8 Tips to Keep Your Cool When a Natural Disaster Strikes

Medical Author: Sietske N. Heyn, PhD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Traveling can be very stressful, especially, when you visit a foreign country. The last thing you need is for a volcano with an unpronounceable name to put your life on hold. But this is exactly what many people all over the world have to deal with right now. Mother Nature has thrown a monkey wrench into our airplane-dependent lives, and there isn't much we can do about it. The volcano is still spewing ash and lava and speculation is rife about its powerful dormant sister, so who knows when you will get home. Here are some tips that may help you cope and stay calm under these uncertain circumstances.

  1. Be patient and take it one day at a time: A volcanic eruption (or any natural disaster) is beyond anybody's control. It is very frustrating not knowing what to expect. Nobody can predict whether your rescheduled flight will actually take off tomorrow or the following day. Try to be patient and plan one day at a time. Planning much further in advance may only lead to additional frustration. If you must plan ahead, stay flexible, as your situation can change on a daily or perhaps even hourly basis.

  2. Stay in touch with the airline and keep loved ones up-to-date: Check in frequently with your travel agency or airline via phone or e-mail. European airports are sometimes open for a few hours and then closed again. Keep your loved ones informed of the latest news, so that they don't have to worry.

  3. Be kind to fellow passengers and travel agents: Everybody is in the same boat. Being courteous and empathic toward other passengers will usually make them return the sentiment. Travel agents are doing their utmost to accommodate passengers in this chaotic and stressful situation. They will appreciate your understanding and this will keep stress levels down.

  4. Stock up on over-the-counter medicines: Stressful situations can weaken your immune system. To avoid having to find a doctor for minor aches and pains, make sure you have some pain medications, antidiarrheals, antacids, throat lozenges, band-aids, and a thermometer at hand. Chap stick and moisturizing lotions can also make you feel more comfortable.

  5. Try to squeeze in some exercise: Exercise can help you clear your mind and distract you from your predicament. Find a local park and take a brisk walk—you don't have to wear gym shoes. Run around and play tag with your kids. If you are stuck at an airport, walk up and down the halls, take the stairs, or hike up the escalator.

  6. Stay away from junk food: When you are traveling, it can be tricky to eat healthy food, but you may be stranded for a longer period, so eating some fresh vegetables or fruit is even more important. Find a local grocery store or a farmer's market. You'll find plenty of veggies and fruits, such as carrots, strawberries, and apples that don't require utensils. If the airport is your only option, buy an orange instead of carbohydrate-loaded chips and pretzels. And don't forget to drink plenty of water.

  7. Be creative—check out local resources: If you are in a place with good public transportation, treat yourself to a ride through town on the local bus, tram, or ferry. Ask a concierge at a hotel for ideas on what to do in town (you don't have to stay there to take advantage of their knowledge). Find a public library and relax with a book. Save money by buying a sandwich and a drink at a grocery store rather than at a restaurant and then relax on a park bench.

  8. Think positive and keep a sense of humor: Think of your forced "vacation" as a break from routine. You probably don't get many chances to step back and assess your situation. Yes, it's frustrating to loose control, but how often will a volcano disrupt your life? It may not seem very funny right now, however, it will make a good story eventually. And last but not least, when the routine does set back in, retain an enhanced appreciation of the things you previously took for granted.

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