By Elisha Goldstein
Author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler
The holidays are upon us, and for many people that means trains, planes, and automobiles. One of the companions often traveling with us (and one we'd rather not have along) is anxiety. The holidays are stressful enough, but tacking on transportation always seems to amp it up.
The stress cycle thrives on a series of interactions between thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Just the thought of traveling may cue a judgment like, "The airports are going to be so packed. This is going to be just awful." This often only encourages more stress, anxiety, or frustration-which then tenses the body and tips us off balance. But there's something we can do to create stress-less travel.
One of the things that can help us shift out of our stress and anxiety is to become present, get outside of our heads, and widen our perspective. I'm fortunate enough to have worked with a number of people who struggle with stress and anxiety around traveling. The true wisdom coming from their experience is something I now get to share with you.
Here are three short, one-minute tips from my book, Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind. You can use these anywhere and anytime to begin neutralizing the stress and stepping into what really matters.
Do a Mindful Check-In
Whether you're en route to the airport, halfway through the flight, or getting ready to land, we can begin to calm our anxious minds with a mindful check-in. This is simply taking a minute to pause, enter into a space of awareness and go through the three parts of experience.
Ask yourself "Where am I starting from physically?" Note the positioning of your body and if there's any tension. If so, see you if you can allow it to soften. Then move onto the next part: What emotions are present? Is there a sense of stress or anxiousness, and if so, where in the body? Is there a sense of calm, and if so, how does it feel? Finally, take note if your mind is busy or calm. If it's busy, jot down what's on your mind.
Try this out from time to time as an experiment and see what happens, allowing experience to be your teacher.
Be Aware of a Single Breath
Can you be aware of a single breath? Can you be aware of the breath coming in and going out for a single minute? This is much more difficult, but worth the playful practice. When the mind goes off worrying about this or wondering about that, in the moment you are aware of this, it is a choice point. This is a moment in time where you have a choice to gently bring your attention back to the breath.
As you practice, you'll start to see some important changes taking place in your ability to create a less stressful travel experience.
Be an Ambassador of Compassion
When sitting on a plane (or substitute your mode of transportation), see the 'choice point' by considering all the other people on the plane who are also struggling with being an anxious traveler. Remember, up to 40 percent of people struggle with some form of anxiety about traveling. Be an ambassador of compassion, connecting with your heart and saying:
May you feel safe and protected.
May you be at ease.
May you be free from fear.
May you be happy.
Stress around traveling is more prevalent than we usually imagine. Just practice this as an experiment over and again, without expectation, and see what you notice. Even holding that phrase in your mind can be helpful in getting out of your own head and back into your life.
What would life be like in the days, weeks, and months ahead if more people practiced being an Ambassador of Compassion during this high travel season? We might not only reduce stress, but bring the joy back to traveling.
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