How to Cope with Travel Anxiety

By Kristen Quinones, LMSW

For those predisposed to anxiety or panic, travel can be a major trigger. It’s no secret that travel in New York City can be an added stress to one’s day. Whether it’s a crowded or stagnant train car, traffic above ground, or being stuck on a bridge or in a tunnel, it’s not that hard to start feeling a bit claustrophobic! Feeling stuck may make you feel out of control and ignite your “fight or flight response,” leading to a panic attack. Sometimes you need to do more than “just breathe” to survive these moments where fifteen minutes feel like an eternity.

1. Still breathe, please
Breathing exercises can help physically calm you down, so don’t discount using this as a skill. Breathing alone will not make your panic symptoms just disappear, so it is good to pair this with a cognitive strategy. Breathe slowly and deeply through your stomach. Practice this daily at bedtime to help your body adjust to this type of breathing. This will allow your body to more easily utilize the technique in moments of higher anxiety.

2. Engage your senses
This is the time to physically engage your body and distract yourself. Mindfully eat a peppermint candy, squeeze a stress ball, hold a cold beverage, or feel the texture of your bag/clothing with your hand. Focus on how these engage your senses. This form of physical self-soothing can help calm your nerves. Narrate the experience in your head to start overwriting your negative thoughts.

3. Practice thought stopping techniques: distract, distract, distract!
You cannot think two things at once! Play a game in your head to distract yourself from your anxiety driven thoughts. A book, podcast, music, or video can help you “thought stop.” Another great way to engage without any item is to count colors. Look around you. In New York there is no shortage of things to look at. Look around and count everything red around you and narrate this to yourself. “Here is one: a red hat. There is two: red sneakers. There is three: red letters on that sign.” Go through every color of the rainbow.

These are just a few techniques that can help pass the time until you are free to move around again. If you struggle with travel related anxiety or panic attacks, consider speaking about this with a therapist to learn more coping techniques like these.

Kristen Quinones is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.