Have you ever had that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach? That feeling that makes your heart race? That makes you short of breath? That tells your brain that disaster is coming?
I suffered from anxiety a little bit in junior high and in college, but it came back with a vengeance about 4 or 5 months ago. There are two things that set it off that I’ve noticed: my children’s bed time, and traveling.
Being anxious about traveling can be debilitating. It feels so unfair, doesn’t it? Looking forward to fun vacations becomes a time of dread instead of joyful anticipation. My specific travel anxiety is triggered by rides in the car that are more than 60 minutes long.
We’re going to Key West for a wedding on Saturday. We decided to fly into Fort Lauderdale to save money, and then drive to Key West. My husband said it was only a couple hours. I said, No worries. I can handle that.
Turns out the drive is close to 4 hours long.
The funny thing about anxiety is it’s like a super villain in the dark thriller of your mental illness journey. It is surprising. It lies constantly. And it’s completely beatable with the right tools.
What can you do?
- Talk about your anxiety. Tell the people you are traveling with about the things that trigger your anxiety. For me, it is long car rides (I have a fear of needing to go to the bathroom and not being able to find a place to stop.) Use the people around you as a support system. In my case, when I travel with my husband, he assures me we will stop somewhere after X amount of time. That really helps.
- Be in charge of the planning. The more you can control about the trip, the easier it will be to keep your anxiety at bay. Maybe it helps you to be the driver vs. being the passenger. Maybe you prefer to be the navigator. (The countdown clock on the GPS helps me!) Whatever the case, re-establishing some amount of control over the situation can help.
- Take your meds. This seems like silly advice, but sometimes in the chaos of travel prep, it can be easy to forget to take your meds. Set an alarm on your phone so that you remember. Also, set a reminder to pack them in a part of your travel gear that will be easily accessible. Lots of times, we need to take it while you’re still en route. You don’t want to be forced to forget it because it’s stowed away somewhere you can’t reach it.
- Bring something distracting. Whether it’s a book, headphones, books or word puzzles, or whatever the case may be, you need something to distract your brain. Anxiety is, at the risk of oversimplifying, a state of obsession your brain enters. If you can redirect your thoughts to something else, you will find yourself forgetting whatever it was you were obsessing over.
These are just a few ways I am able to travel even when it makes me incredibly anxious. I was able to take a 3 hour car ride alone with my kids this past weekend!
What are some of your strategies? I would love to hear about them in the comments!