Are you traveling for the holidays? Ready for all the family gatherings, old friends, Mom's cake, the white and drifting snow? It may depend on what happens to your mood when holidays approach. In fact, if you get depressed around the holidays, travel can seem more like a nightmare than a vacation. Here is what experts have to say about traveling with holiday depression.
Traveling With Depression: What to Expect
Travel, according to Philip Muskin, MD, can affect people in different ways. Muskin is a professor of clinical psychiatry and chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He tells WebMD, "On one hand, being in a fresh setting may be very beneficial. You're in a new location, on vacation, and you don't need to get up at 6 in the morning for the daily commute. In this fresh environment, stressors are reduced, and you feel a heck of a lot better without the pressures that the holiday blues have been magnifying."
On the other hand, Muskin says, travel is far more stressful than it used to be. "We like to think of it as over the river and through the woods," he says. "But it's not. It's more like eight hours in traffic on the Jersey turnpike or long, seemingly endless lines in the airport." He points out that there are fewer, more crowded flights and far more airport congestion now than in the past.
"Travel can be very stressful," he says, "and if you're depressed, your frustration tolerance doesn't have that roll-with-the-punches resiliency." As a result, when something happens like your flight getting delayed, you are less likely to tell yourself, "It's no big deal."
"Travel is a process," Muskin says, "and it can have a major negative impact, even on people who aren't depressed."
Holiday Depression: Empower Yourself
"Preparation is essential any time you travel," says Helen Grusd, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, Calif. and past president of the LA County Psychological Association. "Preparation is your best inoculation against stress."
The preparation Grusd is talking about isn't deciding what clothes you are going to take. "You need to prepare yourself emotionally. How are you going to empower yourself?"
The first step, Grusd tells WebMD, is to determine what the purpose of your trip is. "Are you going to make connections with family members? Or is the purpose just to go and relax and enjoy yourself?" Then the next step is to tell yourself "over and over again, 'I am going to make this work.'"
Grusd urges patients with holiday depression to make that phrase a mantra. "There are going to be circumstances out of your control," she says. "But you prepare yourself to say, 'Whatever I can control, I'm going to control.'" If you are depressed or have the blues, Grusd tells WebMD, you tend to feel like you have no power over things when you become frustrated. She says, though, that you can choose to evaluate the situation as a challenge. Then you can let yourself enjoy the challenge rather than feeling like a victim.
How does that actually work when you travel? "In a long line at the airport," Grusd says, "you can talk to the person behind you or in front of you and get to know someone. You can tell yourself you don't need to be in a rush. The purpose of a vacation is to slow down and enjoy. If there's a delay at the airport, you can look at it as time to read a book. That way you stay in control instead of feeling the vacation's controlling you."