I am an anxious person. I have also traveled around the world to 5 continents and 15 countries. And you can too! Here are my tips for traveling with anxiety from an anxious traveler.
Prepare for the triggers that may make you feel anxious on your trip. For me this means preparing for turbulence, jet lag and cultural differences. One way I do this is by researching like crazy. For example, understanding that turbulence is caused by air pockets helps to curb my fear of flying, understanding that jet lag can cause you to feel dizzy or disoriented allows me to work through the feeling without freaking out and understanding that in some countries personal space is not respected keeps me from panicking on public transportation. These are my triggers. It is important for you to identify yours and prepare for them!
While being prepared to face your anxiety is excellent, do NOT dwell on the causes of your anxiety. Clearly, if you focus on flying all day before your flight, you will be more worked up. The best way to prepare is to do your research ahead of time and try to accept that these triggers may happen during your trip.
Preparing for your trip in general can do a lot to decrease travel anxiety as well. I always map out my transportation and accommodation ahead of time so I know exactly where I am staying and how I am getting there. I also make copies of all my important documents and receipts and keep them in my carry on bag. Having a concrete plan helps me to feel more at ease in a foreign country.
2. Be Logical
Do not catastrophize– meaning do not think that the worst will happen. “I just heard a noise! Our plane will surely crash”, “It is dark outside. I’m going to get mugged” are two common examples. Many anxious people tend to have irrational thoughts that make a situation seem far worse than it actually is. The best way to free yourself from these thoughts is to rewrite the irrational/anxious thought into a more realistic and logical one.
Irrational thought: I just heard a noise! The plane will surely crash!
Rational thought: I just heard a noise. Planes often make noises just like cars. I have been on many flights that have made noises before.
Rewriting thoughts can be very helpful in anxious situations. However, if you are worried about something like being pick-pocketed before your trip, then you can take steps to prevent such a situation (without going overboard) to provide you with peace of mind. For example, you could buy a purse with many hidden compartments to protect your valuables.
One simple way to fight anxiety is to distract yourself. Some of the ways I do this are: crossword puzzles, reading, journaling, or working on my blog. I find that when my mind is busy focusing on something else there is less time for the anxiety to creep in.
4. Stay Positive
Use positive self talk! On my last trip (17 hour flight) I repeated this mantra to myself: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.” Philippians 4:6-7. You can print out your mantra and keep it in your wallet or purse.
You can also remind yourself that all situations are temporary. You will not feel this way forever and you will not be in this anxiety provoking situation forever.
5. Use Your Coping Skills
Before your trip, think of your 5 most effective coping strategies that you can implement while you are abroad. Practice them! You will want them to feel like second nature in an anxious moment. It is important to have a plan. “When I feel anxious I will do this:” For me, completing methodical tasks are calming. I paint my nails, reorganize my backpack, take a shower following certain steps, review pictures on my phone. It is important to remember that anxiety can happen anywhere so some of your coping skills need to work anywhere (and I mean anywhere!).
6. Sleep and Exercise
Get lots of sleep and exercise! Both are proven to reduce stress and anxiety. My anxiety is always 5x worse when I am sleep deprived. Remember that jet lag is real and that you may need to skip out on a few activities to make sure that you are in your best state of mind. Believe me, if you are at peace and well rested you will appreciate the rest of your vacation much more.
Traveling can be anxiety provoking for the most relaxed of people. So do not feel down if an upcoming trip has you a bit out of sorts. This is normal for many people! Just remember that you can get through it and that the amazing memories will last a lifetime!
All of the tips in this article are based upon my personal experience. What works for you when you are feeling anxious?