The Secret Weapon for Beating Holiday Travel Stress

·Managing Editor

A little gratitude and positive thinking can go a long way when traveling during the holidays. (Photo: iStock)


Our flight couldn’t take off from Hailey airport in Idaho.

We were told we had to wake up at 3 a.m. to catch a 4 a.m. bus and drive two hours to Twin Falls airport to catch a plane, which was not guaranteed to take off.

These are the kinds of things that can raise anyone’s stress level through the roof, especially during the already panicky holiday season, when everyone faces the maddening trifecta of a lack of sleep, uncertainty, and disorder.

It would have been so easy to let that two-hour drive drive me mad. It would have been so easy to moan and groan all the way from Hailey to Twin Falls.

Instead, I tried something different. I emailed my husband at home in San Francisco to tell him this:

“Well, the upside is that the plane will more likely than not take off from Twin Falls, so I will get to see you sooner! And I get to see a new airport!”

Small stuff to be sure. Did it outweigh four more hours of sleep? Probably not. Still, I felt better and less stressed.

I was following the advice of one of my favorite gurus, Suze Yalof Schwartz, the founder of the Unplug meditation studio, who recommends using gratitude as a way to combat the stress of holiday travel.

“The trick is that any time you actually notice yourself being activated by stress you do this: Close your eyes and you think of someone you really love — your favorite person in the world — and just focus on that person and mentally imagine yourself sending them love,” Yalof Schwartz said.

It’s an easy solution to a problem that is out of your control.

Related: The Best Travel Advice We’ve Ever Been Given


Following Unplug on Instagram now will give you something calming to look at when you’re stuck in the airport. (Photo: Unplug Instagram)

Research has shown that being grateful in the face of difficult situations can significantly lower stress levels.


A grateful attitude can lower stress and reduce depression. (Photo: iStock)

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. is one of the leading researchers on what gratitude does to the brain and to emotional well-being. His extensive research has revealed that gratitude can directly impact a person’s happiness and reduce the risk of depression and lower stress levels.

“Not only will a grateful attitude help — it is essential. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize,” writes Dr. Emmons in a recent adaptation from his book Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. “In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”

I tried to keep this in mind during my next flight, when the man in front of me paused while getting on the plane.

MOVE! I thought.

He then handed the flight attendant a gift, artisanal local chocolates. The airline staffer was stunned.

“What seat are you in?” she asked. “Can I bring you anything?” The passenger smiled and said no. He wished her well and kept moving on down the aisle.

Expressing gratitude in small ways, with no expectation of getting anything in return can also help lower our own stress.


Traveling is hectic and stressful, and it can be tough to keep your cool among the chaos. (Photo: iStock)

It isn’t easy to be grateful when you are being elbowed out of the way at airport security or being forced to put your bag on your lap because the overhead bins on the plane are full. In fact it is very easy to become angry, even enraged.

Related: Women More Likely Than Men to Pray Away Holiday Stress

But practicing gratitude has proven to help people behave in a more positive and less aggressive manner. A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky found that people who practiced gratitude were much likely to retaliate against others. People who simply expressed what they were thankful for did not feel enraged.

Related: Stop Air Rage Now! How Not to Freak Out in the Air

It is easy to talk about gratitude, but what can you actually do?


We know you’re stressed, but think twice before complaining on social media. (Photo: iStock)

1. Be thankful instead of cranky on social media. It is so easy to complain about things on Facebook and Twitter these days. But try to catch yourself before you send out your next cranky tweet, and try to post something positive instead. Remember that complaining is contagious, but so are happiness and joy.

2. Say thank you. The workers at the airport, on the plane, and at the train station are likely just as stressed as you are, and sometimes a simple thank-you can help change their entire day. Just the act of saying “thank you” will help to lower your own stress levels too. Everybody wins!


Delayed flight? Take advantage of that extra time. (Photo: iStock)

3. Go with the flow. Plans change. Sometimes we have to just embrace the uncertainty or we will drive ourselves insane. You may not end up where you want to be on time. Use that extra time to finish the novel you have been trying to read or to do something as mundane as organizing the desktop on your computer so you feel more organized when you get home.

4. Increase your social connections. Make time to see friends and family during the holidays. Sure you may be traveling to your in-laws, but is there an old college buddy who lives nearby who you can meet up with too? Sometimes being social is the last thing we want to do, but creating community is a great way to help us remember our blessings during the holiday season.

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

WATCH: 3 Essential Tips to Beat Holiday Stress