This isn’t something I’ve spoken about much on my travel blog, figuring few would be interested in the subject, but the more I speak to fellow travelers and creative types, the more I realize that I am not alone in my struggle. Many of you can relate to the feeling that there is no such thing as solo travel, because one is always accompanied by Anxiety.
Ironically, I didn’t realize I had anxiety until I’d muddled through life with it for years. When traveling, I thought the light-headedness, cold and tingling skin, racing heart, shortness of breath, hot flashes, nausea and upset stomach were due to the stress of travel, exhaustion, dehydration or even altitude sickness. In hindsight I recognize that those things may have complicated my problems, but were not the cause of my problems. I spent years visiting doctors trying to pinpoint the cause of my digestion upset and other symptoms. There were tests and referrals, diet changes and lifestyle tweaks, but no answers.
I actually didn’t make the connection until a particularly nasty few months where I was so constantly stressed and upset, I finally went to my doctor for advice. I broke down crying in the office, describing how overwhelmed I was with day-to-day things and how frustrated I was with my inability to power through, something I’d always prided myself in. He wrote me a script for anti-anxiety meds and referred me to a therapist.
It was life-changing. Suddenly, not only was I able to cope better emotionally, but my constant physical symptoms drastically improved. Somehow, neither I nor any of the doctors I saw had recognized my symptoms as anxiety. Simply identifying the cause of my discomfort tripped up the cycle of unrecognized anxiety -> physical symptoms -> anxiety over physical symptoms -> worsening physical symptoms -> and so forth.
The anxiety wasn’t magically gone, but day to day became manageable again and more stressful things were less inclined to derail me. I still have panic attacks and anxiety and there are things that are guaranteed to kick my brain into unreasonable and un-talk-downable tizzies. Logically I understand that there is no reason to panic, but Anxiety doesn’t listen and sometimes has more staying power than Reason.
I’ve learned some tricks that help (especially when on the road).
- Understanding friends who I can call on to talk me down. Sometimes just talking long enough to distract Anxiety from what it is fixated on helps me regain my equilibrium.
- Taking action. I can’t always be in control of Anxiety, but if I can take control of something external, like my campsite, or getting a comfortable hotel room or changing my planned route, I can redirect my energy.
- A Retreat. If I’m road-tripping, half the supplies in my car is bedding. A nest of sleeping bags and blankets and pillows. My Honda Element becomes a blanket fort.
- Audio books. I stink at meditating. I rarely succeed with clearing my mind. But putting on an audio book and focusing on the story can give my mind the time and space to calm down. This is especially helpful at night when my racing mind won’t let me sleep.
- Pausing. Sometimes I’m on the go constantly because I’m so determined to see EVERYTHING. I have to remind myself to stop, breathe, and connect with nature. I take a walk or find a quiet place to sit with my camera and see what comes along.
- Find a dog or cat to pet. I’ve stopped at a few rescues along the way just to sit and pet animals for a while. The animals like the attention, the staff appreciates the attention the animals get, and I can embrace the proven science of animals lowering blood pressure.
- Journaling. I always have journals on hand for jotting out my thoughts, leaving myself reminders for blog entries and ideas, or making art.
- Immersing myself in my photography- whether this is working with my camera, processing photos or tweaking photos to show the mood as well as the scene.
I’m out of practice with dealing with on-the-road anxiety, but I’m about to dive right back in. I probably could have gotten back to traveling a couple of months ago, but I kept putting it off with the excuses ranging from “my spine needs more time” (it doesn’t) to “I’m too anxious” (whats new?). In the midst of a seriously panicky day I tried all my normal tricks, and when all failed, I tried the Taking Action option. Sure, I was home and safe and that should seem less anxiety-inducing than traveling, but part of what I was anxious about was my ability to start traveling again. So I booked a flight to Oklahoma to visit and photograph with a friend, panicked for a while, firmed up my plans to visit the Smoky Mountains the last week of October, panicked some more, then booked a flight to Colorado for the first week of October. Last night I couldn’t sleep. Today I am calm and continuing with my plans. Sure, I’ll have some tough moments, but I’ll also have moments like these:
What about you? Do you have tricks for dealing with anxiety while traveling?