Half of holiday travelers expect to be stressed out by their trip, and flight delays and cancellations top their most-dreaded list, according to a 2011 survey by the TripAdvisor travel site. From crowded airports to cramped plane seats, air travel can be an ordeal. Luckily, a few stress-reducing tools in your carry-on bag can salvage your holiday cheer. Here are some items you might want to pack in your stress-busting travel kit.
What to bring: A tablet or laptop for watching comedy films or sitcom episodes
How it helps: When you're feeling hurried and harried, a grinchy encounter or delayed flight can seem like a major calamity. Humor helps distract your mind, defuse your stress, and put glitches into perspective.
What to bring: A portable media player with your personal playlist of relaxing tunes
How it helps: Soothing music is a tried-and-true tool for relieving stress. Among other effects, listening to music may lower blood pressure, decrease heart and breathing rate, improve mood, and reduce anxiety.
What to bring: Noise-cancelling headphones
How they help: These electronic wonders produce an anti-noise signal that actively cancels out the nerve-racking noise in your environment. They're particularly effective against low-frequency sounds, such as the incessant engine roar inside a plane. You can wear the headphones alone to shut out the world or connect them to a device for watching a movie or listening to music. Because you're hearing more dialogue or lyrics and less noise, you can turn down the volume.
What to bring: An empty water bottle
How it helps: Once you're past the security gate, fill your bottle at the water fountain (or buy bottled water inside the secure boarding area). It's easy to forget about staying hydrated when you're rushing around, and the dry air inside a plane cabin just compounds the problem. Mild dehydration is associated with a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. It may also impair mood, concentration, alertness, and short-term memory. Sipping water helps ward off these negative effects.
What to bring: Mobile games, crossword puzzles, books, magazines
How they help: Over half of Angry Birds fans say that playing the popular game makes them feel somewhat or very relaxed, according to a survey by the AYTM market research site. That's no surprise, because mental diversions—such as playing games, solving crosswords, or doing a little light reading—can distract your mind from the chaos around you.