How to keep that airport stress grounded

By CHRISTINE DELL'AMORE, UPI Consumer Health Correspondent   |   Aug. 15, 2006 at 5:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Just the thought of security lines at the airport on a regular day can make your face turn redder than, well, a Caribbean sunburn. But with the longer lines and added restrictions on liquids and gels following London's foiled terror plot, Americans may see their tension levels climb to new heights.

Before you go off the deep end, consider these expert tips to unpack your mental baggage before you board your flight.

--Take several deep breaths. This is a way to get your body to relax, says clinical psychologist Christopher Knippers, a clinician at the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs.

--Try practicing mental exercises while standing in line. Instead of focusing on the unfairness of waiting, focus your mind on your vacation destination, or rehearse the speech at your sales meeting. This is also a good way to deal with fear of flying.

--If you find yourself tempted to argue with an airport official, don't get negative. Appeal to their human kindness and their rational side.

--If you feel you need a boost in dealing with anxiety, try a natural supplement, such as valerian root.

--Follow tenets of good health before you leave. Make sure you've gotten plenty of exercise and sleep before your trip.

--Avoid alcohol. Drinking heightens your agitation.

Most travel anxiety stems from frustration, whether it be waiting in line or having your medicine confiscated, Knippers said. The key is to come to grips with the situation you're in.

"It's just a matter of accepting the reality that this is the world we live in," Knippers said.

If your skin goes clammy and your heart starts to pound, your brain is causing an increase in stress hormones. These hormones interfere with your ability to think clearly, said Dr. Bruce Rabin, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

How can you send these hormones back to normal?

--Again, breathe deeply. It lowers epinephrine, a hormone that controls your short-term response to stress.

--Laugh a little. Create an imaginary box in your brain where you store funny memories. Paint a red cross on it or denote it as a first aid kit in your mind. When you're under stress or feeling anxious, pull something out of the box and think about it.

--Sing a song. Create short chants while you're happy. Some examples: "All will be well," or "I feel good." Set the tune to a Gregorian chant, or a religious hymn. If you recite the chant when you're upset, it elicits a Pavlovian response: Since you practiced the song while happy, your brain reverts to a more enjoyable state.

--Be a role model to kids -- especially yours. Even if you have to throw away that $300 bottle of perfume, don't throw a hissy fit in the middle of the airport in the presence of children.

You can also stretch your way to serenity while waiting. Practice these tips from Boston yoga teacher Dana Edison. (Remember to always breathe in and out of the nose.)

--Lift your mood. Exhale as you roll your shoulders back and down and clasp your hands behind your arched lower back. Inhale to lift the chest as you slide your hands down your back. As you exhale, allow the head and neck to drop back slowly, following the arc of your spine. Exhale to gently tuck the chin and release the backbend and arm clasp.

--Twist out tension. While standing, cross the right leg over the left. Place your left hand on your right hip as you inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale as you slide the back of your right hand along your lower back, following your waistband (touching the left hip if possible) and begin twisting the rib cage, shoulders and head to the right. Keep the feet firm and the hips squared.

If tai-chi's more your cup of tea, try this tip from Dr. Ron Knaus, a sports medicine physician in Tampa, Fla.

--Reach for the mountain. While sitting in a chair, rotate your trunk and head to the right while extending the right arm to the back and the left arm to the front. As you rotate, breathe in deeply and exhale when you rotate back to the center position. Repeat the movement to the left and come back to center. Repeat the whole exercise three or more times to fill the lungs with oxygen.

And don't feel bad about your anxiety -- it's a normal response to a potential threat, said Tom Wolfe, a clinician at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. If it helps, cut down on media coverage that might inflame your fears. Lastly, remember life is stressful -- and the sooner you learn to deal with it, the better.

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For more information:

Current information on prohibited carry-on items

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1012.shtm

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More tips to reduce stress

http://healthylifestyle.upmc.com/StressReduce.htm

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