“Anxiety isn’t weakness. Living with anxiety, turning up and doing stuff with anxiety, takes a strength most will never know.” -Unknown
Traveling is a passion for my husband and me and we have fearlessly traveled to places that we marvel at having visited.
With that said, would you be surprised to know that even an experienced traveler like me experiences some travel anxiety? I was! I was surprised to find that I am not the only traveler who experiences stress around parts of travel.
This struggle between my body and my brain generally happens as we prepare to leave the house and head for the airport. My tummy goes into full revolt with I call a nervous stomach but I once went into a full panic attack, which included not being able to breathe, before leaving for the airport. My body launches into this physical reaction all by itself. Sometimes, it is so bad, it is amazing to me that I love to travel as much as I do. The worst part? I WANT TO GO!
So, how do I cope? These are tips that I have used and that I hope can help you.
After years of travel, I have become well aware of the trigger for my anxiety: the security check.
As an introvert, the security check is just plain uncomfortable and as a strong-willed girl, I don’t appreciate the infringement of my personal space. On this topic, dear reader, I am confident that you understand what I’m talking about. I can’t imagine that there is any traveler out there that enjoys this obnoxious part of travel.
The whole security exercise, as important as it might be, can be a source of stress for all of us. Depending on the airport, the insanity starts with the barking of orders from security staff and goes into the chaos of being rushed through unpacking nearly everything you have with you, basically undressing in public, having a full-body x-ray, the inevitable public pat-down that is enough to send me over the edge, and the mad rush to get dressed and repacked while making sure you don’t leave any of your belongings behind. For me, it all boils down to not being okay with strangers going through my things or worse, touching me for no reason! My brain understands that there is no reason to be anxious about this process but it is my pressure point all the same. I identified this process as my source of anxiety because the minute I get beyond the security check, my tummy settles and all is well. The battle that took place in my body from my home to the security line is over and my mind thankfully shifts into vacay mode.
The latest twist to my travel anxiety popped up unexpectedly as we drove into New York City. If I am honest, there were many factors at play that day such as navigating into one of the biggest, most intimidating metro areas on the planet, safely stowing our vehicle, and meeting time limits for getting on our waiting cruise ship all played a part. I truly don’t know!
I am not a medical professional, of course, but understanding what triggers my anxiety has been a big help.
Do you know you know what part of your travel triggers your anxiety? Maybe the security check is a pain point for you too. Maybe the thought of takeoff and landing gets your tummy in knots or you fret that your travel plans aren’t going to go as planned. Maybe language barriers or dealing with foreign currencies bring on minor panic attacks. Whatever your trigger, understanding why your body might be reacting like it is can help you to manage your stress a little better.
To deal with my anxiety about the security check, I prepare myself by limiting what might trigger a personal check from the agents. I ensure that what liquids and gels I may have with me are within the required ounces allowed and together in an acceptable container; I have learned that wearing my hair up brings questions and a pat so I leave my hair down and carry the gear needed to put it up on the other side of the security check; I remove my watch and secure it in my carry on; I carry socks that I slip on if I have to remove my shoes and I don’t already have socks on; I try to limit the number of electronics I carry, if at all possible; and I am very careful to stay focused on the process and make sure that I don’t walk away and inadvertently leave something behind.
Whatever causes your anxiety, being prepared can go a long way in ensuring that the situation will not be as bad as you fear it will be. Preparation often helps the process to go smoothly and I often don’t have to endure the dreaded personal pat-down.
If you worry about any part of your trip, do your research, check reservation confirmations with your travel agent or the provider of your services before you leave, or purchase travel insurance. Researching and planning for the portions of your trip that gives you anxiety can help to reassure you.
No matter what gives you anxiety in life, it is always easier to deal with if you have a positive state of mind. Travel anxieties are no different. The best part about traveling is that there is nothing better than reminding yourself that you are on vacation or going somewhere wonderful! You are on your own time, doing what you want to do. I can’t think of anything more wonderful that fills me with joy!
The day we drove into New York City, my panic attack took the form of not being able to breathe. As we approached the Lincoln Tunnel, I was surprised to find myself suddenly in a full-blown panic so the solution was to focus on my breathing. I reminded myself that I needed a deep breath in through my nose and then, an equal exhale through my mouth. After a few minutes of focused breathing, and exiting the tunnel, I was back to feeling better and helping my husband to navigate.
When I am anxious, my blood pressure is elevated and my breathing can be shallow. From experience, allowing myself to get spun up too much over something that isn’t as terrible as I imagine can get the whole trip off on the wrong foot. The easiest way to calm myself is to breathe. First, take a deep inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold that breath for seven seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. Continue this exercise until you feel better or as long as you need. Concentrating on my breath and the counts help to soothe my panic and bring down my body’s stress response.
I have also started to practice meditation. I chose to start two to three times a week for five to ten minutes at a time. I found a guided session on YouTube with a calm, soothing voice.
If you’ve never tried meditation, it can be weird at first but I kept trying. I choose a time when I can be alone and undisturbed. The session helps me to focus on my breathing, and helps me to relax all those tense muscles from my toes all the way up to the top of my head. The idea is that, with practice, your brain will have less of a stress response. So far, I have found it very helpful.
Whether you try a breathing exercise, meditation, or even a prayer, calming your mind could help your body’s response to be easier to deal with. Try them all and find what works for you!
Go With The Flow
Don’t get hung up on the thought that your vacation HAS to be perfect. Sometimes when something happens on vacation, considering it part of the story you will tell one day can help. Remember that you’re on vacation! Be flexible, embrace the adventure of it all, and find the fun in whatever you’re doing (except the security check-there is no fun in that). How you react to something happening off-plan can make all the difference. Do your best to go with the flow and enjoy your trip!
Talk About It
Finally, a good place to start in dealing with your fears is talking with a friend, family member, or a professional. I can’t recommend this enough. I am lucky to travel with my husband and he is well aware of my anxiety triggers and when I feel anxious, I make sure he knows how I feel so he can help me to relax and breathe. If you need to, consider finding a healthcare professional to whom you can talk. A therapist can certainly offer advice to help you cope.
No matter what gives you anxiety as you travel, do what you can to not allow it to overshadow your adventure or slow you down.
I hope my tricks can help you! Don’t forget to breathe and enjoy your trip!
*Photos provided courtesy of Unsplash.