Chronic worry about travel can send you into a tailspin of anxious thoughts, making an already stressful process even more difficult. It can start with an uneasy thought or feeling ("I’m going to miss my flight" or "I feel unsafe"), which triggers your body’s stress response. You may feel butterflies in your stomach, your heart beating faster, or your muscles tensing. Your initial physical reaction, in turn, gives rise to more anxious thoughts, which can set off even more physical reactions.
This whole process is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which is divided into two branches. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS)—also known as the fight, flight, or freeze system—prepares the body to respond to a stressful situation. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)—also known as the rest and digest system—on the other hand, slows it all down and is key to calming and restoring the body. The two function as a team, and it’s the interplay between the two that supports your overall health. When you're struggling with travel anxiety, the PNS is probably having a hard time kicking in, and the SNS is running the show.
The key to managing travel anxiety is to learn how to activate your PNS at will. Here are a few tips to fire up your relaxation response by working with your body and your mind: