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Survival Tips for Your Love-Hate Relationship with the Holidays

By: Joe Burton
Published: Nov 16, 2016
Family arguing at holiday dinner

Everyone’s always thrilled for the holidays. But what no one ever brings up is the “joy” of holiday travel.

Holiday travel has a way of bringing out the worst in us. It’s bad enough that we’re dealing with:

  • crowds
  • security lines
  • flight delays
  • cramped seating on airplanes
  • (God forbid) other people’s crying children.

But it can feel even more overwhelming if we know that family drama may be waiting in the baggage area (pun intended).

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, here are three tips to take the edge off of both travel and family dynamics and avoid losing your temper with family or fellow travelers:

1) Recognize Your Triggers

According to neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields, there are nine triggers that really push our buttons. You might hit a lot of them during the holidays.

When it comes to travel, that could be:

  • running late
  • long lines
  • loud kids

When it comes to family, that could be:

  • snarky comments from siblings
  • your uncle’s unfiltered critiques after too many drinks

Reflect on what sets you off.

Then, when it occurs (and you know it will), plan to laugh about it instead of taking it personally. The act of planning a mindful reaction can change your normal (mindless) reaction, and result in much more pleasant experiences.

2) Try SBNRR (Stop-Breathe-Notice-Reflect-Respond)

Most of us lead with our emotional brain. We’re wired to fight or run at the first sign of trouble. Instead, try practicing a technique called SBNRR before taking the bait:

  • Stop
  • Breathe
  • Notice
  • Reflect
  • Respond

For example, when the flight attendant snaps at you because they’re having a bad day, you could snap right back. Or you could use SNBRR to engage your thinking brain and respond with kindness.

Often times, you’ll find that the cause for conflict doesn’t even relate to you… let alone require you to join the battle.

3) Practice Mindfulness to Reduce Self-Inflicted Stress

With the pace of modern living, it’s easy to run from one thing to another. The problem is that causes us to make mistakes. Lots of them. Going to the wrong gate. Leaving your iPad in the seat pocket. Writing the wrong address down. And that can cause the stress domino effect. Which can trigger the “Whose fault is this?” syndrome and tempt you to take out your frustration on others.

Instead of playing the hurry up and wait game:

  • take a few deep breaths before you transition from one thing to the next
  • think about what you are doing, writing and putting away
  • ask yourself, “Am I ready to move on?” (again, triggering that thinking brain)
  • enjoy the travel benefits of getting it right the first time


These tips will help you maintain control of your own emotions (you can’t control other people’s, unfortunately there’s no app for that yet) and be prepared to enjoy both travel and family a bit more. Preparing to dread it is no fun at all.

Take back the joy of all aspects of the holidays – especially grueling holiday travel.

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

About the Author

Headshot of Joe Burton

Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.

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