Coping with Pandemic-Era Travel Anxieties
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Getting back to travel is certainly in the forefront of people’s minds after nearly 18 months of travel restrictions, the same view of the same four walls in the midst of stay-at-home orders, and of course, the constant threat of coming down with COVID-19. We all have been picturing the triumphant day when we once again can set off on the next vacation and spend some much needed time decompressing from the woes of our daily grind.
With the excitement of travel, it can be easy to forget that, even in the best of times, traveling can be stressful. There’s the research, making reservations, putting together the best itinerary, and coordinating schedules. And don’t forget about catching trains and busses, catching connecting flights, or unknown road conditions. Even with all of the time spent planning, everything doesn’t always run smoothly.
Now, add in trying to avoid a deadly virus everywhere as well as ever-changing travel restrictions and travel requirements, all of which can change in what seems like the blink of an eye. It’s enough to make many abandon the idea of travel altogether.
The U.K.’s Corona Test Centre collected statistics on global searches regarding COVID-19. The test centre also teamed up with psychologists to put together some tips to help travelers relieve COVID-19 anxieties and have a safe, relaxing vacation.
Pandemic Related Travel Concerns
Based on search volumes, the top 10 concerning aspects for travel during the pandemic are
COVID test wait time
Fear of flying
Home test kit
COVID-19 Symptoms: The thought of coming down with symptoms related to COVID-19 seems to be the number one concern related to travel, presumptively paired with what could happen if these symptoms show up just before or during a trip. Cancelling last-minute or having to quarantine in-destination are not realities anyone wants to have to deal with.
PCR Testing: Common international travel requirements in 2021 are having a PCR test performed within 72 hours of departure as well as an arrival test once you’ve landed. Then there’s another in-destination PCR or antigen test that you must take within 72 hours of departure back home. Finding test centers, especially abroad, and ensuring you get tests done and results delivered within the correct time frame is definitely a cause for some anxiety. Researching certified labs and scheduling tests in advance is recommended to avoid having delays or issues during your trip.
Social Distancing: We all know that keeping six feet apart from anyone not in your party has been an important guideline since the start of the pandemic, but social distancing can be impractical during parts of your travel journey, like when on a plane. As the FAA and airlines mandate, you can help to protect yourself and others by wearing an approved and well-fitting mask.
Hygiene: The key to preventing any viral transmission, including COVID-19, is to wash your hands and use sanitizer. Be sure to routinely wash your hands and carry your own hand sanitizer.
Antigen Testing: Rapid antigen tests can deliver results in 30 minutes, though they are not quite as accurate as molecular-based tests. According to the FDA, the rapid tests work by detecting virions, or proteins found within virus particles. Some countries, the U.S. included, accept antigen tests to satisfy entry requirements.
Fear of Flying: Pandemic or not, the fear of flying is a very common concern of prospective travelers. This can be exacerbated by long stretches of not having been on a plane. Practicing breathing exercises and meditation is recommended for easing stress you may feel and to help ground you.
Tools for Managing Stress and Anxieties
Mindfulness practices: Practicing meditation and mindfulness are wonderful ways to manage stress, including that which accompanies travel. They’re skills that, with practice, continue to develop over time. Lee Chambers, MBPsS, Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant, stated, “Using mindfulness or meditation to increase your wellbeing is something that should certainly be considered. Its effect on the amygdala has been researched, and by practicing we become more able to disengage from ruminating negative thoughts, and connect to the present. It can decrease cortisol levels, and decrease inflammation markers, which leaves us feeling more relaxed and able to deal with the rigors of the current turbulent climate.”
Physical Exercise: Engaging in some form of physical exercise, even if it is just a short walk, can help calm the nerves. Positive Psychology Practitioner Ruth Cooper-Dickson says, “Any form of exercise and being active is beneficial for the hippocampus—which is the part of the brain that acts like a brake on the stress response. Exercise is great for activating GABBA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)—this is an amino acid whose purpose is to calm the brain and act as a fire extinguisher to enable brain cells to suppress their activities. GABBA activation provides quick and effective stress relief."
Watch a Movie: Engaging with media, like a favorite movie or a confort show, is a great way to distract yourself from stressors. Andy Phillips, Head of Training and Content at Escape Fitness, recommends, “Watching films and television shows on your phone can act as supplemental forms of therapy to help us feel better. Cinematherapy, the use of films to manage mental health issues, can improve thoughts and feelings. There are films that can evoke positive emotions and can nurture interpersonal skill.,” Make sure you download anything you want to watch ahead of time to avoid any connection issues, which could further any feelings of stress or anxiety.
Listen to Music: Another suggestion to help ease a stressed mind is to listen to comforting music. Dr. Allan tells us, “Music requires following patterns, drawing from memory and engaging with multi-sensory feedback. It draws on many different high-level brain functions at the same time, which strengthens connections between different regions of the brain.”
Take on a Puzzle or Problem Solving Game: Dr. Allan also explains, “Engaging with tasks that require a combination of attention, recall and problem solving is a great way to keep cognitive function healthy.” Focusing on something that requires full attention can take your mind off of worries and frustrations. Switching your focus to something besides stressors can break the cycle of rumination.
Whether your stresses are pandemic related or due to all of the other tasks that come with travel, I hope that these tips help you to calm your mind, relax your body, and make your next travel experience rejuvenating and enjoyable.