The bustle of the holiday season usually involves some kind of travel-related stress. Flight delays, jet lag, lost luggage, figuring out how to pack all the gifts you bought for everyone—the list of potential anxiety-inducers is never-ending. These not-so-festive stressors can complicate your ability to keep your health in check.
“When we travel, we change our daily routines,” says Parsley Health coach Patty Gonzalez . “Everything is affected: our diet, our sleep, our stress levels, our exercise. Getting out of our normal day-to-day life—and being exposed to other things we’re not used to—is going to open up that door to either catching something or being more tired.”
Living during a pandemic adds yet another layer of complication. You have to be more mindful than ever about how travel (and the stress it can cause) might affect your overall wellbeing. The last thing you want to worry about during the holidays is getting sick, which means taking the necessary precautions is key. Consider using the following tips to help alleviate travel stress this holiday season.
From office parties to gift exchanges with friends, this time of year is filled with activities. When do you even have time to sleep? But don’t get caught up in the mindset that you can function off “just a few hours.” Eventually, lack of proper sleep will take a toll and could lead to a weakened immune system .
“It’s very important that we try to get enough sleep,” Gonzalez says. “With the holidays, we change our sleep routine. We go out more visiting family and friends, and we have this tendency to go to bed later.”
At a minimum, aim to get at least the same amount of sleep you were getting before the holidays kicked into high gear. Of course, if it wasn’t that much to begin with, you’ll want to re-prioritize your sleep schedule. Get to bed at least an hour earlier than usual to encourage yourself to unwind a bit earlier than your body may be used to.
Trying to sustain energy levels on a cross-country flight with nothing but a bag of pretzels will only result in stage five hangriness. Instead, be your own travel nutritional advocate: Think about easy snacks to throw in your carry-on to hold you over until you arrive at your destination.
Gonzalez suggests fruit, raw nuts, and snackable veggies like baby carrots. “We’re used to getting on a plane and eating whatever they give us,” she says. “Bring your own snacks for flights, or in the car when you’ll be driving for many hours.”
Another item you’ll want to have nearby: digestive teas. Ginger, chamomile, fennel, and peppermint teas support gut health, which comes in handy after those big holiday meals. “When you have one of these holiday meals that’s different from what you normally eat, having a digestive tea afterward can help you avoid the feeling of regretting what you ate,” Gonzalez says.
Eggnog. Hot chocolate. Peppermint lattes. During the holidays, it often feels like you’re drinking anything but water. Remember to keep some H2O nearby, even when you’re enjoying the festive holiday beverage of your choice . “How much water we drink can impact our stress, so be very hydrated,” Gonzalez says.
You should also avoid drinking refined carbohydrates on an empty stomach. Someone may invite you to have a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon. That will affect your blood glucose, which is going to impact your immune system (and everything else). “But if you have the wine with a snack that has protein, the effect of your body is going to be different,” she says.
Even though the holidays are meant to be a time for joy and reconnection, all the excitement can have a downside, too. “We’re having fun and everything is happening right away,” Gonzalez says. “Sometimes that comes with a lot of stress for some people.”
To take the energy down a notch, carve out a couple minutes each day to address holiday stress with tools like meditation, journaling, or breathing exercises . Once you’ve established that practice at home, you’ll be more likely to maintain it while you’re on the road.
“Keep doing that even once you get to your destination,” Gonzalez says. “Remember that more family and friends that we don’t see during the rest of the year can come with good and bad stress.”
Jet lag affects everyone differently, and even tried-and-true techniques for dealing with it won’t be universally effective. Some people can bounce back quickly, while others may need days to recover from a major time jump. One way to prepare your body for a big change in routine (in terms of time zone and locale) is by giving yourself a head start. A couple days before you travel, start adapting your schedule a little bit to the destination schedule.
“Even if there’s going to be a full six- to eight-hour time difference, what you can do is start going to bed earlier,” Gonzalez says. “Get used to the newer schedule a little bit, just by changing a couple of hours. The jet lag will be easier to adapt and easier to manage once you get to your destination.”