stash of snacks somewhere in your travel bag, especially if you choose a home-made mix of nuts and seeds (throw in a little dark chocolate for a boost).
Seeds and nuts are all good sources of magnesium and zinc, which have been linked to regulating emotions. Cashews are particularly good for helping you to stay calm. Pistachios, too, are a good option, as they provide the added benefit of giving you something to do while waiting for your flight.
3. And relax…
Don’t underestimate the effects of being away from home. Entering new surroundings, we naturally end up on guard. Give it time and you’ll soon get the lay of the land and start to unwind.
Discover more tips on leading a more stress-free life.