Travel Anxiety…What I've Learned.
This past week I traveled to NYC for the 4th time. The energy of this city is incredible, and every time I visit, I feel this electric creativity wash over my body.
All of that energy and excitement can also be A LOT for a person who is highly sensitive (someone who has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and picks up on everybody’s emotions…) to deal with. <—— Can you relate, too?!
As many of you know, traveling in general sparks some anxiety in me, but when you toss NYC energy on top of it all, it tends to get a bit… magnified.
Sprinkle in the fact that I am annoyingly claustrophobic (planes, elevators, subways … oh my!) and I’ve got some serious emotions to deal with.
So what’s a travel-loving gal supposed to do when her sensitive nervous system, anxiety, and love for exploring new places, collides?
Luckily, there’s quite a lot! And I’m ready to share those tools with you, too.
Anxiety stems from a lack of control. Our worries can usually be boiled down to the uncertainty of a future outcome.
And when we travel, SO many things are uncertain.
That’s why I’ve found that my anxiety tips can be broken down into two categories: mental shifts & body support.
But for the purpose of this post, let’s focus on mental shifts.
I preach this concept all of the time: you could be eating the BEST diet and moving your body in all of the best ways, but if you’re not addressing your underlying thoughts and emotions, reducing anxiety will be very difficult.
Our brain is wired to think negatively (it’s a way of protecting us from danger!), and when traveling, your mind might want to jump to the worst possible outcomes to keep you “safe” in an uncertain environment.
The overwhelming and silly thoughts start entering your brain… before you know it… it feels like you can’t even THINK straight!
But here is the thing: the problem isn’t necessarily the worrisome thoughts.
The problem is that we allow these thoughts to run WILD.
And when we allow our thoughts to run wild, we fill our bodies with a host of crazy emotions.
It’s these amplified emotions that lead to feeling super uncomfortable and panicky.
AND, when we feel uncomfortable and panicky, the anxiety hits. The pounding heart, sweaty hands, tunnel vision ….you know what I’m talkin’ about.
But what if you could allow that original uncomfortable thought to just BE there?
What if you accepted that it was there, and didn’t judge yourself for thinking it?
Every time I encountered a worrisome thought while on my NYC trip, I practiced this concept. I practiced it over, and over, and over again.
Let me use my fear of elevators for a moment…
I allowed myself to think:
“I am literally going to die in this elevator. It’s going to get stuck, and I’ll be trapped for ever, and I will have a panic attack right here!!”
(Hey, don’t judge me, I don’t judge you ;))
My mind would construct this WILD thought… and then… I would practice allowing it to pass.
Was it easy? Absolutely not. But did it help? 100% yes.
I kept reminding myself that building upon the terrifying thought would only make my situation worse. And in the case that I actually DID get stuck in the elevator … would my freaking out really help anyway?! I had no choice, my room was on the 22nd floor and I HAD to get up there.
When I took a moment to think about it… worrying was a big huge waste of my time. (And this is coming from a girl who hasn’t been in an elevator by herself in over 10 years and will do almost anything to avoid one altogether).
Before I knew it, I was off that damn elevator, and I realized for the first time in forever (Frozen, anyone?), that I had stopped an elevator panic attack before it had even begun.
My terrifying thought hadn’t disappeared, I had just allowed myself to think it without placing judgement.
Now, recognizing your scary thoughts and practicing the art of detachment, is a great first step in the right direction.
But what do you do when you’re in the THICK of an uncomfortable and panicky situation and you need solutions fast?
In the moment anxiety relief
Here are some of my favorite “in the moment” tools that work wonders:
Listen to an inspiring podcast. This is been a game-changer when I’m flying and taking the subway. I usually listen to a spiritual podcast or something that focuses on positive transformation. It helps me feel uplifted and builds up my self-trust. Basically, it raises my vibration energy and makes it difficult to think negative thoughts. It also distracts my mind from feeling “stuck.”
Pick a positive phrase. I love the phrase “I am always eternally safe and protected.” When I find myself going down the worry spiral, I repeat this phrase to myself and let it wash over my entire body. It helps me feel more grounded and strengthens my trust that everything is always happen for my highest good. Why worry when we are always being looked after by the Universe? :)
Look out the window (helps me when flying!). I know this might have the opposite effect for some people, but looking out the window when I fly is SO helpful for me. It helps me feel so incredibly expansive and reminds me that there is something way bigger than myself at play here. Because I struggle with claustrophobia, looking out the window reminds me that I am not trapped at all. In fact, there is an expansive world out there and I’m a part of it.
Count. This was my elevator LIFE-SAVER. Because I hate the feeling of being out of control and trapped… counting how many seconds I was in the elevator helped put my mind and body at ease. It gave my mind something to do (instead of plotting my inevitable death) and I knew after 20 seconds I was free! Literally the best elevator anxiety tip I have ever tried.
Preparing for the anxiety
I also have a few tricks that have helped me alleviate and prepare for travel anxiety BEFORE my tip even begins…
Practice visualization BEFORE the trip. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and visualization. Really, think about virtual reality for a moment! Help you mind/body out and actually practice visualizing exactly how you want to feel, look, and ACT while you’re traveling. Imagine yourself as the most confident stress-free traveler! What are you wearing? How does your body feel? Where are you going? What’s your location? Really feel into it. This will train your mind to start believing your are capable of this reality!
Release expectations. I’ve noticed that I am super high-stakes when it comes to travel. I place a ton of pressure on my travels to be “the best and most perfect experience ever.” This causes me to be super hard on myself when I feel anxiety or something doesn’t go exactly as planned. Let that SH*T GO. I have begun shifting my perception of travel as just, another day in the life. It doesn’t hold any thing more or less special then an average day. It just IS. This mindset shift has really helped me relax and live in the present moment. It has allowed me to enjoy instead of judge every little thing while I’m traveling.
Don’t be a follower. It was sometime last year that I realized I was a total follower when it came to travel. I was letting my husband lead the way and take charge of the directions and the plans. Little did I know, this was just increasing my anxiety! It may have seemed easier to let someone else handle all the arrangements, but this left my feeling out of the loop and lost. Now, we BOTH are in the know. I make sure I know exactly how we are navigating the airport, I check the maps to ensure I know where we are heading, and I also lead the way. How self-empowering to know that you can travel solo if you need to and you’ll be totally and completely FINE??
Declutter your stuff, declutter your mind. This is a big one. Both my husband and I are working on being minimalist travelers. The less stuff you have with you, the more space you open up for what really matters on your trip. Decision fatigue is the real deal. Save yourself the stress of looking for buried items in your bag and wasting time deciding on which of the 20 outfits you should wear… pack only the essentials. This makes travel easy from a mobility standpoint and is one less thing your brain/body will worry about. An organized bag is an organized mind!
Discard what you can’t control. There is enough “stuff” for you to worry about when you’re traveling and out of your normal routine/comfort zone. Why add worries to the list that may not even come to fruition? If I find myself worrying about something that may not even happen, and that I don’t have control over anyway (ex: weather, getting stuck in traffic, a delayed flight, turbulence…) I STOP myself right there. I know it helps you feel productive and “prepared,” but I can promise you from personal experience, it NEVER, EVER ends well. Most of the time, I just get annoyed at myself for getting my body all stressed out for nothing!
…and there ya have it. A few of my favorite and go-to travel anxiety tips and stories.
Easing anxiety takes repetitive exposure and I have been practicing these tools for years. I am really happy to say that this past trip to NYC has been my best YET with minimal anxiety to boot!!
The goal isn’t to get rid of anxiety completely - that’s not realistic.
Instead, it’s about honoring your thoughts and emotions and learning how to work WITH them.
Your brain is a powerful tool, but so are YOU.
What are you favorite travel anxiety tips? I would love for you to share them below!