25 Jul Travelling with Anxiety
We’ve all seen the videos.
Parents craftily surprising their children with news that they’re going to Disney—and the kids just about implode with excitement?
Let’s just say…I was not that kid.
The news of a trip anywhere filled me with such unease and trepidation that instead of counting down the days until vacation, I counted the number of days until I’d be back home.
In the 1970s and 80s, Generalized Anxiety Disorder wasn’t a recognized illness.
In fact, I wasn’t diagnosed with it until I was 24. So to my parents, and probably lots of other people, I was a crybaby; a maladjusted—unappreciative kid. How could I not be excited about a vacation? What they didn’t get was that traveling took me way out of my comfort zone. Routine and predictability were what kept me grounded and relatively calm. A strange place with foreign smells and a different bed made me feel untethered—like an astronaut floating aimlessly in space.
Nothing much changed during my teenage years. I was a real homebody. I never went to sleep away camp. The summer of 9th grade, when all of my friends traveled through the US on a teen tour, I stayed home and worked. I remember a family trip to Paris when I was 18, where I begged my parents for Ativan to help me take the edge off. At 21, I actually planned a backpacking tour through Europe with my then boyfriend (now husband) and a few friends—despite every fibre of my being telling me to stay home. When we had to cancel that trip due to family illness, I was way more relieved than disappointed. I secretly felt like I’d averted disaster, like I’d gotten a get out of jail free card.
I haven’t talked about my husband Lee much on this blog—other than to say he’s a great dad and a very patient, supportive husband to a wife who struggles with depression and anxiety. He is also my polar opposite in almost every way. He is the calming balm to my high-strung and emotional self. He lets little get under his skin whereas I’m easily agitated. He doesn’t like to disrupt the status quo and I crave excitement. While my anxiety makes it difficult for me to go out of my comfort zone, it can also spur wild impulses that might seem like the antithesis to all that I’ve described. Sometimes I can crave fly-by-night experiences, simply just to feel normal.
Most significantly, is that my husband loves to travel – and made this clear as soon as we met. Exploring the world is his passion, and I knew that trying to quash his wanderlust would be a deal-breaker.
Over the last few years, all three of our kids have spent a month away at summer camp. For Lee, this has been the opportunity he’s waited for—our chance to explore the world while we know our kids are taken care of and having the time of their lives. I’ve come a long way since I was a sleepless, 18-year-old mess in Paris. Years of therapy and medication have helped. But the instinct to bury myself under my covers and live in my familiar creature comforts is a strong one. So when he starts planning a trip one year in advance, sending me hotel and restaurant links and asking me for my opinion, I take a deep breath and do my best to absorb some of his excitement.
Travelling together is a great way to remember who you were before there were children and stresses and endless carpools. A chance to reconnect and laugh when he tries to communicate with a Spanish cab driver in Québécois French, when you try to figure out how to work a bidet, or when the meal you get in a restaurant doesn’t remotely resemble what you thought you ordered.
There are strategies I’ve adopted over the years to help make traveling more comfortable for me. I always travel with my pillow. I like to bring a scented candle to make my hotel room smell like home. I make sure to carefully, and slowly, adjust the time of day I take my medication so that my mood remains stable. I usually have a Netflix series on queue that I’d been watching at home for when I need to relax at the end of a long day of touring. Most importantly, I try to be mindful; to live in the moment, to appreciate the right now rather than allowing my mind to get ahead of itself and worry. Staying present helps put the breaks on my inner ‘worry-treadmill’; What if I get sick? What if there’s a problem with my flight home? What if something happens to my kids while I’m away?
Lisa often address travel anxiety in psychotherapy sessions with her clients and she suggests the following great tips to help:
Lisa’s 8 Tips for Travelling with Anxiety Disorder
- Discuss your anxiety with your doctor and or therapist and ask about possible prescriptions, if needed.
- Make a detailed plan for your first few travel days, just until you become settled and start to feel comfortable with your surroundings.
- Bring your own pillow, a cozy blanket or a big sweatshirt- something that brings you the comfort of home.
- Plan only one activity per day if you get easily overwhelmed by a hectic travel schedule.
- Schedule some alone time away from the people you’re traveling with in order to regroup or process your anxiety
- Be open about your anxiety and discuss coping strategies that the people your traveling can help you with in case of a crisis.
- Learn breathing exercises or download a mindfulness app you can listen to when you’re feeling particularly anxious.
- Try to see the positive side of change. Look at your experience of traveling as an accomplishment!
Anxiety can be a cruel monster that looms over you and robs you of the ability to try new things and truly enjoy ones life. Don’t let it limit your chance to experience the things that can enrich and expand your horizons. Life is way too short not to enjoy the beauty that it has to offer.
So for now I’m going to savor the glass of sangria I’m drinking on a Barcelona rooftop, take in the beautiful sights and marinate in this perfect moment with my husband. This is a disease I will struggle with for the rest of my life, but I am grateful for the hours, the days and the weeks when my illness has gone on a vacation of its own.