I’ve mentioned this a few times on the blog, generally quickly and casually, because it’s an uncomfortable topic for me. I also never know how to bring it up. It doesn’t generally fit into my fun travel posts, or my expat revelations post.
Ultimately, this blog is about my story, and as often as I wish this anxiety and depression wasn’t a part of me, it is.
I’ve struggled on and off with depression and anxiety for a long time. I feel grateful for the fact that, as debilitating as it can be for me, it hasn’t prevented me from living my life.
I tend to feel anxiety about everything–it doesn’t discriminate–but for some reason, travel is often exempt from this category. Sure, I feel anxious about the details and the logistics, so I occasionally over plan (or, um, always over plan), but usually, I am certain that traveling to someplace new is never something I could regret. So, for some reason the anxiety around travel just…disspates. Which can seem completely opposite of what one would expect.
However, now that I am essentially traveling full-time, and after a year of living abroad and traveling as much as possible, my anxiety around travel has increased. Perhaps because travel is not just an escape from my life, but it kind of is my life? Travel is not just a quick vacation any more, but what we are building our life around, so I suppose it makes sense that it brings a whole other suitcase of things to worry about now.
I don’t have a magical solution for my anxiety, but I have noticed some things that help with this. I hope maybe they can help you, too, if you struggle with this or are nervous about traveling in general!
- Plan, plan, plan. Obviously with travel, it’s important to remember that there is so much that lies out of your control. No matter how perfectly you plan, you are still not in charge of the flight or the hotel or the weather. However, it helps me to research as much as I can about where we are going, especially the best places to stay and the best ways to get around. If we are traveling more free-form, I also like to read as much about the country we are visiting as possible so I know our possibilities. I like the website Rough Guides for the general overview it gives to almost every country in the world–along with pictures!
- Write a daily grateful journal. This one has been so important for me! I absolutely love journaling, but occasionally, as is common with anxiety, if I have too much freedom, I will end up dwelling in writing on whatever is making me anxious. Not good! My grateful journal gives me a positive direction to write in, helps me catalog specific memories I am grateful for that day, and reminds me of my staggering privilege. Since beginning to write in my journal almost every night several months ago, I’ve noticed an overall decrease in my anxiety and much better sleep at nights.
- Coloring. This one is a method that has taken off huge recently thanks to the report that coloring is the next best thing to meditation. As a psychology student, I was introduced to this technique as I was working with kids. I discovered that it also works great for me! I have this awesome travel coloring book and it’s a fun way to calm myself down.
- Focus on the moment. Mindfulness is huge in the psychology world, and for good reason. Since mindfulness is tricky and can take a lot of practice, an easy way to start is to play what I call “the Mindful Game.” I do this basically by turning my natural ability to over analyze and ask questions away from my own brain and onto the world around me. Asking questions like “what do I smell right now? what do I see? do I like what I see? why or why not? what am I sitting on? what do my socks feel like against my feet? am I comfortable? why or why not? do I like any colors or shapes around me? why?” and so on. It’s good to focus on something you like around you and explore why you like it. Like, why do you like that blue car? Is the blue pretty? Why do you think it’s pretty? It is cute? What makes it cute? However, when it’s something you don’t like, it is best not to judge your answer–say you don’t like it and move on, rather than dissecting that, because it could be a trigger.
- Puzzles. I prefer crossword puzzles, but Sudoku or anything like that works well, especially when you are waiting and you are concerned about waiting or what comes next.
- Breathing. Simple, but so important! There are so many breathing techniques, but they are all so effective. Sometimes I count to three as I inhale through my nose, count to four as I hold it, count to three as I exhale through my mouth. Sometimes I breathe deeply, again through my nose, as I imagine relaxing every muscle in my face, or even relaxing every muscle in my body, starting at my toes and moving upwards. Make sure to spend extra breaths on the parts of your body that hold more tension–I spend extra time on my knees, stomach, shoulders and forehead! Finally, a great one to do is one that I have often taught kids: the balloon method. Pretend that you have a blue balloon (or whatever color you choose) in your stomach. Breathe in slowly, filling up the balloon as big as it can get without popping. Don’t breathe too fast or it will pop! Then, imagine the air slowly leaving the balloon. You can even watch the balloon get bigger and smaller in your stomach if you want, it can be helpful to see what those breaths are doing. Just make sure to breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Music. Calming music, or fun music, can go a long way in soothing your anxiety. I have a bunch of music that I call my “nostalgic” music because it reminds me of different periods of my life, good ones!, which means hearing these songs will remind me of the good past, and give me a bit of a break from the stressful present.
- Reading. If my anxiety level isn’t too high, reading fun, light books is a great way for me to relax. It also gives you something to do during those long hours trapped in an airplane, car, bus or train. I often will read highly suspenseful novels as a way to distract me from a long travel day, but I have to be careful because these can sometimes suck me in too much and increase my stress level, so I start to feel more stressed about my current situation than I had before.
- Being prepared. Here’s where my extensive years in the Girl Scouts pays off–I always love to be prepared! (Okay, so that’s the Boy Scouts, but still). Along with my number one tip, to plan, being prepared can help alleviate some anxiety. I personally tend to go overboard with medication and extra underwear–and if I over pack in these areas a bit, but it gives me peace of mind, so what? I tend to have way more medications than I need. As long as I can over pack in these areas and still bring everything else along that I need, it’s no problem. In fact, I even have anxiety soothing medication that I have never used, just in case I have a panic attack or my anxiety gets out of control. Again, it gives me peace of mind to know it’s there.
- Give yourself a break. Remember to validate your feelings. It’s okay to be nervous or anxious. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to go, that you’re ignoring your instincts, or necessarily anything like that. I find that acknowledging my anxiety–instead of just trying to run away from it–helps calm it a little bit, as if my anxiety is a separate person screaming “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!! Oh, you’re listening? Oh, okay.”
- Do it your way. There is no wrong way to deal with your anxiety (although admittedly there are healthier responses than others). Do what works for you! Don’t forget to that usually, all of the traveling is worth the stress and anxiety.
Do you have anxiety while traveling? How do you deal with it? Share below in the comments!
Linking up with Travel Tuesday.