Our first article on travel took a look at pleasure trips, vacations ("Travel and Stress 1: Happy Trails - 4 Positives"). We saw how a pleasant trip has many elements which reduce stress. Beyond that immediate effect a pleasurable trip leaves experiences and memories which in the future create more good feelings and reduce stress.
Now let’s look at the factors which introduce stress, which make travel more of a challenge.
How could such a beautiful experience cause us stress? Didn’t we just go to this little paradise to get rid of all stress?
Why could there be stress?
Because it is a major change from where we are used to be. Our instinctive brain – this is our ancient “reptilian brain” – doesn’t like change. It gets rattled each time it experiences something different from what it is used to and expects.
Let’s see what can be different:
Therefore, even if we enjoy the different sights, sounds, and smells, our instinctive brain is a little bit concerned.
How could that be? Because our brain developed tens of thousands of years ago. It didn’t change very much since then. The ancient survival components of our brain are subconscious. They have helped us survive. Because each time when there was an external change they switched us into high alert. They ask “what dangers to our survival could this new environment bring?”
This suspiciousness may have saved our lives many times in the past. This alertness can save us from trouble even now. Maybe you walked alone in a nice city but somebody follows you. You automatically walk faster and with a firmer step and clenched your briefcase or purse. Maybe it signaled the person behind you that you were in control and not an easy mark.
And yet even a low level of this suspiciousness and anxiousness dust cloud our judgment. We tend to make decisions we wouldn’t make at home in our normal environment and cope ineffectively.
What if you cope ineffectively?
This will just add more to the stress we already experience.
What if things go really wrong?
Those events are bad even at home or in a familiar environment. But in a strange place far away they can turn into a real disaster, even endanger your life. That’s where planning ahead and managing your stress become really important to your well-being and survival.
To have stress or not to have stress
In this article we talked about all the difficulties and stress which travel can bring. In our article before we looked at all the positive aspects which travel can bring to us to make us feel better and relieve stress. Considering all these potential risks and opportunities can help you minimize difficulties and create positives for your travel experience. Thinking ahead carefully, planning and being prepared will help you to get the most out of your travel be it for pleasure or business.
Wishing you many happy and successful trips! Your stress expert who favors pleasant journeys but doesn’t always get them.
Warmly, Fred George Sauer
> Travel and Stress 1: Happy Trails - 4 Positives
We just returned from a 10-day trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After a 5 hour non-stop flight we arrived in this well-known Pacific resort. Passport control and customs officials were very fast, kind and efficient. Then came a short ride to our gorgeous hotel.
Why do we want to go on vacation? Why do people plan often for weeks and months to go to a different place? Why do they save money to be able to later spend a lot just to get to a different place?
Because we want to feel better.
That is probably the quintessence of all the reasons to go on a vacation, spent the time and spend the money. We have often pointed out that just about 80% of all of our problems and issues in life are caused by stress. So if we feel better on a vacation it must be that it helps us get rid of stress. It must help us to reduce stress quite a lot.
How does that work? What are the secrets?
Secret Number One - Emotional Triggers
Stress is an emotional thing. We often talk about it in rational terms. We often try to explain it logically. But that doesn’t really get to the key point. Stress is caused in the “emotional brain,” also called the mammalian brain or limbic system. That part of the brain is subconscious. In the only conscious part of our brain, the “thinking brain,” neocortex or new brain, we notice the stress reaction through negative thoughts.
Therefore, with slight stresses we feel a bit anxious, irritable, suspicious or just restless. With heavy stresses we may feel fear, anger and aggression, even rage, and are ready to spring into reactive action at any moment.
These stress reactions are triggered by some external stimulus which our emotional brain doesn’t like. It perceives something which it judges to be threatening to our well-being and survival.
So here is the secret number one why we have less stress on vacation: we select places and situations which have few if any stress triggers.
Secret Number Two - Positive Expectations
Expectations have an interesting effect on our emotional brain. They work like colored glasses. If we have positive expectations it is like we put on some pink colored glasses. With that positive bias, our emotional brain will look for anything which supports this bias. It will look for anything which is pleasant and positive and ignore negatives. And each time it finds something which fits the positive mold it will further strengthen this “virtuous cycle.”
Secret Number Three - Pleasant Sensory Experiences
Our emotional brain reacts to sensory inputs: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. If these sensory inputs are judged pleasant and comfortable, then the emotional brain will send pleasant emotions to our awareness in the neocortex, our new brain. That is just the opposite of any stress reaction. It is calming and relaxing.
One of the most powerful sensory experiences is beauty. Beauty has a direct and immediate effect on our emotional brain. It bypasses any logic. We just experience it. We feel it. Art critics may later explain beauty in many logical terms, but that’s beside the point. Beauty directly calms us and floods us with good feelings.
That’s why we pick beautiful spots to go on vacation. That’s why you put beautiful things in your home. You know that you will feel better – because your stress is reduced. That’s why companies put art and beautiful things in offices and work spaces. They know that employees will feel better which results in better work, quality and productivity.
Secret Number Four – Exciting Activities
Our emotional brain likes an alternation between periods of rest and periods of activity. Therefore we automatically and spontaneously will do things on vacations which are a bit different and unusual.
These new and adventurous activities create positive memories in our brain which can last for a long time. Those fun and exciting memories will do a lot to reduce past stresses and prevent new ones when we get back home into our regular routine.
So now you know! Now you have a strong neuroscience underpinning to take a great vacation!
Best wishes for a wonderful stress reducing vacation.
Your relaxed stress analyst,
Fred George Sauer
PS: remember, your emotional brain gets nearly as excited and happy when you think about a past beautiful vacation or think about planning a new one. Just thinking about the 4 secrets discussed above will put your already in a great mood!
> Trials and Travails 2: Trials and Travails
Fritz George Sauer Founder of SciStress
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