Stress management is something that everyone knows is necessary, but when a stressful situation occurs, it can be hard to find a response that actually reduces the stress. Air travel is filled with more anxiety-producing situations than ever before. There are long lines for screening, delays, overbooked flights, and lost luggage to name a few.
Let’s say you’re at the airport and find out that your flight has been cancelled. The airline won’t bring another airplane into service right away; instead, they may tell you that you must wait five hours until a flight arrives to accommodate you. With no alternative except to comply with the airline’s mistreatment, passengers look passive as they sit and wait, but on the inside many people will react (perhaps you) with the following responses: worry, anger, complaining, and pessimism. All are self-defeating.
- Worry is self-induced anxiety. It solves nothing and blocks the possibility of dealing with things more positively.
- Complaining increases tension and anger. As a display of hostility, it encourages other people to act hostile in return.
- Pessimism induces the illusion that a situation is hopeless and fosters the belief that expecting a bad outcome is always realistic when in fact it isn’t.
If you see yourself in any of these behaviors and attitudes, you are fooling yourself into believing that you are coping with the stress . As your body experiences it, you have become the stressor yourself. That’s because an external event (cancelled flight) must go through an internal interpretation before it triggers the stress response. Worry, complaining, and pessimism are unconscious responses. People who are stuck in them have become the victims of old reactions that became stuck in place because the person didn’t re-evaluate them.
Here’s a set of choices that will actually help you cope with stress.
The “Airport Solution” to Chronic Stress
The following are some tips to reducing stress while at the airport:
- Detach yourself from the stressor. At the airport, try reading a book or finding a place to be alone.
- Become centered. At the airport, try shutting your eyes to meditate.
- Remain active. At the airport, try walking around instead of slumping in a chair and waiting.
- Seek positive outlets. At the airport, try shopping, getting a chair massage, or going to a restaurant.
- Rely on emotional support. At the airport, the usual way to do this is by calling a friend or family member on the phone. (This doesn’t work in a short call announcing that you’ll be late. The key is a conversation with someone meaningful in your life that lasts at least half an hour.)
- Escape if you must. Look for a relatively empty seating area or the airport chapel/meditation room to relax and rest.
These things are positive ways to handle stress rather than succumbing to the negativity of worry, complaining, and pessimism. They bring awareness into a situation where falling back on passive acceptance isn’t the right answer. Beneath the attitude of “I have to put up with it” lies stress. A cancelled flight is usually not fixable by you, and it can happen anytime without warning. Therefore, it fits the two conditions that make stress worse: unpredictability and loss of control.
But you have the option of turning the situation around by interpreting it not as bad luck but a non-stress, to which you respond by doing things you actually want to do, like meditating , connecting with a friend, or shopping. When you become adept at this turn-around, chronic stress is nipped in the bud. You cut short a process that otherwise would have affected your body like Chinese water torture, drip by drip. Handling stress in the moment is essential to your well-being because if you let it build up, it becomes chronic stress that causes real damage to your health.
Chronic everyday stress gets overlooked because people don’t realize that there’s a slippery slope where stress is concerned. It takes time for everyday stress to create damage. Dealing with it early is the best way to prevent long-lasting effects. The cumulative damage occurs on three levels.
Psychological and Neural
These begin with minor things like feeling mentally tired and under pressure from deadlines at work. You may feel like you’ve run out of energy, which can mask mental states like being depressed, anxious, or even panicky. Because the brain is being affected, there’s interruption in normal sleep rhythms or the nagging feeling that time is running out. With mental fatigue can come flawed decision-making, memory lapses, and the ability to focus. Emotionally, stress may make you retreat to infancy, becoming prone to outbursts of anger, distress, and irritability. The more the stress mounts, the shorter the fuse gets on your negative emotions.
Negative changes in behavior are likely to manifest in two major areas: work and relationships. Stressful jobs may make you respond with all kinds of behaviors, from office gossip to going out for a drink after work. As stress mounts, the need for distraction and numbing is more acute. Inevitably, you take your feelings home after work, where friction easily follows. Stress can make you lose your appetite or overeat. Sleep often gets disrupted, and in some cases chronic insomnia is the outcome.
When the body can’t adapt to stress, the cumulative effect typically shows up as physical fatigue. Stomach aches, bad digestion, and headaches are also likely. So is reduced immune response, leading to more colds and worsened allergies. After that, the problems will tend to be associated with inflammation, whose effects can travel anywhere.
Even though this has been presented as the” airport solution,” it can be adapted to most everyday stressors. This allows you to keep daily stressors from accumulating into chronic stress that damages your life physically, mentally, and behaviorally. These stress-releasing techniques bring relaxation and a sense of control instead of tension and a feeling of helplessness. Those are the hallmarks of a coping strategy that actually works.
By: Deepak Chopra, MD