10 Ways to Avoid Stress at the Airport

My local gym opens at 5 a.m. or I can just go for a short run in my neighborhood, first thing. (I used to think I didn't have time for a workout on a travel day, now I won't go anywhere by plane without a good workout first.) It keeps me calm throughout the day.
01/08/2015 10:42 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2015

1. Arrive Early. Running late to the airport is a recipe for stress. Remember stress is cumulative. It's not just one thing that sets you off but a series of things that each raise your cortisol levels until you blow your top, or just feel overwhelmed. Having to rush all the way from your front door to your terminal gate can really get you started off on the wrong foot. Abide by the TSA's rule of arriving at least two hours before your departure time and allow at least 30-60 minutes extra time for traffic on the way there. Yes, sometimes you may arrive at the airport way before your flight leaves, but on other days when those TSA lines are long or the traffic is all snarled up, you won't arrive nearly as stressed.

If you think about it, flying by plane is an amazing convenience!

2. Travel in the middle of day. I try to schedule my departures, whenever possible, in the early afternoon. The idea here is to be able to leave for the airport after rush hour is over. That makes the drive so much more pleasant (and predictable, traffic-wise). Also it gives me time to work out in the early morning (See #10).

3. Set aside a day for travel (think of this day like a travel holiday). I hear a lot of people whine and complain about airports and air travel. I LOVE IT. And this may be the main reason why I love it: I NEVER schedule any appointments or anything important on the day I travel. I get to my destination when I get there. Even when I fly just two hours to Chicago, I allow a whole day for travel. Now, you can easily fly from New York to Chicago and back in ONE day, but if you do this your day is going to be so stressful, you'll be exhausted by the end of it. My travel days are relaxing because I never have to be where I'm going until the next day.

4. Be prepared to wait and be delayed. Let's face it, sometimes you get lucky and there are no delays. But other times you don't. You can't predict ahead of time how this is going to go. So mentally prepare yourself (and allow enough extra time) for the worst case scenario -- in terms of traffic and delays -- and usually you'll be pleasantly surprised. Bring a lap top, something to read or even some knitting (yes, you can bring knitting needles on a plane) to help pass the time. (Other than answering email or making a few phone calls while I wait, I've given up trying to be productive on my travel days. There are just too many distractions. Usually I simply try to have a good time.)

I think of airports as being like a mall with a purpose.

5. Enjoy a relaxing meal at the airport. I look for food I can't find at other airports like the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at O'Hare, or Shake Shack or Artisanal Pizza at Kennedy. Once you're past TSA, find your gate and THEN enjoy your meal. (If you don't have enough time to fully enjoy the meal, get it to go. Nothing on a plane comes close to the Caesar salad and the four cheese pizza at Wolfgang Puck's.)

6. Bring a set of headphones. In a recent Gallup survey cited in "WellBeing: 5 Essential Elements", listening to music was the no. 1 way that people like to relax. So bring music that you LOVE on the plane and you'll enjoy your plane trip that much more. If you can afford it, sound dampening headphones work wonders to drown out that screaming baby three rows back, too. People with those headphones can sleep through ANYTHING.

7. Meditate on the plane. Close your eyes and just notice your own breath. Count each breath, or try repeating a word or relaxing phrase, over and over to yourself. If you're a white knuckle flyer like I used to be, find a little prayer you can repeat silently to yourself during take-offs and landings. It will really help.

8. Choose your airport. Where I live in Connecticut, I have a choice of five airports that are all about an hour away. Some are less stressful than others. I always resisted going to the smallest of the five for no good reason until one day I decided to give it a try. Much to my surprise, TSA literally took about five minutes (and does every time). So if you have the choice of going to a smaller airport, give it a try and see if it's faster.

9. Do yoga on the plane. I do a couple of standing poses in the galley while I'm waiting to use the lavatory. I do a forward bend (basically just trying to touch my toes), Then I clasp my hands behind my back, arch my back, and lean forward, so my torso is almost parallel with the floor (Your clasped hands will point up to the ceiling). You don't have to do it long. Just enough to release the muscles in the back. In the seat, you can do a spinal twist. Just grab either arm rest with both hands, and twist to the right, turning your head toward the right to look toward the back of the plane. Repeat on the other side.

10. Exercise in the morning. Once upon a time I was really afraid to fly. Then I discovered that if I exercised in the morning, it would lower my anxiety ALL day. My local gym opens at 5 a.m. or I can just go for a short run in my neighborhood, first thing. (I used to think I didn't have time for a workout on a travel day, now I won't go anywhere by plane without a good workout first.) It keeps me calm throughout the day.