Work Travel Stressing You Out? Try These 4 Science-Backed Tools to Keep Your Mind Calm on the Road
Travel doesn’t have to be so exhausting. Try these four strategies to change the game of business travel.
Ah, the business trip. It’s a necessary and often inescapable part of modern work. And yet it’s also the source of anxiety, irritation, stress, unhealthy eating, and poor sleep habits.
We worry about delays, fume about canceled flights, and, even when everything goes according to plan, spend countless hours in a sedentary state that leaves us tense and tired.
Put simply, business travel poses a fundamental threat to our health and happiness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four powerful strategies to help you transform your experience of business travel.
1. Let go of the illusion of control.
The moment you walk through the front doors of an airport, you have effectively lost all control. Whether or not your flight is canceled or leaves on time– not in your control. Whether you sit on the tarmac for two hours because the cockpit windshield wiper is malfunctioning– not in your control.
This fact seems obvious. And yet one of the primary sources of travel stress is the delusional belief that, somehow, you have the unique ability to influence these events.
So rather than lashing out at the gate agent or fuming in a quarter-mile long security line, you’re better off letting go of control. It’s a move that sounds disempowering. But it actually allows you to kick-back, relax, and more effortlessly go with the unpredictable flow of life’s events on the road. Emerging research on stress shows that this habit of letting go also decreases your risk of developing chronic health conditions.
2. Turn your plane rides into a mindfulness retreat.
The stress of travel takes us out of the present moment and into a state of near constant mind wandering. We get lost in imaginary future stories about lines, delays, or missed meetings. 30 years of neuroscience shows that meditation is perhaps the ultimate antidote to this scattered traveling state of mind.
That’s why airplane meditation might just be the most powerful travel practice. Here’s how to do it. Use the take-off process, when you can’t use large portable electronic devices anyway, as your time to meditate. Start the moment the cabin doors close.
Sit with a straight spine (I place my noise canceling headphones case behind my mid-back to help stay more upright). Close your eyes and follow the sensations of breathing. Your meditation session ends around 30 minutes later, the moment you hear the cabin bell ring as you reach 10,000 feet.
3. Be grateful.
Here’s a thought experiment I like to use when the going gets tough while traveling. What would it be like to go from Denver to New York City on a horse-drawn wagon? Or, the less extreme version, what would it be like to spend the next several days driving there?
The point of this absurd-sounding experiment is really just to bring the mind back to gratitude. It’s a way of remembering that it’s nothing short of amazing to be flying through the air at 500 mph, seated safely inside a missile with wings on it. Likewise, it’s a miracle of modern technology to be able to pull out your phone, push a button, and have someone arrive within minutes to drive you wherever you want to go. And the science on this move is rock solid, this subtle shift to gratitude is one of the most effective ways to boost your mood, immune system, and even your sleep quality.
4. Supplement your sleep with an extreme power nap.
Sleep is perhaps the ultimate antidote? to stress. It’s a time when the brain encodes memories, clears away waste and toxins, and regulates your mood. There are all sorts of ways to improve the quality of your sleep at night while on the road: wearing ear plugs to block out sound, eye masks to conceal those flashing LED lights in your hotel, or taking all sorts of herbs and supplements that relax the mind and body. And yet no matter what you do, sleep on the road is never as good as sleep at home.
To solve this problem, consider the ultra-short power nap. The best way to do this is by using an ancient practice called yoga nidra– a practice shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and even PTSD in numerous studies.
Lie down for 10, 20, or 30 minutes. Put on your headphones and play a yoga nidra guided meditation (here’s a simple app). This practice will take you to the restorative edge of sleep without going into full-on deep sleep, leaving you with a burst of energy without the lethargy that comes from a real nap.