Have you ever suffered from anxiety? If so, do you find yourself anxious while traveling?
Anxiety and panic disorders can feel like a barrier between you and everything life has to offer. One of the best ways to enjoy life is through travel! Yet it comes with so many stressors…
What makes panic disorders so debilitating is that attacks can happen at any time, anywhere. Sometimes there’s no warning. For this reason, many people who suffer from the condition tend to forgo crowded places, doing things alone, or avoiding certain situations that they believe will trigger an attack.
These intense fears can make traveling feel impossible. With so many unknowns and crowded spaces, it’s literally a nightmare for people who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. It takes away that feeling of safety and familiarity.
My history with anxiety
When I moved to Hong Kong, I had a tough time dealing with my anxiety and depression. I was halfway across the world and completely alone. I struggled to get a handle on a new job I loathed while trying to avoid massive protests throughout the city.
I had numerous panic attacks; most of them at home, but they would often happen at work as well. There were some really bad days. But there were also some really good ones. Dealing with it made me want to connect with others going through the same thing, and to give them the knowledge to overcome their anxiety and have good days too.
Because in the end, it was worth it, and even though I reached new lows, I also hit my highest highs. And for me, that’s only a feeling you get when you travel. Even with the odds stacked against you, there are still ways to manage your anxiety and have a great trip. I’ve come up with a list of methods (some of which I still use) to help you remain calm and ultimately give you the mental freedom to explore.
(Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay)
Have a Plan
There are so many variables when it comes to traveling. There are some things you just can’t plan for, like thick smog the one morning you go to see the Taj Mahal (ugh!).
But there are lots of other things you can control. Know ahead of time how to handle your symptoms. It can be taking simple steps to prevent a panic attack, or knowing how to cope with one when it does happen. You’ll feel better armed with that knowledge.
Organize yourself thoughts with an itinerary. Know what you want to see and most importantly how to get around. Research the safest areas and which ones you want to avoid. A word of caution; don’t overpack your itinerary! Not having time to do everything can be a stressor in itself.
Remind Yourself Why You’re Traveling
This sounds simple, but can be more powerful than you realize.
Visualize being at the destination and getting to experience all the things you’ve dreamt about. Maybe it’s taking an Alaskan cruise, or a gondola ride in Venice. Imagine how it would feel to actually be there experiencing it.
If that doesn’t work, now try to imagine yourself not going on the trip. Think about how that would make you feel a year from now, knowing you didn’t go out of fear. I’d wager that the fear and regret of missing out on life is stronger than your anxiety to travel.
Join a Community
You’re not alone! There are lots of people out there going through the same thing, having the same thoughts and reservations. Thanks to social media, it’s now easier than ever to connect and find support.
For example, you can have your pick of Facebook groups. There’s the Social Anxiety group which is a good place for a meaningful conversation, and then there’s The Anxiety Lounge a great place to go to get some encouragement for dealing with anxiety.
Create a Small Routine
One of the scariest things about traveling is the lack of control in an unfamiliar environment. Having a little routine can help with that feeling of disorientation. It can be anything from doing a morning meditation when you wake up, to eating the same thing for lunch.
Knowing what to expect in certain aspects of your life even while abroad will make you feel like you’re more in control. Even though the setting has changed drastically, keeping the same constants help to manage the overwhelm.
Find Relaxation Techniques that Work for You
Exercise is a great routine element to have while traveling. The endorphins will get you into a positive mindset. There are studies that say being active for just 15 minutes has the ability to give a few hours of relief from anxious thoughts and feelings.
It’s common knowledge that meditation is a great tool for combating anxiety. Yet I feel like people rarely take the time to actually do it. All you need is 10 minutes, sometimes even less time. My favorite apps for guided meditations are Breethe and Insight Timer.
It’s also a good idea to have some brain tricks handy as well. I’ll give you an example. When I’m having a panic attack I like to use the Grounding Technique on myself. Counting down from 5, you go through your senses to help you focus on your surroundings instead of your anxious feelings. Here’s what you do:
- List 5 things you can see
- List 4 things you can feel
- List 3 things you hear
- List 2 things you can smell
- List something you can taste, OR say something good about yourself!
This short process has helped me countless times over the years to calm down and start to move on from the panic.
(Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay)
Normally, we’re told to think positively. But for those of us who suffer from anxiety, that seems impossible a lot the time. Instead, take a minute to embrace all of the negative thoughts. By playing out the worst case scenarios you usually try to block, you’ll see that the logical end isn’t nearly as bad as you feared.
For example, let’s say you’re afraid of getting lost, and that’s keeping you from exploring. Think about the worst thing that could happen. You don’t have wifi or a signal, and have to ask for directions. Let’s keep going; say not many people speak English. If you do get lost, you may have to take a taxi take you home. What if they don’t speak English? Have a photo of your hotel (or wherever you’re staying) ready on your phone, and keep cash on you.
That’s not so bad, right?
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What was the last vacation you took? Do you have any tips for managing anxiety while traveling? Share them in the comments below!
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About the Author
Allison is a freelance writer and avid traveler. After graduating with a degree in English Literature, she began teaching English abroad; in Chile and then Hong Kong. It didn’t take long before she realized that writing remotely was what she really wanted to do. On weekends you can find her leading horseback rides and practicing the ukulele.
Looking for a safe space to discuss mental health? Join my private Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1206005752776704/?ref=share