I have dealt with a diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder since I was 13 years old. There are many tips and tricks that I have learned over the years that have helped me deal with some of the unpleasant sides of anxiety, as well as recognize the benefits! Yes, you head me right, the BENEFITS, most people do not discuss this side of anxiety but I believe it is important to understand all sides of the disorder and how it impacts our day to day lives. Whether you’re in a busy market, loud bus station or lost in a new city, traveling with anxiety has its challenges but the opportunity to overcome those challenges will lead you on a great journey towards peace of mind, tolerance, and understanding.
This is the single most valuable piece of advice that I can offer, and it seems so simple, until it’s not. Mental disorders are not widely recognized in most developing countries so as a traveler it can seem as if you are on your own, and when you have Travel Anxiety slipping into a negative downward spiral seems inevitable. But you have the power to overcome this feeling with positivity, this is a conscious choice that you CAN make although it may seem impossible). Even if this choice feels forced, it all helps in the end. My tip is to take the negative and spin it into a positive, for example in a crowded marketplace I think to myself initially “There are too many people here, I can’t breathe”. so I stop, take a deep breathe (proving I can breathe just fine) and force myself to think “These people are all doing their own thing, no one cares about what I am doing.” Rationalizing the situation back to yourself can sometimes help you snap out of those negative thought spirals.
Plan with Purpose
Give yourself time to pack and create an itinerary that will put you at ease but don’t overdo it and plan out every hour of your trip as this quickly leads to disappointment when your plans go wrong, which they will. Accept that your plans are more of a guideline and go with the flow. The more you accept uncertainty while traveling the less worry and stress you will feel when your bus breaks down, your flight is delayed, or your hostel is fully booked.
Grounding for Travel Anxiety
When your train of thought derails and you feel yourself slipping out of the moment or feeling panicked try a grounding technique to bring yourself back into the present. Grounding techniques utilize one or all of our 5 senses (smell, touch, feel, listen, taste) to help us find peace amidst the chaos. There are several techniques to help with Travel Anxiety but the best options I have had while traveling include, taking a cold shower, playing music, fiddling with an object (necklace, stone, pencil etc.), and sucking on a candy or chewing gum.
Deep Breathing for Travel Anxiety
A very common feeling while traveling is excitement and anticipation, these feelings can sometimes become a bit too much and it’s easy to find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Deep breathing is a great way to calm yourself. The tricky part is you can’t just take one breathe and continue, the whole point of this exercise is to pause and focus on something else. My rule of thumb is a minimum of 5 deep, SLOW breathes in through the nose out through the mouth. I only use this as a minimum, sometimes I have to do this 10 times before I feel calm again. Read your body and emotional state and go from there. Deep breathing is a great tip for Travel Anxiety.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
My least favourite tip, EVER. I love coffee, and when your jet lagged it’s a lifesaver. As for alcohol when you’re traveling drinking can be a huge part of the culture depending where you are and it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out sometimes. But here are the facts, caffeine, and alcohol increase stress hormones, mess with your sleep patterns, has been linked to panic/anxiety attacks, causes elevated heart rate, dehydration, and interacts with numerous medications. If you suffer from anxiety you are also 3 times more likely to have an addictive personality which is another reason to keep your drinking in check. So, it’s up to you but even changing your habit from 3 drinks to 1 drink can make a world of a difference.
Having a travel partner is a huge help, as it gives you support. Do not mistake this person as a therapist, instead inform them of a few of your warning signs, or triggers (ex. Large crowds, plan changes, etc.) so they are aware of why you may be behaving differently in certain situations. I was never big on discussing my anxiety with others until I realized if I view it as shameful others may perceive it that way as well. This is nothing to be ashamed of, believe me, it’s a waste of time. Accept it and inform the people you trust of what’s going on in your life, don’t isolate yourself.
Talk to Your Doctor About Travel Anxiety
This is a tough one, opening up to an outsider is very difficult and giving them the details is even harder. So, make sure your doctor is not a stranger to you, ensure they understand and respect you and that they listen to your needs. The doctors are there to help guide you to better mental health, but they can only do so if you are honest and follow up on a regular basis. One word of caution, if your prescribed medication right before you leave for a trip ask your doctor if you should start the medication before you leave or when you return. These medications have side effects and some of them can cause drastic changes both physically and psychologically, which is not always ideal while away from home.
Gain Insight to What Causes Your Travel Anxiety
If you can pinpoint what type of anxiety you have it will help you understand and see warning signs of when you may experience a struggle while traveling. I have listed the 7 main types below for assistance.
Panic disorder – Usually showing as a feeling of terror that strikes at random
Generalized Anxiety – The feeling of unrealistic worry with little or no reason
Social anxiety – Usually self-conciseness in social situations leading to worry
Agoraphobia – Fear of being in public
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – A compulsive need to perform an action or tasks or obsessive thought patterns
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Anxiety that develops after a traumatic event has occurred
Specific Phobias – A strong fear of an object, place or situation. Even the anticipation of potentially encountering one of these things can cause fear and panic.
Now that I have rambled off my top tips for coping I would like to end on a positive note. Travel Anxiety gives you a unique perspective that other travellers may not have, sufferers tend to be more empathetic towards others, detail oriented, goal driven, socially responsible and display a great deal of self-control. Partnered with a good sense of self-awareness, these traits will offer you a remarkable and unforgettable travel experience.
**DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional; the opinions below are not meant to be taken in place of medical advice. **