Traveling with Anxiety

The holidays are here and for a lot of us that means holiday travel. Notice I didn't just simply say "travel." Oh no -- holiday travel is a whole other stressful, panic-inducing, gut disturbing type of travel. Crowded airports, bumper-to-bumper highways, and tense screaming matches about today's political unrest are just a few things that can cause even the most "zen" individual to bite their fingernails or feel a bit out of sorts this holiday season.

As a member of the Restore Us team, I bring not only skills and knowledge gained from a robust career path as well as a genuine caring spirit about our clients' experiences with us -- I also bring my past and present experience with anxiety in many forms. Why is this valuable to the Restore Us program and more specifically to you, reading this right now? Because at least 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental health condition. So bearing in mind that anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are extremely common, it is paramount that we -- as humans standing next to and living among those who truly might be suffering -- find ways to connect with and empathize with folks who may be living with anxiety.

I've collected a few of my own ideas about and around travelling with anxiety. I greatly encourage you to give thought to this list if you're travelling for the holidays this month or know people who are. Perhaps you're a person who feels uneasy when boarding a plane or entering a crowded department store? Or maybe you know someone who you've always thought seemed especially nervous when preparing for a twelve-hour car ride to visit family or has reached out for comfort before flying across the country to see a faraway friend or loved one? I'm hoping this list will provide ideas for those out there that might get more than a little "slightly edgy" when traveling during these next few weeks.

I have been diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder that hugely impacted my day-to-day life. For me, feeling overwhelmed by stress and fear were daily occurrences brought on by tasks or activities that seemed to be handled with ease by those around me. After months of a focused therapy class, a lot of meditation, and regular one-on-one therapy sessions; I can say with overwhelming gratitude, that my life has drastically improved.

That being said, travel anxiety was (and still is at least a little) something I suffered from every time I boarded a plane, got in a car, or was in large crowds and groups of people. And when it came to travelling, it wasn't just the going to and from, it was literally just being in a different place than the comfort of my own home.

How did I cope?

  • Having a really, really good friend.

Having a trusted close friend or loved one close by that I could be honest with about when and how I was being "triggered" made a world of difference. This person knew my anxieties well and could offer support and reminders that I was stronger than I knew in moments of heightened uncertainty or fear and that though it didn't feel that way in the moment, I'd be just fine -- after all, I'd traveled many times in the past and made it through each time -- even if there were bumps in the road!

  • Food!

Being absolutely sure that meals were going to be an item on my list of worries that did not have to be worried over. In my case, having a lot of medical belly issues, anxiety only further aggravated my digestive woes. But, belly aches are commonplace for many who live with anxiety. So, knowing you have some "say so" or veto power over restaurants or dinner plans helps to soothe concerns that can come with not having your own kitchen to prepare meals you know fit your dietary needs. I also highly recommend bringing your own snacks to have on hand just in case you get stuck in a situation where you feel "overruled" about what's for dinner! 

  • Flower Power!

While I'm all about peace and love -- I'm actually being literal here. During travel, I've often taken a little supplement called "Rescue Remedy." It is literally flower and herbal extracts. While "natural healing and medicine" might not be for everyone, many folks feel a few drops of this stuff on the tongue helps to calm nerves before entering stressful situations. You can grab a little bottle of this stuff on Amazon for about $12.

  • Puppy (or other pet) Power!

When possible, travelling with a companion animal helps enormously. The newest furry member of our family, our pup Ari, has become a comfort to me in times when I'm feeling anxious or even just a little bummed out. To some it may sound odd, but just breathing in her scent or snuggling her can soothe my anxiety or calm me down when I'm feeling panicky.

  • Time Outs!

Taking plenty of breaks to practice deep breathing techniques or just taking a bit of alone time for moments to meditate or to simply get away from people and crowds is crucial. It's not selfish at all and can honestly do a lot to restore your social wells so that you're more prepared to interact with friends, family, and even strangers.

  • You're not alone in your anxiety.

To some degree we should all normalize all of this a little bit. For a lot of us, just knowing that feelings of uncertainty or feeling uneasy about travelling is normal and fairly common can reduce symptoms of travel anxiety. Hearing those powerful words "me too" can go a long way for someone feeling anxious.

Whoever you are and wherever you go this holiday season, I hope that you're good to yourself and good to others. Sometimes it seems like the hysteria of getting trying to get perfect gifts for those in our lives can make us act like monsters to those who enter our lives for mere moments. They say goodness prompts more goodness, and you never know what those fleeting interactions can lead to out in the world. Your kindness could lead to turning someone's moment of anxiety into something that they can suddenly manage.