How To Be A World Traveller When You Have Anxiety Disorder.

“When in doubt, book that ticket and go!” 

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(Photo by Jennifer Pedraza Richardson)

Today I wanted to talk about something that took me a lot of time to overcome.  Anxiety Disorder is something I’ve lived with for over 30 years. I’ve learned tools to manage it  but most of the work came with finding the will and courage to look at Anxiety in the face and confront it head on.  Some therapists calls this desensitization. In psychology, desensitization is a treatment or process that diminishes emotional responsiveness to a negative, aversive or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it.

I’ve always had wanderlust.  Some of my favourite childhood memories were getting in the car with my family and driving.  One summer we rented a lakeside cabin with friends and we went canoe-ing every day, rode our bikes to the store, told stories around the fire and played hide-and-go-seek with the kids from the cabin over.  Two Summers ago, my sister and I drove to the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and spent 4 days in some of the most awe inspiring nature you could see.  The theme here however is that most of my travels were by car.  Flying was another totally different story.

My Anxiety Disorder was very specific: Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia.  The problem with these are that:  1. being in close proximity to people and this included in Theatres, Restaurants, Parties, basically anywhere people congregate was so physically uncomfortable for me that I just avoided them altogether. Getting on a plane seemed impossible.   I avoided the nausea. I avoided the stomach pain. I avoided the heart palpitations and in the end missed out on a lot.  Number 2 is that Agoraphobia was even worse.  Leaving my home was not a question, unless I was going to my long term job which was my second “safe place”.  Groceries were ordered online and delivered to my home.  It was a very quiet time in my life.  Out the window however was a world I wanted to see.  I’d stare at the lights of Cypress Mountain and hope I could go up there some day.  This past Winter, I went for the first time; we went tubbing, we made snow angels.  Since my recovery, the world has opened up; it’s exciting now to think of all the places I’ve always wanted to see and to know that this time, I will see them.

 

These days I feel excited to travel but if Anxiety is still holding you in doubt and fear about visiting those places on you bucket list (or Pinterest List), perhaps some of these tools that I use might help.

 

Do Most Of The Planning

For many, Anxiety has to do with not feeling in control.  Empower yourself by taking over the planning of the trip. It will give you a sense of control and in turn, calm.   If the trip you’re taking is months away, take your time then:  Plan your flights.  Choose the time you prefer to leave at.  I’m not good at early morning so flying at 6am is avoided as much as I possibly can.  Another thing that’s helped me greatly is to buy the front row seats.  Most of the time they’re about $50 more than regular seats but you will know exactly where you’ll be sitting, you get to board first and get off first upon landing.  The extra leg room is awesome too for a mini yoga sesh at 30 thousand feet.

Another thing to do is to research the hotel you want to stay in. Is it walking distance from the places you want to see?  is it close to the airport. Whatever makes you most comfortable, do it!  who cares if it’s neurotic.  I’d rather be called neurotic but have a successful experience than to not go at all because I was anxious.  Renting a car could be an option too if busy public transportation is an issue (as it is at times with Agoraphobia).

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Have A Clear Itinerary

Research the heck out of your destination.  Choose the places you want to see.  Google map how far they are from your hotel.  Make a list of stores you want to shop at or museums you want to see.  I’ve already made reservations at a restaurant we want to eat at in Spain and we’re not leaving until June!  Use street view to see what the city you’re visiting looks like if going to new locations triggers you.  I mean sure, there will be situations and things we can’t control but having a plan is always good, anxiety or not.  You’ll make the best of your time and you won’t come home and realize you completely forgot to see something important and regret it.

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(Photo by Jennifer Pedraza Richardson)

Think Of The Destination

I didn’t travel for years because I was so fixated on the actual travelling (the airport, going through security, taking off)  that I’d forgotten about the rewards of arriving at the destination.  Whether it be through guided imagery, meditation or just talking about it with a trusted friend or loved one.  Focus on all the positive amazing things you’re going to experience. Create something to look forward to, something that takes your mind off of the journey; the photos you want to take, the blog you want to write (wink).  Take a step further and think of when you’re back home; the stories you’ll be able to share and the memories not to mention how accomplished you’ll feel having faced your fear and come out the other side.

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(Photo by Jennifer Pedraza Richardson)

 

Think Of The Big Picture

Sometimes when we’re in a state of fear and anxiety, all we can think of is trying to escape the uncomfortable physical sensations anxiety gives us.  We get caught up on how terrible it feels, how to avoid it and the world gets smaller and smaller.  Thinking of the big picture gets us out of that state of tension and over thinking.  It gives us perspective.  Your life isn’t meant to be confined to your home or about just working to pay bills.  What experiences and memories do you want to have when you’re old?  What do you want the story of your life to be?  Think 10 years ahead: wouldn’t it be amazing to look back at photos and relive the trips you took?.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to look at that list or vision board you created and say “I had the courage to do that!?

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 Take A Course

I wasn’t afraid of visiting new places or being in a hotel.  I was specifically afraid that if I got on a plane I’d have a panic attack and either humiliate myself in front of 200 passengers by making the plane turn around or drop dead.  Because I’ve learned that taking control of fear (before it takes control of you) is the most certain road to success, I enrolled in a fear of flying course at my local airport.   Knowledge is power and learning about how an aircraft works and the many safety features a plane has helped a lot.  And for my Agoraphobia (which is the fear of being in a place where escape could be difficult), walking the airport (over and over again), going through security with the course director and boarding several planes and talking to the cabin crew helped with the desensitization process.  For the Vancouver Flying without fear course, contact Layne Dagett  https://www.flyingwithoutfear.ca/

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Make An Anxiety Travel Kit (a.k.a: a kickass carryon)

Distraction is key if you’re an anxious traveller or are afraid to fly.  In my carry-on I always have:

Essential oils of Peppermint and Ginger. Both are amazing for nausea and travel sickness.  Peppermint reminds me to breathe and masks any smells on the plane (food, b.o., the bathrooms, you get the idea).

Entertainment: I carry my i-pod and i-pad.  The sounds the plane makes when it’s taking off scare the hell out of me so I pop in my earbuds as the engines are increasing to take off mode and blast some good dance music and take off to Lady Gaga or Carlos Vives.  During the flight (as well as in the boarding area), I have Netflix movies downloaded, my calm app I can meditate with if needed. Last long haul flight I took I downloaded the Harry Potter audio books and spent a good chunk of the flight at Hogwarts…good times.

Snack:  Airplane food isn’t known for being amazing and one of the side effects of anxiety can be no appetite or sensitivity to smells.  Bring food you know you’ll want.  I pack salty chips, my favourite chocolate bar, power bars, water, even a sandwich.  This way you can eat when you feel hungry and you’ll have food that won’t make your stomach churn.

Comfy Clothing:  My travel outfit never changes – soft comfortable track pants, a loose cotton tee,  an oversized sweatshirt, warm socks, nikes and my oversized blanket scarf.  Be as comfortable as you can.  I cozy up with my blanket and catch up on my Netflix shows just like I’m on the couch at home.

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Give Yourself A Lot Of Time At The Airport

I like to give myself ample time to get to the airport, check in and have time to check out the duty free.  Leave some of the things you need to buy and get them at the airport that way you have something to do (another distraction) until it’s time to board.  The duty free is a great place to pick up makeup or alcohol on sale.  Maybe make it a point to pick up a gift for someone.  I make sure I grab a small bite at one of the bars and always have a glass of champagne to unwind.  Small rituals work great for anxiety instead of sitting still, nervously waiting for your flight to be called.  Sitting still is the worse thing you can do for anxiety so burn off that extra adrenaline with a good walk around the departures wing and do some shopping while you’re at it.

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Pack Way In Advance

My husband thinks I’m hilarious because I pack like 2 weeks before our trip.  Not only that but I start a list like a month in advance of what I’ll need and plan the perfect capsule wardrobe for packing light.  I am not a pack-the-night-before person.  The last time I tried that (because I was trying out being more laid back and less of a stresspot), I got to my destination without a towel, my bathing suit or my toothbrush.  I’m a huge list writer and packing in advance lets me know that I will have everything I need and while my husband is rushing around the day before our trip trying to get everything in order then pack, I’m in the bathtub having a spa sesh and getting a good night sleep.

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(Photo by Jennifer Pedraza Richardson)

And last but definitely not least…

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself If You Are Anxious

For me, a huge difference between my old anxious self and my new anxious self (I think anxious people might always have some degree of it because we’re wired to worry a little more than other people and that’s a good thing!)  is that before, even mention of travel made me queasy. Now I feel a bit queasy about 30 minutes before I board the plane which is amazing.   Having anxiety is difficult enough, the last thing we need is to beat ourselves up over our “non-perfection”.  Give yourself a pat on the back every time you achieve something new.  Reward yourself with praise every time you are terrified but do what you were afraid to do anyway.  And if the worse happens (like when I had a panic attack in the lineup at the Madrid airport and projectile vomited like the kid from the exorcist) you’ll quickly realize how compassionate people are and willing to help someone in distress.  So be kind, breathe, forgive yourself because you’re doing your best and GO conquer the world.

 

Love,

Jennifer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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