How to reduce stress and worry: Ten lessons from travel

.Reduce stress and worry: Cruise ship

We all struggle with stress and worry to varying degrees. But I’ve noticed something quite telling: I stress and worry far less when I’m on a trip. It doesn’t even have to be a relaxing cruise or beach getaway. Any trip tends to work.

Oh sure, there’s always some concern about making connections, staying healthy, or getting to that newly-discovered-but-now-my-favorite-in-the-world gelato shop before it closes. I mean, some worries are legit.

But overall, when I’m away from my daily routines, I also tend to avoid the accompanying concerns that frazzle me. Some of it is obvious: Most of my trips, particularly abroad, are vacations. If my vacations are causing stress and worry, I’m not doing them right. And if that happens, then, well, that’s just one more thing to stress and worry about.

However, I’ve discovered other reasons why travel lessens my stress and worry and have started to apply what I’ve learned to life at home. I’ve found I’m routinely less troubled when I follow these lessons and remember that worry is merely an act of the imagination. Hold worry up to the light of day and you realize that it is only a figment of one’s fertile imagination, no more real than a daydream, no more likely to happen, in most cases, than a bad hunch. It’s something within my control. And yours.

So keep that in mind as you consider these ten lessons from travel that will help you reduce stress and worry at home.

  1. There’s always another train. Few “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” are. If you miss one, no need to stress and worry: There’s usually another. You may have to wait for that next train or opportunity, but in the waiting you may learn something you would have missed had the original option happened. Plus, there’s greater value to downtime than you may realize
  2. There’s always another route. Rarely is there only one way to do something or to go somewhere. We default to what’s easiest and familiar and when that doesn’t happen, we stress and worry. But we learn better and acquire new skills when we’re forced to figure out a new approach, a different pathway to our destination or goal. We cease to stress and worry as much because we’re too busy enjoying the quest or creative problem-solving inherent in travel and in the most rewarding of activities at home.  
  3. The worst mistakes make the best stories. When you realize that travel disasters result in great tales later and a greater sense of achievement and overcoming, you learn to embrace the so-called failures and mistakes. Similarly, you’ll stress and worry less at home when you take on an attitude of adventure in all you do.
  4. Who you’re with matters more than where you are. A great travel companion can make a bad place fun. An annoying travel companion can ruin the best place. Experienced travelers understand this. But the same principle applies at home. Want to stress and worry less? Curate who you spend time with. Don’t give up on friends who need a little extra attention. But also, don’t spend your time with consistently negative people who drain you. Your trip — and your life — is too short.
  5. Out of sight, out of mind. On a trip, you connect better with locals, with your traveling companions and most of all, with yourself when you unplug and only use your phone for directions or travel-specific purposes. Checking in periodically with home is fine, but trips allow you the chance to see what life is like free from 24/7 connectivity. Practice staying off your phone on a trip and, once you get over the initial shock to the system, you may find that your stress level decreases as a result. Most of us don’t realize how the constant state of connectedness (or our perceived need for it) keeps us both distracted and anxious. Take what you learn on a trip and apply it at home. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport is a helpful resource if you want to understand just how much of a toll your smart phone is taking on your life and what to do about it.
  6. The news you don’t know won’t hurt you. If you can’t completely unplug from social media on a trip, try to at least avoid checking in on the news. It’s amazing how less stressed you’ll feel when you’re away from politics and other divisive information. Again, see how you can apply what you’ve learned on a trip to how you digest the news at home. Maybe slow down, read an actual printed newspaper or get your news from other sources like radio. Or maybe, as on a trip, give up the news completely for a while. You’ll find that the important issues still filter in through friends and other sources. But when you consciously adjust how much you consume the news, you begin to realize how much that news may be consuming you (and adding more stress than you realize).
  7. You’re not indispensable. Being away from and unconnected to work for a week or two (or three) can initially freak you out. How will anything get done while you’re gone? But most of us learn that everyone manages just fine without us. Just that awareness can reduce your worries on your trip. It may also help you take yourself a bit less seriously at work once you return home.
  8. There’s a reason they’re so happy. When my son was 13, he returned from a trip to Guatemala with a surprising insight. He couldn’t believe how young kids who lived in a garbage dump there were happier than most of his friends here in the US. “They had practically nothing whereas my friends have all the latest video games and gadgets.” What those kids in Guatemala had was each other; a strong sense of community and belonging. They used their imaginations to turn trash into toys. This isn’t to diminish their hard conditions. Instead, it’s to note that maybe all the stuff we own may be owning us and creating more stress than we realize. Learning to be grateful for all you have goes a long way in helping to keep it all in perspective.
  9. A rolling stone gathers no stress. Travel involves movement, but at home, we can feel stuck, in our jobs or in our lives. Research shows that stress doesn’t come from hard work. It occurs when you work hard but see no results. Travel teaches you how to stay flexible and how to focus on small wins that provide a sense of momentum. At home, if you get stuck in one project, shift to another right away. This isn’t multitasking where your concentration is fragmented as you flit back and forth between projects. Instead, it’s a way to keep you progressing, concentrating deeply on one project until you hit a wall, then shifting to another and so on. This approach, like going from sight to sight on a trip, tends to energize rather than stress you.
  10. Your worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Enough said. Just remind yourself of this the next time you’re head-tripping over all the things that might go wrong. And in the unlikely event that the worst-case scenario occurs, see point 3 above.

Try applying these lessons from travel and see if it doesn’t help in reducing stress and worry at home.

 

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