Travel can be stressful, exasperating, and yes, downright enraging. In the past week or so, three planes have been diverted thanks to passenger scuffles—one caused by a woman who demanded her Delta flight land after a passenger's reclining seat struck her head, and another the result of the Knee Defender, a plastic bracket one man used to prevent the seat in front of him from reclining. Yes, "recliner rage" is now a thing.
A conflict with a fellow passenger doesn't have to lead to a total travel meltdown. To keep your calm while getting out of town for work or play, try these top tips from Gail Saltz, MD, Health‘s contributing psychology editor and author of Anatomy of a Secret Life.
Don't be a control freak
When you're on the road, you’re often at the mercy of external factors—the weather, that guy who stole the last parking space. “When something goes wrong, people tend to look for solutions, thinking if they do X, they will solve Y. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case during vacations, when much less is under your control,” says Saltz. Her suggestion? Acknowledge that you can’t control everything. “You can’t do anything about the airline losing your luggage or you missing your plane, but you can channel your thoughts into the enjoyable aspects of your trip,” she says. Yes, snafus suck, but accepting that you’ve done all you can do (and thinking about your planned kayak adventure) can be a therapeutic fix.
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Be a mindful traveler
Even the most meticulously planned trip can cause some apprehension, discomfort, and stress. “The more stress you feel, the more your adrenal glands produce cortisol, and once you’re down the cascade of fight-or-flight reactions, it’s hard to turn back,” says Saltz, who recently led a Health Twitter chat on stress. If you feel flushed, angry, and irritated—some of the common signs of anxiety—stop what you’re doing, take a moment to acknowledge the stressful trigger, and focus on something calm in the present, like your child’s green eyes or a passing cloud. Being mindful of the here-and-now will help slow your spiraling anxiety about "what ifs?".
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Let it go
When things don't go our way, we often cope with the stress by playing the blame game. “People tend to direct their anger at the pilot, the driver, the guy reclining in his seat and smashing your knees, but pointing to one person won’t fix your problems,” notes Saltz. Instead, she says, acknowledge that the system isn’t working and accept that things go wrong. Your luggage got lost? Pick up a t-shirt and focus on the vacation you’re having, rather than the dress you could have been wearing. In other words, don’t let one incident ruin the great memories you’ll have for years to come.
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