a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
Anxiety is something that I have been struggling with for a long time. This time last year, I hit my breaking point. Just a few days before I was due to travel across the country from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit one of my best friends for her birthday, I found myself at the hospital, hopeful that someone would finally tell me what was wrong with me - with my heart, my lungs, or some organ that was making me feel this way. I felt like I wanted to rip out of my own body. Like I was going to pass out at any moment. Like I couldn't shake the feeling. It was a feeling I felt every day. But it wasn't until that day that I finally accepted that the problem was in my brain. It was, quite literally, all in my head.
I went back to my apartment and I went to work the next day like nothing happened. I resumed the role of the upbeat, smart, attentive, savvy young woman I had been playing my entire life. I embraced a new realization to cope with behind the scenes. And the day after that, I got dropped off at the airport and I went on that trip.
If you're like me, you have this kind of internal battle with yourself every day. You constantly put things into perspective. But you know that no matter what, you won't let your anxiety run the show, or keep you from doing the things you love. When there is an opportunity to see and experience this world, ain't nobody got time for it. As I approach the anniversary of a low point in my life, I thought it might be cathartic for me and for you if I shared my travel anxiety tips and the ways in which I cope. Whether this is a daily challenge for you, or just one when you go to a new place, I hope my perspective will help.
I'm currently living in the same city as that best friend, and we're taking a trip together for her birthday this weekend. Time is a funny thing.
How to Cope with Airplane Anxiety
I get it. Whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, all the same thoughts go through my head on an airplane. What if the engine stops working? What was that sound? Why did the lights flicker like that? What if we crash into another plane in the sky? Did I pay enough attention to the safety video?
When I find myself thinking those thoughts, I turned to my dear old friend, probability. You know, I used to be really good at math. I like to remind myself about the very, extremely low probability that anything bad will actually happen. I take a moment to appreciate all of the flights that occur successfully every single day all around the world. I trust the technology, and the people. I think about if I were a flight attendant or a pilot, how casual a flight would be, and I try to adopt that attitude. And I basically try to fall asleep as quickly as possible to pass the time. No matter what, I know that statistics are on my side, and I'm on my way to a wonderful destination.
Try out this perspective the next time you're on a plane and that uneasy feeling starts to creep up. It may not go away completely, but "debunking" your anxious arguments to yourself can really help. And if the person next to you seems like the type, strike up a conversation with them. I remember totally random people and our conversations on airplanes more than I remember any of the anxiety I ever felt. Don't underestimate how powerful human connection is.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Traveling to New Places
When you really think about it, every place was new at some point. But you could find yourself going to a really different place from the places you've been used to. Maybe the people there speak a different language, or dress differently, or behave differently. If I find myself feeling anxious about something, I turn to my other old friend, research. Learning about a new culture or country in advance is the best way to calm any uneasy feeling you may be having. If you know the important things, you can't be taken off guard. You can still embrace new experiences and be surprised at how wonderful it is when you get there, all the while knowing left from right in your new environment. Learn the basics of the language. Study a city map to get your bearings. Your brain is racing through the "what if?"s and highlighting all the potential downfalls - a little research can go a long way in setting your mind at ease. Then you'll be able to make the most of your adventure and enjoy every moment along the way.
Another thing to practice, always, no matter where you are, is mindfulness. If you're worried about being pickpocketed, remain aware. Be mindful of your surroundings and your body language. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety is like a hyper mindfulness, so I spin it into a positive. There's a big difference between being a careless traveler and a carefree one. Practicing mindfulness can help you and your belongings remain safe and sound so you can feel that carefree travel high.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Being Away From Home
If it's your first time traveling somewhere by yourself, you may be faced with tasks you never had to handle before. You have to keep your important papers organized. You have to be on time and at the right place at the right time. You have to communicate with other people. You have to navigate buildings and transportation. It can be overwhelming, and it can seem so overwhelming that you may not even want to do it. But I urge you to take the leap. When I start to have those feelings of anxiety like I can't do something, I know that the only thing to do is the exact thing that I'm scared of - because it will be so worth it.
When I was in college, I studied abroad with Forum-Nexus as a solo traveler, hopping on a plane headed to Europe without knowing anyone and trusting that people would be there waiting for me, that I'd make friends, and that I'd have the summer of a lifetime. Here's the cliché - I did! I had the most amazing, exhilarating, life-changing experience that summer, and it set the tone for the rest of my life thus far. My family was absolutely terrified for me - I was the first person to leave the country since our ancestors came to the country. It was a big deal. I had traveled to Spain in high school and I knew what that feeling was like, and I knew that I wanted it again even if it meant going by myself. Sometimes all we need is to turn our anxiety for us instead of against us. What will you miss out on if you don't go? Get that FOMO on your side. You are strong. You are capable. And you are worthy. Being away from home is only temporary. And it can only become home when you leave it.
I'm proud to say that the person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago. Don't get me wrong - I still have that same brain. I still feel hyper mindful sometimes and I still get overwhelmed by things that wouldn't be overwhelming to someone else. I think - a lot. But I can recognize when I'm psyching myself out. I've learned to trust in myself and in my faith. I'm caring for my physical and mental health in ways I wasn't before. I'm opening up to you, who has read this all the way to the end - thank you for doing that, by the way. This space to express myself is never taken for granted.
I want you to know that you are fully you and your anxiety is a part of you that you can control. Use all that thinkin' to create your own strategies for how to cope with travel anxiety. You are able to make things better for yourself. You can travel near and far and live the full life you desire. I'm rooting for you.