7 Tips to Lower Travel Anxiety

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After last-minute flight cancellations (because of the Russia-Ukraine situation) and indefinite travel plans, I finally made it to India a few hours ago. I normally visit the motherland twice a year. But the pandemic changed my old normal. In the pre-pandemic world, I was always on the go, and across the world for speaking engagements, teaching workshops, doing books events, and traveling for fun. But this was my first trip to India since the coronavirus hit. It took me a second to figure out the processes of security and immigration and the never-ending paperwork.

While checking-in at the Emirates counter at JFK, I heard a man scream, “I paid $2,500 for the ticket, and now you won’t give me a free mask.” The help desk staff politely told the man that passengers were given free masks inside the aircraft. But he could buy one at the vending machine at the airport to honor federal regulations. How do you get to an airport and assume you can board an international flight without a mask … that’s beyond my comprehension? But I imagine the man’s entitled tone came from a place of “feeling lost.” No matter whether you are a newbie or a novice traveler … the world of travel is no longer the same. People are scared, angry, confused, anxious, and unsure.

This is where Ayurveda comes in and reminds us that while the external factors aren’t under our control, we do have the ability to nurture our internal environment. Travel increases vata dosha. Vata is made up of two elements: air and space. There is no better example of being hit by the elements of air and space as traveling in an airplane. Anxiety is also a result vata vitiation. As are gas, bloating, sleeplessness, restlessness, and nonstop mind chatter. Basically, vata is responsible for all the movements of the body and mind, sensory impulses and motor regulation, breath, removal of waste, speech, and the pumping of the heart.

To the extent possible, you want to bring your vata dosha to a state of balance during your travels. Diet and lifestyle can help with it. Ayurveda reminds us that like increase like and opposing qualities can help balance the doshas. Vata’s qualities are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle, and mobile. So, having a vata-predominant prakriti means that these qualities express themselves generously throughout your mental, emotional, and physical make up. You want to avoid aggravating these gunas or qualities during travel.

1. What you eat and drink matters: Eat a warm, cooked, and light meal, which means no raw salads, before you board the plane. Depending on your proximity to the airport, that could be either at home or the airport. Nothing dry or cold because they will aggravate vata. Avoid eating every meal that’s served in the flight if you aren’t hungry. Meaning, don’t use food as a tool to deal with boredom. It will impact both your digestion and ability to sleep.

2. Do foot massage: Keep a tiny bottle of sesame oil (5 ml or 10 ml) during the cooler months in your handbag. During the hotter months, use coconut oil as it is cooler. Apply it to the bottoms of your feet, massage the soles generously, and wear socks. Sesame oil has heating energetics, so it calms the nerves and nervous system and brings vata down. Oil is heavy, unctuous, and warm…opposite qualities of vata. Oil massage also helps with blood circulation.

3. Use nasya oil: Dehydration and body dryness are an instant result of altitude shock. According to VitalVeda.com, “One study shows how bacteria can stay alive and continue to be infectious for more than a week on the armrests, seat pockets, seats, and bathroom doors of commercial aircrafts.” The dry air is said to contribute to their extra-long life on airplanes. A few drops of nasya oil may prevent inhalation of those unwanted particles which enter through nasal passage with polluted air. In Ayurveda, the nose is considered the direct route to the brain and the doorway to consciousness. There are several brands of nasya available on Amazon and elsewhere.

4. Practice alternate nostril breathing: I am a pitta person who does best with routine. International flights throw off my sleep schedule. Snorers, screamers, loud TV watchers add to the inner agitation. While I don’t have anxiety, it is very easy for me to get inside my head and overthink, which sends vata up. The alternate nostril breathing clears the physical and emotional obstacles in our body so that both prana and the breath can flow freely.

5. Avoid those gadgets: I know, there are a million movies to choose from in an airplane!! Then there are work emails and documentaries. How do you not watch them? It’s also boring to embrace stillness and nothingness. That’s what you are thinking, correct? Too much screen time can create hyper stimulation (another sign of vata imbalance) and prohibit you from getting good rest or sleep.

6. Bring compassion on the trip: We are all burned out. We are all exhausted. Don’t assume that a fellow passenger or flight attendant has something against you because they said something off putting or delayed your service. I don’t eat on the plane (for the most part), but I wanted something to get me through the 13-hour flight to Dubai (not a meal). I asked a flight attendant if they had a small chocolate as a snack (They are sweet and balance vata as a result). After waiting for a bit, I walked up to him and said with a smile, “I know you are busy, so figured I’d come check with you.” He offered me half-a-dozen snack options and thanked me for my patience. When we show up with negativity, entitlement, and a grudge … we create a spiral of negativity around us.

7. Don’t forget to floss your mind: Like me if you are traveling to see parents and in-laws … there is a level of nervousness. You know they are getting older. You are concerned about their health and mortality. Part of you wants to preserve their 40-year-old faces. To some extent, video calls allow you to keep that illusion that all is well. You are also worried about COVID. Navigating the trip safely. Finishing work deadlines while in a different headspace and time zone. It’s OK to feel a million different things. What’s not OK is to lash out with your unsorted thoughts and emotions at others. When we meditate, it lowers our vata and calms our mind. It empowers us to differentiate between our true feelings and what we might be projecting.

The great thing about Ayurveda is that its treatments always yield side benefits, not side effects” ~ Shubhra Krishan

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact me here.

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