How to keep you and your family happy and calm during Memorial Day travel

Hit the road or take to the skies for the holiday weekend, and there’s a chance everything won’t go perfectly — but a Northern Virginia psychotherapist has advice to help you and your family handle stress and adversity.

“Positive thinking is one of the most important and powerful tools we have,” said Megan Fullen, a psychotherapist at Kaiser Permanente in Burke, Virginia.

“Speaking to yourself, either out loud or in your mind, in a way, that’s healthy and helpful … saying to yourself, ‘I know I can or can’t handle this, (but) I know that I can handle myself, my thoughts’ may make you feel less out of control when you’re sitting in that car, especially as the driver,” she said, imagining a frustrating scenario of being stuck in traffic.

Fullen, who is the manager of behavioral health operations for Kaiser Permanente Northern Virginia, said the way people set up their thoughts and talk to themselves can change their feelings and behavior. It’s the premise for cognitive behavioral therapy, which is an evidence-based therapy regularly used by therapists worldwide.

“It’s the old ‘fake it ’till you make it’ idea. Even if you don’t believe it, if you say it often enough, you will start to believe it,” she said.

Megan Fullen: How to regain control of yourself when emotions or frustration feel like too much

To give yourself the best chance for having a stress-free trip, Fullen offers these tips:

Have realistic expectations: “Your family members, your spouse, your children, are going to be the same people they were before the trip starts. So, they are maybe not going to be perfect children, you may not get along the entire trip, you may not feel happy all the time. But, going in with realistic expectations can lighten some of that stress a trip or vacation brings.”

Make a light agenda and be flexible: “Sometimes, when we overbook or have too strict of a schedule for ourselves, it sets us up for failure or just additional stress. So being flexible, leaving plenty of time, having plenty of options in case things get rained out or are closed unexpectedly. Or maybe you just show up and it’s not the right thing for your family at that time. Having different options, can be less stressful and really provide unexpected surprises and fun as well.”

Prepare for curveballs or unexpected change: “We’re not predicting or assuming that these will happen on a vacation, but packing some extra cash, some snacks, change of clothes, the iPads and the electronics and batteries and chargers can help you feel more prepared, even if those changes never end up happening.”

Finally, pack the right tunes to help you remain calm and carry on if, for example, you get stuck in traffic or have a canceled flight: “Use those skills that work whether you’re in a car or not, if you’ve got favorite music and songs that are your go-to’s, bring those along,” Fullen said.

If what’s happening isn’t ideal, Fullen suggests to remind yourself that you are doing what you wanted to do — which is to get away. Relax, have fun and be you. Enjoy your time with yourself and with your family.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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