I was never an anxious person until I began traveling, which I am convinced is purely coincidental. I don’t only have anxiety when I travel. These attacks can happen anytime – at work, in the car, at home, at the shopping mall. They also happened on my flight from Tokyo to Calgary after our stay in Narita, in the backcountry of Waterton National Park, in our treehouse at Viking Nature Resort on Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand, after experiencing an Earthquake in Ixtapa, and during our first night at our IVHQ placement in Bali. If you have ever experienced anxiety, or have known someone who has, you will know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it once it starts. In fact, panicking about the anxiety will usually only amplify the attack.
However – I believe that there is hope for us anxiety sufferers. With some basic tools, tips and tricks, I believe that we can greatly reduce the amount of anxiety we experience while on the road, whether that means on a road trip a few cities away or halfway around the globe. For me, anxiety is generally a result of emotional turmoil. So, instead of titling this post “How to Prevent an Anxiety Attack While Traveling” (which we all know is impossible) I decided to focus on ways that you can greatly reduce your discomfort when experiencing an Emotional Breakdown while traveling.
Maybe I am just a sensitive traveler – but I feel like a trip isn’t a trip until somebody freaks out over something, whether that something is justifiable or not. Emotions are running high, stress levels are elevated, and the adrenaline rush you experience from seeing so many new and unfamiliar faces and places can leave you exhausted. I experienced multiple Emotional Breakdowns while I was traveling in Asia with Sean (that man truly deserves an award for putting up with me sometimes), but these feelings were amplified when I was on my solo trip in California this past October. No longer could I turn to my boyfriend’s kind and familiar face for comfort, where he would hug me and patiently reassure me. I was alone. The first night I got to California, at the beginning of an 11-day stretch, I received some very sad news from home regarding my family. For the first week, I was in Santa Monica with a coworker and we were attending a course, which kept my thoughts and mind preoccupied. But once I arrived in San Diego for my 4-day Solo Adventure, I was left alone with my thoughts, with little distraction, and with nobody to tell me everything was going to be OK. Enter Emotional Breakdown.
Below are 8 tried, tested and true tips that I have used while traveling, both solo and with a companion. I was inspired to write this post after reading “5 Tips for Dealing with Travel Anxiety” from travelwithkate.com…she has some awesome advice as well. While you can’t necessarily control your emotions or your anxiety, there are ways that you can reduce the terrible feelings that come with them, and deal with your situation so that you can get back to enjoying your travels.
1. Write in a Journal
This one sometimes makes people roll their eyes, although I’m not sure why…I have enjoyed journaling since I was probably about 7 or 8 years old. I especially enjoy it while I am traveling because I find that my thoughts are much more clear when I am away from my day to day routine. It can be extremely cleansing to write out your frustrations, feelings, trials and triumphs. It is also rewarding to read through your old travel journals and remember how you were feeling in that low moment, and then recall how you overcame the struggle.
2. Bring Comforting Items
In an upcoming post, I plan to write about ‘The Things I Will Never Travel Solo Without’…and a mini candle is one of them. When you’re feeling sad or anxious, a few simple familiar items can be especially comforting. They don’t have to be big. Your favourite tea bags, your boyfriend’s cozy sweater, a favourite book or a photo of your loved ones can all serve a comforting purpose when you’re far from home.
This one sounds too easy, but I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been fighting off anxiety and Sean has had to remind me to breathe. Take a moment, close your eyes, and slow your breath down. Inhale deeply through your nose so that your belly expands, and exhale so that you can feel the air in the back of your throat, as if you were fogging a mirror, but with your mouth closed. Do this 10 or more times and I promise that you will feel more calm.
If you’re experienced in meditation, it will probably be easy for you to quiet your mind using whatever techniques you’re used to at home. But if meditation is still unfamiliar to you, I find that it sometimes helps to use a guided meditation. YouTube has plenty of free ones (I like The Honest Guys) – and if you’re going to be somewhere without access to wifi, it might be a good idea to purchase a few guided meditations on iTunes or whichever service you use, and have them pre-loaded onto your device.
5. Do Something Familiar
When I was 16 and overseas for the first time without my parents, I freaked out in Munich, Germany. Like, completely freaked out. My best friend and I were arguing about something silly earlier that day, and after 3 attempts to ask for directions in broken German with no success, I got so frustrated and overwhelmed that, without even thinking about it, I ran into a Starbucks and cried. After my mini-meltdown (during which several strangers tried to help me, but I couldn’t understand them) I decided to order my favourite tea and sit in the Starbucks until I calmed down. It’s strange how places like this can make us feel better when we are experiencing culture shock, but it’s only human nature to gravitate towards the familiar. I ate at McDonalds once in Bangkok and once in Japan just because I wanted to order something to eat without thinking too much about it. When I was having a hard time in California, I would watch Disney Movies on Netflix in my hotel room. I plan to bring a few episodes of my favourite TV show loaded onto my iPad when I travel to Costa Rica in a few weeks. It’s okay to take a step out of the “Culture Immersion” while traveling and do something familiar.
6. Get Active
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Go for a hike. Do Yoga in your hotel room. Sometimes all it takes is a little hit of endorphins to perk you up on your weary travels. I ran almost every morning while I was in California, especially in Santa Monica. It was my “me time”, and also a great way to explore the surrounding area by foot. We climbed Mount Batur in Bali to watch the sunrise, and I have never felt so alive. Get moving. You won’t regret it.
7. Talk To A Friend
One of my friends called me on my second last night in San Diego, and we talked for over an hour. I was so grateful that she had called, because at the time, I was too proud to reach out. I also remember e-mailing back and forth during a sleepless night in Bali with another friend. Sometimes you just need to hear a familiar voice, dish with someone about things that you normally would at home, or see someone’s face via Skype or FaceTime to remember that everything is okay.
8. If All Else Fails, Watch the Sunrise
Although cliche, the words “Tomorrow is Another Day” have always provided great comfort for me, especially during times of struggle. I find it extremely difficult to sleep when I am anxious or upset, and when emotions are running high during the night, the thought of the sunrise brings me peace. There have been times that I have even physically walked somewhere at 4, 5 or 6 in the morning so that I could watch the sunrise. Witnessing this ‘Dawn of a New Day’ will always ease my worries.
I hope these strategies have been somewhat helpful to other sensitive travellers like me. What are some of the ways that you stay calm during your travels?