How To: Travel with Anxiety

Disclaimer: These tips won't work for everyone, but anxiety sometimes makes traveling a living hell for me so I thought I'd share the things that help me most.

Anxiety can be unpredictable, overwhelming, and sometimes even physically painful. And while many people with anxiety take medicine to ensure they'll be able to sail smoothly through their day, there are plenty of people who either don't have prescription medicine, or simply forget to take it.

Traveling can be stressful. Your flights can be delayed or cancelled, your hotel reservations can be messed up, you can miss the shuttle, the museum you were dying to see might be closed for construction, and so on. Anxiety can make these "little inconveniences" feel like the end of the world (no judgment - one time I cried because it took me over an hour to find a parking spot).

I know there's a lot out there about how to "avoid" anxiety and I want to be clear that this article is more about how to handle it when it happens. For me, personally, "avoiding" anxiety isn't realistic - but managing it is.

First and foremost, don't make an airtight itinerary. My anxiety always tells me to plan everything out, write it all down, and it'll be fine. But honestly, I've found the opposite to be helpful.

Give yourself extra time to go slow and don't try to stick to an exact plan. Give yourself a layover that's more than 15 minutes (ESPECIALLY if you're in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport). Instead of planning out what you'll be doing every hour for every day of the trip, just go with a general idea of what you'd like to do. Pick out a few excursions, figure out how they work (if you need to make a reservation, how long it will take, will food be provided, etc.), and on "excursion days" - don't schedule anything else!

Not overdoing it is really important for managing anxiety. Know your limits and respect them. Plus, you can always add more things to do in the actual moment - when you know you're feeling up for it.

When you start feeling anxious, try to find a chair with a back. Put your feet flat on the ground and sit up straight. Place your arms on the arm rest. Focus on feeling yourself safe and grounded in the chair. Wiggle your toes and your fingers and remind yourself that you're safe. (If you feel unsafe for reasons outside of your anxiety, please contact authorities.)

From there, try this breathing technique. Sit up straight. Some people like to close their eyes for this, but personally, I can't close my eyes in public when I have anxiety. So do whatever makes you most comfortable.

Put your right pointer finger on your right nostril, closing it off. Breathe in for 4 counts through your left nostril. Hold your breath for 2 counts. Take your right pointer finger off of your right nostril, and switch it to your left nostril (so now the left is closed and the right is open). Breathe out through your right nostril for 4 counts. Keep your finger on your left nostril and breathe in for 4. Hold it for 2. Then switch nostrils to release. Continue doing this until you start to feel at ease.

This next piece of advice only works for me sometimes, but I thought I'd include it. There are times when it helps me to identify what my trigger is. (There are also times when identifying it sends me into a full blown panic attack.) A big part of my anxiety is sound. Being in loud places with a lot of people immediately initiates my fight or flight. People standing too close behind me, people looking at me too much, and feeling stranded are some other things that kick start my anxiety.

One of the times this backfired was when my plane suddenly landed mid-flight at a random, tiny airport (which we later found out was because of weather). At the time we landed, no one would explain anything to us or help us find other flights. 9 other planes landed at this airport, where we were all kept in a 4 gate area and told we weren't allowed to leave. We were trapped in a tiny space with hundreds of people, no answers or help, and cops came to block off doors with guns in their hands. Needless to say, I thought something horrible was about to go down. When I "identified my trigger" (cops blocking me in a tiny room with guns and hundreds of pissed off people), I realized it was actually a legitimate reason to be terrified and went into a full blown panic attack.

The best advice I can give you is to know yourself and respect your limits. Don't compare what you can handle to what others can handle. Just take care of yourself. And remember, anxiety is never an excuse to be rude. Even if your flight gets cancelled and it spikes your anxiety, the person helping you find a new flight is still a person and they deserve respect too.



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