Travel with Anxiety – How to Cope

Travel with Anxiety – How to Cope

Not many people think about the fact that being on the road and seeing the most beautiful places is not all sunshine and roses. And often not the only baggage we carry with us is a backpack or suitcase. Travel with anxiety is a serious concern.

Travel with Anxiety – How to Cope

Holidays are a means for many of us to escape the routine, recharge our batteries or clear our minds. But sometimes such a retreat is vital for our mental health. The other day, I found an article on travellers and the often overlooked fact that we also have to look after our mental health and I thought I needed to reassure all of you out there who are afraid to chase your dreams or travel goals for whatever reason. If you want to travel, you should. Even if the biggest obstacle is yourself.

Anxiety can take on many forms and travelling is a way to deal with them. Yes, travel with anxiety feels daunting at first but will actually be so worth it! But at the same time to increase them tenfold. So many strange faces, crowded spaces and new impressions, travel is undoubtedly overwhelming. And now imagine yourself getting all angsty, borderline uncomfortable or even freaking out. It might not be rational but it is certainly real and you shouldn’t suffer through it alone. It could be a fear of people, of flying, of bacteria, etc. But it should not hold you back in enjoying your travels!

Find Your Comfort Zone

The first step is to figure out if you want to travel alone or with other people. Those people need to be there to support you and not make matters worse by belittling you, running off or disregarding your feelings. Sure, they are not responsible for you and that in turn means you need to both look out for number one by yourself but also by being selective. You know who is good for and to you.

Your priority should be to feel comfortable. And in the long run there is no worse holiday than one where people disagree with one another and clash. Also,do some soul-searching and find out what your expectations and limits are. What interests you, where could you make compromises and what would you never want to do? Hiking? Theme Parks? Bungie Jumping? Zoo visits? Visiting public toilets? Whatever it is, find out if it goes on your ok or no-go list. Be absolutely clear on that with yourself and your possible travel buddy. It will be better for both sides to be upfront. I can speak from experience.

Prepare for the Worst

While it is never good to imagine the worst and let your imagination run wild, a little preparation goes a long way. If you are afraid of flying, read up on safety numbers and stay clear of all the headlines of crashes. These are so rare that they make the news and not the millions of flights that go smoothly. Make sure you pack everything to feel comfortable, ear plugs, something to chew on, a neck pillow, etc and if you do feel uncomfortable during your flight, you can always call a flight attendant to reassure yourself. Ask them how long they’ve been flying and be surprised about their stories.

You could also be scared about your country of destination. For instance, when I booked my trip to Cape Town I was ecstatic – that is until people started telling me horror stories about dying of malaria, being robbed or eaten by a lion. On the exact day I arrived a woman had been eaten for real. (Because she had disregarded local warnings.) But you know what, I wasn’t afraid anymore because I had done my research. I went on public websites, asked local bloggers and friends who had been. I knew where no to go, what to expect in Cape Town, etc. I was prepared. And it wasn’t scary.

Accept Your Feelings

Here is a real life worst case scenario for you: if you keep on telling yourself you are afraid of nothing and that you have no right to be, that you’re being silly and all other awful things, then you will be in a terrible mess. Feelings are always real. No matter if they are reasonable or not, no matter if other people can relate or not. That doesn’t make them any less powerful in your life.

And so a vital step is to just accept that they are there and to go from there. When you start acknowledging them instead of just denying and pushing them away, it makes it more bearable and easier to figure out the what, when and why. Feelings are part of who you are and them being there always has a reason and it is a very personal one. Don’t deny yourself your personality and identity! But you also have to power to shape those!

Travel with Anxiety – How to Cope

Be a Boss

Easier said than done to control your anxiety attacks when you are swallowed by that dark pit of sinking stomach feeling and panicky thoughts. But please don’t go down that spiral. Do you have a certain technique to cope? Have you tried allowing then fear for 10 seconds and then figuratively close the door? Did you try yelling ‘stop’ in your head and refuse to think anything further? There are so many different ways to stop yourself in your tracks whether or not you travel with anxiety or are at home. Find your own mantra or way to cope, maybe you need a hug, a listen to your favourite tune? It might not make the feeling go away but it keeps you from giving into the sinking feeling.

Now that you have put on some tentative reigns, pull out some cheerful thoughts. Think Harry Potter, and go back to your happy place, a brilliant memory, an item that makes you smile or a song that comforts your soul. And yes, you can even imagine a bright patronus appearing. But get yourself some sunshine in. In the eternal words of Zooey Deschanel, “just find the sunshine in your own eyes.” And if you are reluctant, practice does make perfect. The more you travel with anxiety, the more it will improve. Trust me.

Distract Yourself

Ok, your thoughts are still running wild in the back of your mind and you want to be master of them. It’s hard, I know. Why not get your head out of it altogether and distract yourself – even if you have to force yourself. In the end it all comes down to this: does your worry change anything? Would you rather travel with anxiety or stay home in your four walls and never chase your dreams? Is imagining the worst going to make the situation better? If you can’t actively do anything about what’s making you uncomfortable and go ahead and do it, the only thing is to let it go.

If you want to go with the worst case scenario, would you like your last moments to be spent worrying or thinking of what makes you happy? Reflect on happy memories, play a stupid game, read a book that you haven’t had time to or get to know another passenger’s story. There is always a way to just entertain yourself and it is also a good practice for our next step.

Calm Yourself Down

By now you should feel more comfortable. You have acknowledged your feelings, remembered all the preparation you’ve done to deal with or analysed the situation in the best way, taken control, distracted and reassured yourself. But sometimes the little demon inside just won’t give up and you feel a heaviness on your chest and a faster breathing.

There are two ways to get calmer when you travel with anxiety. To purposefully force yourself to relax to make it happen , which I find never really works, or by making you even more tense. By consciously flexing your muscles and increasing the tension (maybe for 10 minutes), you are taking action and when you losen up your muscles, they will actually be much more loose. Breathe in and out consciously, tense and relax.

Travel with Anxiety – How to Cope

Another Perspective

So you are afraid of something. But even the most angst-ridden person isn’t afraid of EVERYthing. Remember all the things other people you know are afraid of? I personally am not bothered by spiders or bugs, I am mostly even rescuing them from my room and put them back ‘into the wild’ but if I spy a worm (most likely not in my room, though), all is over. Kinda like in one of my favourite cartoons. Or think of Indiana Jones and snakes.

And then think of all the things you have done while still having those fears. I once even held a live worm on my hand to feed an endangered bird! I felt like dying but it was over in a split second and this bird is so rare most New Zealandians will never see it in their lives, I was told. Also, I don’t like swimming in the ocean where I can’t see the ground and where there are big fish nearby. I still swam with freakishly giant tuna! And the tought of an animal licking my face makes me think of tiny bacteria and infections but I still let a baby kangaroo kiss me. It’s silly things like that that might seem easy for other people but have cost you a lot of will power and you should be proud of that. And you get to challenge yourself a lot (or little, depending on what you feel you can handle) when you travel with anxiety.

Be Nice To Yourself

Have you ever looked at the way you are treating yourself while you travel with anxiety? How are you reacting when you make a mistake? Are you all, ah, ‘You little dummy, that’s not the brightest idea but you are so charming when you’re being silly’ or go all down like ‘man, that was super dumb. What were you thinking? I should die right here of embarrassment?’ See the difference? Mistakes are natural but the way you talk to yourself can be terrible. Why all the hate?

My remedy is to start talking to yourself like your best friend. And if that’s weird or hard, imagine your own best friend talking to you in that situation. Would they treat you like a complete nincompoop? You have to live with yourself, so why do you have to be your own worst enemy. Make your life a happier one by embracing happiness and rewarding yourself every now and then. Be your own cheerleader, you can expect others to take on that job for you.

These are just some very basic steps to deal with your fears but if you want to address a certain issue, you need to dig a lot deeper. There is nothing bad about seeking help, in fact it is the most logical and sensible thing to do. Always remember, be nice to yourself. If you need more detailed steps on your kind of anxiety or phobia, I have found very helpful.

Shop Away the Worry (At Least a Little Bit)

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If you are the type of person who loves to read up on techniques and self help to complement your daily reassurances and build confidence, I’ve found some pretty great books I can recommend you. These are affiliate links that would give me a little commission upon a buy but at no extra cost to you. The money wil help create more content like this on the blog.

Tell me: Would you travel with anxiety or is it keeping you back?

This article also appeared on Kiss from the World. Photos by Chris Sardegna, Amanda Sandlin and Benjamin Combs; found on unsplash.

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It had to happen, after ditching the 9-5 for a prolonged break, Annemarie's wokaholic tendencies led her to start a daily blog about her adventures. Realising how much travel has helped rebuild her confidence and and general #GirlBoss-iness, Travel on the Brain released a book about her adventures in Down Under and New Zealand and creates quirky video series focusing on story telling in destinations around the globe.
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  1. Reply

    These are very helpful. I’m not that good at dealing with anxiety myself, but talking to myself does help. I like talking to myself, and when I travel alone, most of the time there’s no one else to talk to but to myself. I’ve only traveled alone once, and I want to try it again.. these tips are indeed helpful and I’ve learned a lot.
    Thank you so much! :)

    1. Hi Sofia, I am so glad. I think nobody is really good at dealing with anxiety. It can be such a pain. And talking to yourself sounds like a good idea. I find it let’s me sort my ideas better when I voice them instead of them drowning among the myriad of other thoughts and doubts in my head. Where did you travel to when you were alone! I must say kudos for you for doing it. Many people are afraid of solo travel, but I find it hels a lot woth confidence and being by yourself is a good way to get to know yourself better and learn to be kinder to yourself as well. I hope you will try it again soon! I can highly recommend Australia and New Zealand for this. Let me know if you need travel tips.

  2. Reply

    This blog post is sooo timely! I suffer from anxiety attacks on a daily basis. I have not had to deal with this during travel…yet, but I will definitely bookmark and reference this the next time I travel!

    1. Hi Ashley, I am sorry to hear that. It is terrible to suffer from anxiety, I can’t imagine how it must be to have to cope with it daily, though I had very bad phases myself. I hope you’ve got some good thoughts you can go back to and coping mechanisms that make it a little easier. Surround yourself with people who support you (forget the ones that don’t and don’t want to understand). I hope this article will be helpful to you when you travel because you should never let your anxiety stop you from chasing your dreams!!

  3. Reply

    I have anxiety issues and traveling has definitely helped me cope with them! Just slowly pushing myself farther outside my comfort zone until I feel like I can do anything. It’s the best feeling!! Great read!!

    1. Hi Kaley,

      Thank you, that is great. I think travel helps a whole lot and not only shows you what you are capable of but that you are as strong as you want to be. You can decide how fast you want to push your boundaries and in which way. Travel let’s you experiment a bit.

  4. Reply

    For some reason I am less anxious when I travel, but it really does depend on where I am and who I’m with. I rarely get out of my comfort zone, even when I travel, and I know that anxiety is part of that. For me, preparation is key, followed by distraction.

    Thanks for the great tips!

    1. Hi Tara, I feel the same way. Travel makes me more confident and so much less anxious, which is good but bad when I get back home. And I do also get that with the comfort zone. Sometimes I get pushed a bit, which is challenging in both a good and a bad way. What travel has taught me, though, is to know exactly where my boundaries and comfort zone are and easily maneuvre my way through the trip knowing what I would like to do and what I wwon’t enjoy despite what people will say. It is good finding out about yourself and sticking with it. I like your motto with preparation andd distraction. It works.^^

    • Evin
    • 01/08/2016

    My most recent panic attack happened while traveling. Thankfully I was in a private place and with family, but I have a “panic attack plan” and put it into action. For me that means having someone hug me really tight for about a minute. Having a go-to plan helps so much! Travel can be really stressful, especially when things go wrong. If anxiety attacks happen, it’s nice to know exactly what to do.

    1. Reply

      Hi Evin! That is awesome. I am glad you had people with you that knew you well and took care of you. It is a great idea to have a panic attack plan ready and know what you need when it happens.

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    • Don Hodges
    • 13/04/2018

    It’s a very helpful post. I tried these steps and it’s effective. I also add to my routine to drink an herbal blend which helps me to eliminate my anxiety. Kudos!

    1. Reply

      Hi Don, thanks for sharing your pesonal tips. I should try herbal drinks, too. I am a tea drinker myself but never go for “the medicinal” types. Maybe I should try them.

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