For most anxiety suffers, the idea of jumping on a plane or leaving the comfort of their own city is far too much to bear. However, traveling with anxiety could very well be the cure you’re looking for.
Confessions of a Travel Agent: How Travel Helps Relieve My Anxiety
Most of my readers may not know this about me, but like 1 in 5 Canadians, I suffer from mild to moderate anxiety. I can’t pinpoint the precise moment it started to negatively affect my life, but it’s safe to say that high school was what I like to refer to as the ‘cauldron of self-hatred.’ There was little I liked about myself. Achieving anything seemed pointless because I lacked the ability to feel a sense of accomplishment. I struggled to listen to my own intuition because I felt it often betrayed me. There were talents I possessed that others saw, that I didn’t, and self-doubt and self-defeat often conquered over me pushing myself. And if you were to look up “over-thinker” in the dictionary (because in the 1990’s, you still looked up things in the dictionary), you would see my anguished face resting beside the definition. And of that sound familiar? You’re not alone. There are plenty of ways to navigate this frustrating state, and for me, travel helps relieve my anxiety.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Wait, wait, WAAAAIT a minute. How on earth can travel, one of the most obvious triggers for stress and anxiety, actually help someone with anxiety? Before you even leave the house, there’s the “what do I pack?” conundrum. Then the perceived chaos of an airport is enough to make the heart race. The crowds, agitated passengers, cranky airline staff, screaming babies, the constant summoning of badly pronounced names of the loud speaker, and that’s all before you’ve crammed yourself into the middle seat because you booked your own airline ticket (tsk tsk), and then, you’re being hurled 10 hours across the globe, 35,000 feet in the air, in a giant, stifling, pressurized tin can, with 200 other people who may or may not be suffering from some form of anxiety. So again, you ask, how is it that travel helps relieve my anxiety? Ironically, through all that chaos and noise, when I’m travelling, it’s the only time I’m able to focus. And when I’m focused, anxiety is no match for the kaleidoscope of experiences I get to have when I’m on the road. But let me break it down for you;
Travel Catapults Me into New Scenarios
Having anxiety often means feeling like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel. You’re running around, either physically or psychologically, not really accomplishing anything, but worrying about every minute detail. You’re not likely to thrust yourself out of your comfort zone (because that causes more anxiety), so life can feel like a walk through the doldrums. Travel helps relieve my anxiety because it forces me into situations that are new, exciting, often, life altering in the best way. I once got lost along the border in Northern Thailand (I got separated from my tour group). I ended up stumbling into a village, being invited in for lunch, and through drawings in the sand, hand signals and the odd word in English, learned that the woman who had so kindly welcomed me into her home had just gotten married, and I was their first foreign guest.
I don’t Have Time to Over-Think while Traveling with Anxiety
One of the most frustrating side effects of anxiety is overthinking. Everything. In painstaking, minute, detail. It’s exhausting. But when you’re tearing after a 200lb lion cub because they’re chasing down a duiker and you can’t lose sight of said lion cub because even though you’re in a national park, the next village over wouldn’t take kindly to a lion cub on the loose, you don’t have time to over-think, hell, you don’t have time to think anything. Period. (And yes, that really happened). Travel helps relieve my anxiety by distracting me with sensory overload. Marvels of Mother Nature, seas of humanity, mind-bending architecture, exotic foods, with all of that, who can focus on minutia when what in front of you is so interesting and engaging?
You want to know how much time it takes me to decide on an outfit, hairstyle and make-up look before I give a travel lecture back home? I can’t even admit that number for fear of being deemed vain. Let’s just say, waaaaay too much time. Now, you want to know how much time I need to decide on all of the above when I’m on the road? Almost zero. In fact, a few years ago I had a prominent travel brand approach me on Instagram and ask to work with me on a project. The clincher? They wanted me to either A) Incorporate more fashion forward/Insta-Friendly outfit options on my posts, or B) They would use a stand-in model, but my words. You can imagine where I told them to shove it! When I’m travelling, I don’t care about how I look, who I need to impress or how I’m perceived. As if I’m ever going to see anyone from those hoards of tourists I meet along the way, ever again. I don’t allow my insecurities to take away from my experience.
Perspective, perspective, PERSPECTIVE!
It sounds so cliché (and it wreaks of privilege), but let’s face it, travelling has the power to make us appreciate what we have at home so much more than we do. It can be a wake-up call. In the midst of our most irrational moments of anxiety, it’s difficult to see through the fog. Much of my own anxiety is rooted in an inability to control something negative happening to me (or someone I love). But the chances are, someone else on the planet is going through the same thing as you, or worse. An airline may have lost your luggage on the way to your dream holiday, but there’s someone in that very destination that you can’t wait to get to that may never be able to leave their own country because they’re unable to obtain a passport. Travel is one of the few experiences that can truly remind us of just how fortunate we are.
Now, I am no way advocating that traveling with anxiety is going to cure your anxiety. I recognize, that for some, just the act of flying, getting on a boat, or navigating a packed train station can be enough to set off a full-fledged panic attack. And I would love to tackle the issue of how to deal with anxiety on the road in a later post, because I truly feel anxiety shouldn’t hold anyone back from exploring the world. And I would like to think that if travel helps my anxiety, it could help you conquer yours.