Traveling with anxiety
I was 10 years old the first time I went on a plane. My parents decided to move us from Boston to Arizona. It was so exciting! My 7 year old sister and I were bright-eyed and curious about this adventure, even though it was sad saying bye to all of our grandparents, aunts, cousins and school-friends.
I can remember being on the almost empty plane at nighttime. My dad with his big video camera. (It was 1997 after all)
When we arrived, we saw palm trees for the first time.
That was the first big trip I had ever taken and I think it created an urge in me to travel and see more of the world as I got older.
However, I had anxiety and a few different forms of it that tried to crush my travel dreams:
My separation anxiety caused me to hate leaving my family.
My social anxiety kept me from talking to people.
My generalized anxiety created constant fear and worry.
This wasn't the best mix for travel, especially alone. (The reason I didn't go away to college, but that's a story for another day)
At 12 years old, my parents decided it was time to head back to family so we packed up our rental truck with our dog, two cats and drove across country to Cape Cod. It was fascinating seeing all of the different states and variety of sceneries. We learned so much on that trip.
My anxiety and depression worsened as a teenager and I went through some challenges with medications, therapists and school. I barely wanted to leave my house so travel wasn’t on my mind for a few more years.
When I turned 19, my desire to travel deepened. I was becoming curious about health and wellness and was told about conferences and trainings I could attend. However, it meant I would have to get on a plane and travel alone to get to them. Oh boy.
I faced my fears and my first trip was to St. Louis! I was surrounded by amazing like-minded women and although I had butterflies on the flight, I made it and it gave me courage to keep traveling whenever I could. My family was shocked and impressed since they never expected me to push so far out of my comfort zone.
Between 2012 and 2015, I couldn't get enough of traveling and learning. I traveled to California, Colorado, New York, Italy, Washington, Hawaii, and more amazing places for business and pleasure. One of the biggest trips I had taken was to a coach training/retreat in Costa Rica. This was scary because I didn't know anyone who would be there and I would need to take 3 flights. (It wasn't until this trip that I realized I was afraid of small planes!) Needless to say, I survived.
Whether you’re struggling with fear of leaving your family, social anxiety or worry about the overall travel aspect, you are not alone. I believe that if I can get through my travel anxiety, anyone can. However, I do have a few things that help me to stay present and cope with any anxiety that comes up.
1. Plan Ahead
I am a planner. Since I have traveled often over the years, I now have a running checklist (in the Trello app) that helps me when I am packing for a new trip. I look at it over and over just to make sure I have everything from my cell phone charger to vitamins to enough underwear. Start your list ahead of time and research what kind of items you’ll need depending on your trip. For example, I have one list for warmer climates and one for more business-type trips.
2. Get an Aisle Seat
There was one trip where I was sitting in a window seat. The strangers next to me were asleep and I was starving and had to pee. I had such social anxiety and wouldn’t ask them to let me go by. I was anxious and miserable hours later getting off of that flight. Ever since then, I make sure to get an aisle seat so I can control when I get up. It’s also important for me to have a couple chances to stretch my body so I’m not too stiff once off the plane.
3. Drink Water
It’s so important to stay hydrated while traveling, especially on a plane. In the air, the humidity is only about 10-20%, which is drier than the Sahara Desert. Because of the lack of humidity, sweating from nerves and the oxygen-thin air, which increases the breathing rate, women can lose around 1.6 liters in a 10-hour flight. I always have my glass water bottle with me. This way I drink water on the way to the airport and in the security line. Once I am through security, I fill it up at a water bubbler or ask a flight attendant to when they are serving drinks on the plane. Staying hydrated will keep your body more balanced and ease anxiety.
4. Bring Snacks
There is nothing worse than being hungry while traveling. If we get too hungry, our blood sugar can drop and make us feel extra stressed, anxious and tired. There aren’t many healthy options in the airport or on the plane. I try to eat a large protein-packed meal before traveling and then I pack lots of snacks such as crackers, trail mix, energy balls, clementines, etc.
5. Mindfulness Tools
To ease my anxiety, I usually have a good book, journal, essential oils, headphones and a neck pillow. I try to get as comfortable as possible and plan what I will be doing on the plane ride. I love to read and write so that typically keeps me occupied for the first couple of hours. If you want to rest, apply lavender to your hands and neck. Practice taking deep breaths. (Try not to use too much and upset your neighbor)
A few months ago I was on a flight to California to visit my sister who had just moved there. The flight is about 6 hours and I was a little nervous. I got to my seat and realized I would be sitting next to a little fluffy dog and a young woman. During the flight I noticed that the dog was shaking. She said it was only his second time on a plane as her therapy dog. I asked her if I could practice Reiki on him and she said sure. I put lavender on my hands and he let me touch him. After about 20 minutes, he had fallen asleep for a few hours. I understand that this practice helped the dog, but petting and focusing on him eased my nerves too!
So if you have a big trip coming up or planning a trip of a lifetime next year, use these tips to help ease your anxiety. And remember, the benefit and experience of seeing new places is usually worth the travel-part. Try not to let it hold you back if seeing the world is one of your dreams in this lifetime! I know there is so much more that I want to see in America and beyond. I am fascinated with different cultures and excited to experience more in the future myself. I wouldn’t be able to do it with these ideas.