It’s hard to get out there and try new and exciting things when your anxiety is standing over your shoulder, incessantly pointing out everything that could go wrong. I understand. I wrestle with that beast every day. But there are several ways to fight back and deal with your travel anxiety head on! This post will go over a few tips that I’ve used (and am currently using) to help overcome my own anxiety disorder while traveling.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m looking forward to doing a series of travel posts surrounding the topic of mental illness and mental health because it’s something I live with every day.
Now, I think I should make clear that, when I use the word anxiety, I’m talking about the medical disorder – the chest-tightening, mind-racing, adrenaline-inducing, crippling anxiety – and not a case of mild apprehension. While these tips will certainly still apply for those with mild anxiety (so please do continue reading and put them to use 🙂 ), I need to give a real shout out to my homies who experience panic attacks just trying to leave the house or who allow their anxieties to talk them out of doing things they really have a strong desire to experience. We can’t let mental illness hold us back because the world is so big and so beautiful and we need to get out there and see more of it!
This is a difficult post for me. I’ll be sharing a lot of personal stories and, while I’m open about my struggles with mental illness, I really struggle with the idea of people thinking I’m crazy. I’ve been dealing with anxiety since I was a child and depression since I was eleven and have lived with these long enough to know that my brain just isn’t working right. It’s overactive and irrational, calculating and fearful. Knowing that it’s chemical misfires and destructive thinking patterns and not legitimate fear makes it easy to step outside of myself and look at things from another perspective. I hope this perspective helps you deal with your own anxiety. If it does, then this post will be all worth it.
Going forward, we’ll discuss fears when flying, driving, touring, and more because, basically, I’m afraid of everything. And I know I’m not alone.
Let’s get started.
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How dealing with anxiety can affect travel experiences.
Have you ever cancelled plans or talked yourself into something just to chicken out right before you carry through? For instance, my husband’s friends invited us out to an amusement park because they had free tickets. I used to LOVE roller coasters, so we were like, “HECK YEAH!”. We arrive, get on the first ride, and my body is suddenly in panic mode. I couldn’t understand what made this fun anymore – all I could think about was all of the things that could go wrong.
I didn’t want to go on any more rides, so I lied and said the ride made me super nauseous and kind of became the ‘bag bitch’. The rest of the day, I waited on benches holding everyone’s belongings while my husband and his friends had the time of their lives.
Our anxieties have the potential to take what should be a day of amazing memories and turn them into miserable experiences. Read about my time camping in Smoky Mountain National Park. This shouldn’t be my takeaway from what should have been a peaceful and amazing day out in nature.
If you find yourself removing ‘skydiving’ from your life bucket list because you’re too afraid or not traveling at all because of the things that could possibly go wrong, read on. We’re taking back control of our lives.Don't let anxiety keep you from experiencing everything a destination has to offer! These tips can help… #anxiety #travelanxiety #travel Click To Tweet
A simple tip for taking control of your anxiety while traveling.
Why do you want to travel?
The first thing I think we should talk about is why we’re traveling. You’ll hear this at your job, in your workout classes, or even at church. Having a good reason why you’re doing something will keep you motivated toward continuing to do something.
So, why do you want to travel? Saying something like “I really enjoy exploring new cultures” or “I love the feeling I get when I’m driving through the mountains” are perfectly acceptable answers. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing reason, it just needs to be important to you.
For instance, I love traveling because it reminds me that the world is large and beautiful and the problems that I’m experiencing suddenly appear small and manageable. When I stand in front of the ocean, a body of water so large with no end in sight, I feel calm. I feel small. When I’m camping in the woods and I look up at the millions of stars that I couldn’t see in the city, I’m reminded that the universe is vast and we’re just a speck in it. I won’t get philosophical on why it’s important for me to feel small because I understand that when you’re dealing with big issues, they’re big and important, so I’ll leave it at that.
Figure out your why and hold on tight to it. You might need it later.
Do you experience anxiety while planning a trip?
Planning a trip takes a lot of work. Figuring out a budget, fitting everything into your itinerary, mapping a route, and so much more goes into proper trip planning. It can easily become overwhelming.
If you’re going somewhere where you don’t know the language, you could be anxious about being able to communicate – that’s one of my biggest fears about ever leaving the U.S. if we’re being honest! Or maybe you’ve heard a bunch of stories about places you want to go being unsafe for tourists. Or, like me, you’ll be camping and you’re terrified of bears.
These are all valid fears, so let’s see what we can do about lessening them.
We all suffer from FOMO – the fear of missing out.
Okay, so you’ve chosen a destination (or a route of several) and you’ve begun searching Pinterest for things to do while you’re there. But there are so many options!
Personally, I have a wide and varied range of interests. I love to do a lot of different things, so sometimes I get really overwhelmed when choosing which things to do on my trip. Trying to do everything in a short amount of time can lead to burnout or not enjoying your vacation as much as you’d like – especially for introverts and those of us with anxiety.
So, pick the things that are most important to you. What is this trip about? Self-care and relaxation? Getting lost in nature? Partying around town? Stick to those sorts of activities and try not to do more than three things a day. Remember: You can go back another time.
If you have anxiety about safety while traveling, this is perfectly valid.
Safety is probably the biggest anxiety-inducing concern while traveling.
I recently had a panic attack in a movie theater. We’d already been out for a few hours (leaving the dogs and Grandma alone) and I was feeling super anxious, but my husband wanted to see Captain Marvel. I begrudgingly agreed. We sat down in the theater and I began to get the racing thoughts and the tight chest. Tears welled up and spilled over. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop it.
The lights went down, the movie started. Then a man walked in alone, in the dark, and I friggen lost it. I thought (my anxiety thought) for sure he was going to pull out a gun and kill us all. I told my therapist about it later and laughed it off thinking she would tell me how to curb irrational thoughts brought on by my already panicking mind.
But instead, she told me that fear was valid. Someone shooting up a movie theater has happened before and, the way things are going, could possibly happen again. But instead of allowing myself to be paralyzed by my fear, she suggested taking charge of being prepared. She suggested self-defense classes. If I’m ever in a situation where I’m being attacked, I can feel like I’m able to defend myself instead of feeling completely helpless.
This doesn’t only apply to fear of gunmen in movie theaters, but the fear of being robbed, assaulted, or otherwise attacked.Check out these tips for staying safe while exploring the world! #travelsafety #traveling Click To Tweet
It’s all about preparation.
Be prepared for danger, but try not to always be expecting it. I’ll talk more about mindset practice later.
Jessie on a Journey wrote this moving post on experiencing sexual assault while traveling solo that includes resources for assault victims and other female empowerment resources. She also has a super handy post featuring safety gear she uses while traveling solo.
Loving Life With Lindsay has a great post with tips on hotel safety when traveling abroad.
Janine in the World has a great round-up of safety tips from travel bloggers all over the world.
Search Google for self-defense classes in your area. I’m looking into doing this as well. It’s always good to feel empowered and know that you can stand up for yourself in difficult situations.
In one of my van life Facebook groups, a few members said they travel with a can of mace or wasp spray to ward of dangerous wildlife as well as would-be assailants/burglars.
The Vigilant Personal Alarm sets of a crazy loud alarm at the push of a button, hopefully bringing a lot of attention and scaring off anyone or anything that means you personal harm.
If you’re worried about medical emergencies, the Ripple device will alert your chosen emergency response (police or ambulance) to your GPS location when you hit the button three times. There is a monthly fee of about $10 involved and it works through your cellular service – so it wouldn’t be great if you’re out of range in the woods, but would be great if you’re in a situation where you can’t make an emergency phone call.
If you find yourself avoiding travel because of safety fears, remember your “why” that we discussed earlier. Ask yourself: Is avoiding your “why” because of something that might happen worth it to you?
Tips for anxiety while driving.
Okay, so this is my biggest obstacle when dealing with travel anxiety. Driving isn’t exactly the issue for me, it’s being a passenger. I have a huge issue with not having control over what’s happening to me.
If you have the same fear, it’s a perfectly valid one. But we can’t let our fears control us. We have to find ways to manage them. When you’re on a 7-day road trip around the country, you can’t be the only driver. You have to share the load.
If you have anxiety while driving a car…
It took me four years to get my license after getting my learner’s permit. I was absolutely terrified to drive. What I learned is that practice makes perfect. I had a friend who got her license in her late 20s. She avoids highways and drives slow and steady. That’s okay.
Drive at a pace that’s comfortable to you – keeping the speed limit in mind. Stick to the right lane and let people pass you while you wish them a good day.
Listen to music that comforts and relaxes you. Or play an audio book or podcast that will give you something else to focus on besides your anxiety.
If you’re anxious about driving in new areas, you’re not alone. Colors of street signs change and traffic lights in general look different in some cities. Just take your time and breathe. You can do this.
Having someone along with you to help with directions might help.
I’m like a more annoying version of a GPS when I’m the navigating passenger. “You’ll be turning left in one mile….half a mile….quarter mile…. one hundred feet… that one right there! See it?!” It annoys my husband, but I’m just doing what I wish he would do for me. haha I’m constantly asking him, “How much further? How much further? Is it this one?!”
Anxiety while being the passenger in a car…
Here’s where I shine. I can not be the passenger in a vehicle. This is something that is extremely difficult for me. A lot of my anxiety stems from not being able to control what happens to me.
On a road trip home to Philadelphia from Florida, while all of us passengers were trying to get some sleep for the last leg of the 18-hour journey, my brother fell asleep behind the wheel.
My anxiety had been running wild all night. I finally willed myself to close my eyes and try to sleep, telling myself that I was being crazy and paranoid. After a long while of repeating “everything is going to be okay” in my head, I gave up and looked around me. I saw that we were driving quickly toward the highway median and my brother’s head was tilted to the side in an odd, unnatural angle. Thankfully, I screamed his name in time for him to wake up and right the vehicle and then proceeded to scream profanities at him until he pulled over and let me drive us the rest of the way home.
I’m so grateful that I opened my eyes when I did, but the whole situation validating my anxieties has escalated my anxiety while being a passenger in the car to an alarming level.
My husband simply driving me twenty minutes down the highway has caused me multiple panic attacks. I’ve cancelled concerts, hangouts, and adventures because I wasn’t allowed to be the driver. I’m terrified of taxis, trains, airplanes, and boats. Hence the entire blog dedicated to road tripping!
If you have a similar fear, know that it’s valid. It’s really hard to give up control and surrender yourself to “what may be.” But it’s also impossible to be in control all the time. Driving 22 hours yourself isn’t possible (you may think it is, but it isn’t). You need someone that you trust to help you.
Here are some things that can help:
My therapist suggested retraining my brain to not be on high alert when I’m a passenger in the car. Instead of being hyper aware and leaving myself open to panic, I tried closing my eyes and putting on headphones to distract my senses.
This helped a lot. I reclined the seat, played Of Monsters and Men through my headphones, and closed my eyes. I did have periods where I felt my body tensing and my chest tightening, but I took deep breaths and tried to just focus on the music.
If you’re able to look at your phone or books in the car, I would definitely play puzzle games or read something to distract your mind. Unfortunately, that makes me super carsick in a matter of seconds.
Remember, you won’t be “cured” after trying this for the first time. Practice makes perfect. So ask someone you trust to drive you around the neighborhood and give this a try.
How to deal with anxiety while flying.
Alright, so… I hate flying. The thought of possibly having to take a flight makes me sick and anxious. I’ve flown four times in my thirty-two years of life and if I never had to do it again, I’d be happy.
During my first plane ride when I was 18, I remember sitting in my seat and feeling the plane speed up for take-off. My mind immediately exploded with thoughts like, “WHO THE HELL EVER THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!”
Two years ago, I had to take an emergency flight to Florida. I couldn’t say no and driving would have taken too long. I buckled myself into the seat and closed my eyes, taking deep breaths. I got my phone out, put in my headphones and did the only thing I could:
I opened my Headspace app.
As panic set in and I felt my chest tighten and the tears coming on, I focused fully on the guided meditations and was able to calm myself. I continued this through the entire 2.5 hour flight. When I got off the plane, I felt like I’d just run a marathon. My muscles were so sore from tensing up. But I know that I would have had a massive panic attack without that app.
Loving Life With Lindsay has another great post about overcoming flight anxiety.
If meditation apps aren’t for you, distract yourself with a book, podcast, or movie.Don't let anxiety keep you from living your best life. Check out these helpful tips for controlling your anxiety while traveling. #sicknotweak #anxietyhelp #travel Click To Tweet
When anxiety keeps you from having fun…
In my early twenties, I had a pretty extensive (and pretty adventurous) travel bucket list. I wanted to climb the Seven Summits, through-hike the Appalachian Trail, sky-dive, and bungee jump.
Now in my early thirties, I’ve yet to do any of those things thanks to my crippling anxiety. I’m afraid of getting injured, I’m afraid to die, and I’m afraid of the financial burden those two events could leave (one of those Americans who can’t afford health insurance. :-/)
But this isn’t how I want to live my life – afraid of everything. And I know you don’t either… that’s why you’re here.
So, how do we push through our anxiety and begin to enjoy ourselves?
Accept the fact that shit happens.
That’s right. You might get hurt. You might not enjoy yourself. If these things occur, you will survive. Just like you’ve survived thus far. But, you also might not get hurt. And you might have the time of your life.
You won’t know unless you do it.
The way that I trick myself into these situations is to go into them knowing I can back out at any time. Like planning an activity that I know might scare me. Let’s use getting on a roller coaster as an example.
I’ll stand in line for the whole hour it takes to get on one of these things like, “Pffft. As soon as I get to the front, I’m walking straight through and I’ll wait for you on the other side.”
Then I get to the front of the line, take a deep breath, and -before I can fight it- I just get on. I smash that seat belt into place and I settle in. My brain immediately goes crazy, looking for the way out. But I take deep breaths and tell myself it’ll be alright.
And I ride the roller coaster. I just do it.
Maybe that tactic won’t work for you. It’s a really freaking hard thing to do. But it’s definitely worth a try.
Every time you feel like backing out of something, go back to your why that we talked about before. Is avoiding this situation going to keep you from attaining your why?
Nicky from That Anxious Traveller has a great post about dealing with anxiety when partying overseas. It’s a scary thing to let loose around strangers in a foreign country. Heck, I have a hard time relaxing at the local bars here in SETX. She’s got great tips for how to enjoy your night sensibly and comfortably, as well as several other helpful tips for anxiety while traveling abroad.
HAVING ANXIETY WHILE TRAVELING RIGHT NOW? Click here!
If you stumbled across this post looking for ways to calm your current anxiety while out traveling, here you go:
6 ways to quickly relieve anxiety symptoms
- Have headphones? Put on some soft, comforting music. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and slowly release your breath from your mouth for 8 seconds. Focus all of your attention on your breathing.
- Use a guided meditation app like Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier. Follow a guided meditation to calm yourself.
- Watch a cute animal video on YouTube. Seriously. This helps me a lot.
- Distract yourself with a puzzle game on your phone. I like Block Party and Wordscapes.
- Talk to a counselor. There are so many online counseling services out there like BetterHelp, Talkspace, and BreakThrough. Sign up and be able to send messages to your counselor about your anxieties.
- Talk to a friend. Sometimes it helps to just be able to talk through your issues. Call or text someone you trust, someone who will help remind you that your anxiety is being irrational.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope I was able to help or inspire in any way. Anxiety has the potential to keep us from doing things that excite, inspire, and move us. It’s up to us to keep that from happening and to keep growing. I’m determined to keep pushing myself beyond my limits and I’ve got your back if you want to do the same!