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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. 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. 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? Bungy 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. 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 for 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!

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. It might not make the feeling go away but it keeps you from falling into them.

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.

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? 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. 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.

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 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 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 the tuna! 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.

Be Nice To Yourself

Have you ever looked at the way you are treating yourself? 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.

Profile photo of Annemarie Strehl

I think I was always made for foreign countries. At the age of 8 I started learning English and a lifelong language romance began. Seeing the country of Shakespeare for the first time 6 years later only set free what has always been lurking: the travel bug. I went off to live in England and Sweden for a little over half a year, travelling whenever I could while studying and working, all the while blogging about my experiences and interrogating my new international friends about their own cultures, daydreaming of finally visiting their foreign lands. This year I made the decision to stop dreaming and start living the dream. I made the bold plan to travel through Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia and Japan within 11 months, discovering as much as I could and keeping my budget stable through jobs on working holiday visas. Here I am now and already in the midst of blogging about my adventures and travel stories. There is always something happening and I'd love to share it with you. I hope you join me on my crazy ride. See ya!

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