Traveling With Anxiety


The Nervous Traveler

I think that by now, most people who know me know that I have anxiety. I spent many years trying to hide it because I know how people think that my fears are ridiculous. But now I don't mind being open about it, mostly because I have learned how to deal with many of the things that cause me anxiety. And in some ways, I have to thank my anxiety for inspiring me to travel. While it's not always easy, I'm trying to continue to break down those walls that I've put up out of fear and live without fear as best I can. I haven't overcome it, but looking back, I've made huge strides. 

Let me start by explaining my anxieties. For years I was terrified of the world ending. It sounds ridiculous now, but ever since I watched a documentary on Nostradomous I've been terrified of his predictions. At night I would have panic attacks and never told anyone. Then 2012 passed and the world didn't end. And then a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could finally live my life. I started toying with the idea of traveling, and two years later I realized it. But that doesn't mean my anxieties have stopped there. I've always been a nervous person. I remember as a kid looking at an ocean book and seeing a picture of a plane and boats on the ocean floor, traumatizing me. So every year when my family went to France, I would always cry in my room the night before, too scared to fly. Today I still hate flying but I just don't think about. But don't ask me to go on an open water cruise. If I can't see the shore you won't find me on the boat. And thanks to today's violent society, I always have in the back of my mind that there's a gunman lurking somewhere. It doesn't stop me from going places or living my life, but I'm just a bit jumpy. But today, the anxiety that gets me the worst is social anxiety. I hate large groups of people and I get red when I have to speak in public. And it's not that I don't like people are am terrified of them, I just don't know how to initiate conversation or activities. If I'm in a room full of strangers, I'm not avoiding them in the corner, I'm thinking of all the possible non-awkward ways to start up conversation and hoping that someone will beat me to it. And I'm not sharing my anxieties for compliments on how far I've come, or for people to think that I'm brave. I shared my anxieties to show that even if you get scared easily, you can travel, you can even do it by yourself. I've gone from never wanting to leave my state (I went to college 20 minutes away) to thinking about how I can get myself to Africa. So here are some things that I've learned about traveling with anxiety. 

Center for Culture and Science, Warsaw
Push yourself in increments. I know that you want to push the boundaries of your anxieties but stick to only doing a little bit per day. I have a rule that I try to do one thing that scares me every trip, whether it's climbing towers or having a conversation with a stranger. But I don't plan them back to back because that's the fastest way to ruin a trip. You've got to have fun too!

Know what triggers you. I am very aware of all the things that scare me so I better prepared to handle them. I know to either avoid the situation completely, how to handle it my way, and how to avoid full blown anxiety by knowing what triggers me. I don't believe that by doing this you are avoiding your problems, you're just taking protective measures to deal with them.

Have a backup plan. A lot of anxiety comes from the inability to control situations. So the way that we make ourself more at ease is by making plans. Well I can tell you that with traveling, not everything goes as planned. So have backup plans. Know where the nearest hospitals and embassies are, and prepare to make yourself feel like you can think of a plan for every possible outcome.

Get enough sleep. The more tired you are the easier it is to anxious. And I know that with time differences and packed schedules it's hard to get a good night's sleep. So tone down those hours and make sure to get some rest wherever you can.

Do what makes you happy. The happier you are and the more excited you are means that you are less likely to get anxious. So if you're like me and super excited about history, then make sure that you go see those history things. If you like art then see art. If you like eating, then eat. But make sure to build positive memories around your trip as well as the boundary pushing ones.

Talk it out. Don't hide your anxieties like I did. Even if you're worried that people won't understand you, that they think you're scared of something stupid, there's something relieving about getting it out in the open. So when I travel, I'm honest with my family, I had a full on meltdown with them via skype in Italy last year. And I felt better after rather thank keeping it in. So if you have a good support system in your life, use it.

Castle Square, Warsaw
Bring something that comforts you. I have a picture of each family member on my iPad. That what makes me happy. Some have a sweatshirt of blanket. Whatever it is that relaxes you, bring it. Anxiety comes out a lot more with the unfamiliar, so bring something that is familiar.

Don't get hung up on your anxiety. Don't be ashamed of it, don't get mad at it. Accept it. Know that you're going to get scared. Know that you can have a panic attack. And when you do have one, don't be mad at yourself. Acknowledge it and move on. If you're constantly getting frustrated with yourself about your anxiety, you're going to hate traveling. One of mine is eating alone in a restaurant. Instead of getting mad at myself, I say I'll try it again next time and move on. The only time I dwell on it is trying to figure out what triggers it. So remember to acknowledge, accept, and move on.

Remember to live life the way you want to. Don't live it for others. Don't do something so you can make others happy. Don't do something because you think it's what you're supposed to do. Do it because you want to. And a lot of times, you'll make others happy in the process. Take me for example, society wants me to be teaching right now. I should be in a job that plans for retirement. But I'm doing what makes me happy. And I believe that happiness is the easiest way to beat anxiety. 

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