This week’s mental health related post is a guest blog from Sarah over at https://www.clinpsychsarah.com/blog
Five Ways to Keep Anxiety in Check When You are Travelling
Travelling is one of the most incredible ways you can spend your time and money, if you get the chance to. So many of the memories that I cherish are of times when I was out in the world, experiencing different cultures and seeing animals I can’t find in the UK: going on safari in Kenya and seeing elephants in the wild; swimming with sea turtles in Mexico; whale watching off the coast of Iceland. There’s also something to be said for food in other countries – my first taste of Dole Whip at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one I will never forget!
I’m a clinical psychologist by trade, working with people with chronic physical health conditions. But I also have experience of my own mental health difficulties. I’ve struggled with anxiety from a young age and, whilst it never goes away, I’m very aware of the situations that make me feel anxious and have some strategies to manage them now as an adult. One of the things that makes me particularly anxious is travelling – even though I love it, the unpredictability of transportation, the language barrier, and the changes to my daily routine are things that can trigger worry and panic in me quite easily. So in this blog post, I wanted to share some of the things that help me to manage my anxiety when I’m away from home. I hope they’ll be useful to you as well.
Have a Plan
This is super useful if you struggle with anxiety in certain situations. Whilst it’s often important to put yourself in situations that make you feel anxious, so that you can get used to feeling anxious and learning that nothing bad happens, that’s probably not an experience you need to put yourself through on holiday! I’m not saying you need a minute-by-minute plan (although feel free to have one if it helps!), but having a rough itinerary for your time away can help you to feel more in control of the process, as well as helping you to budget for your trip and get to see all the things you want to without feeling rushed. If you know that there are particular things that will stress you out more than others, make sure you allow extra time for those things. For example, one of my particular panics is around getting to my hotel from whichever airport I find myself at. So, I make sure that I have a strategy for doing that, and plan in extra time so that if I’m getting a bus or train, it’s not the last one and I can have a contingency plan.
Travel with Others
This comes with a few caveats! Whilst I love travelling with other people, and don’t think I would want to travel alone, make sure the people you are with understand your difficulties with anxiety. There’s nothing worse than going on holiday and feeling pressured into doing something because your friends/family haven’t realised how anxious it makes you – or worse, don’t care how anxious it makes you because they want to do it anyway. I’m lucky that I have people in my life who care about me and want to make things easier for me (I wouldn’t have been able to navigate New York in the freezing cold without my best friend, or Palma in the sweltering heat without my husband) but, if you don’t have those people, being alone might make it easier for you to manage your days.
- Take things that remind you of home
If you have a specific routine at home to manage your anxiety, work out how much of it is portable. Having things that remind you of feeling safe and calm can be really helpful when you’re stressing out in a foreign country. Look particularly for things that stimulate all the senses:
- Sight – a picture of loved ones, or your pets, or maybe a letter written to yourself from when you were feeling less anxious to remind you of why you love travelling and why you’re doing it.
- Touch – something soft and calming like a small blanket or scarf, or something that you can use to keep your hands busy, like a stress ball.
- Taste – taking a small amount of something that you really like, such as a bar of your favourite chocolate, can be really helpful to ground you when you’re panicking. Just make sure that you’re allowed to take it into the country that you’re visiting, otherwise you might end up having other problems than anxiety!
Smell – take your favourite scent, or something that reminds you of comfort and safety. Tiny bottles of perfume or essential oils like lavender and peppermint can be helpful for this.
- Hearing – I never go anywhere without my iPod, as listening to music has a really calming effect on me. Make sure you have some of your favourite tunes on hand, to distract you for a little while and allow your body and mind to calm down.
Learn a Few Key Phrases
I’ve always been quite jealous of people who pick languages up naturally when they’re away – sadly, I am not one of them, and communication difficulties are something that are also likely to raise my anxiety quite a bit. When you’re going to a county that you know might be difficult to navigate due to language differences, learning a few phrases can be really helpful to make you feel more in control. As well as allowing you to learn a bit of a different language, people are often much more friendly when they feel that you’re making an effort to communicate with them, and are often really excited to teach you new things.
Remember to Breathe!
Important but often over-looked, breathing and relaxation practices form the basis of most anxiety-management techniques. When you find one that you like, make sure that you practice every day – it’s a bit like playing the piano in that the more you do it, the better you’re likely to get. Start practicing somewhere quiet and calm, so that it’s not too difficult to notice when you’re starting to feel less anxious. When you’ve started to be able to regulate your breathing in order to calm yourself down, you’ll be able to do it in different situations, such as in a busy supermarket, or on an airplane. You don’t need to practice relaxation for hours at a time either – two or three minutes of diaphragmatic breathing, two or three times a day, is enough to start to feel the benefit after a few weeks.
I hope this blog has given you some ideas to manage your anxiety when travelling. Travel safely, and enjoy!
If you liked this blog, you can read more of my work at www.clinpsychsarah.com/blog
You can also find Sarah over on Twitter at @academiablues