Three years ago, i was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night with unbearable pain in my abdomen. After hours of tests, scans and declines to go home, i felt my chest start to tighten. I was suddenly short of breath and found myself constantly tapping on the side of my bed. I had no idea what was happening to me. That afternoon, I left hospital with more than the news of a burst cyst, i left hospital with an anxiety that hovered for the following three years.
I suppose you can put it down to being in a situation that is out of your control, the fear of having no control and the attempt to re-gain control. For the next 6months, i found myself trapped by the silent chains of anxiety. Situations that were usually easily achieved, were now partnered with an overwhelming sense of discomfort, fear and apprehension.
I look back on the things i have achieved over the past year and i can’t help but smile. I continued to surprise myself, with every new experience and country that i visited, i noticed myself doing all the things i thought i couldn’t do. I found a way to quiet my mind and re-grain control over my life. It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy but i was determined. ( see 5 reasons to travel often to see what travel did for me and my anxiety)
5 Tips for travelling the world with Anxiety
1. Carry a travel journal with you
I found my journal to be my closest comforter during those lonely travel days. Anxiety is just as confusing for the person experiencing it, as it is for those witnessing. I was often asked “Why are you anxious?”, in which i would ALWAYS reply “I don’t know, i just am”. Writing about my surroundings, my experiences, my worries and the things i am thankful for puts everything into perspective for me. Journalling is a great way of reminding yourself that everything works out in the end and reading over those times you were certain everything was falling apart, only to realise it was happening for a reason!
2. A good music playlist
Music is another helpful tool that can be used to quiet your mind and calm your body. As strange as it sounds, when you distract yourself, your anxiety begins to subside. The key is to get out of your head as much as you can. Put on your favourite tunes and don’t let that mind wander.
3. Make time to exercise
No kidding. I know travel can be busy but if you struggle with anxiety, make sure you take the time to get out and break a sweat. Several psychologists have listed exercise as a full proof and immediate solution to anxiety and have stated that exercise has several positive affects on our brain. The battlefield, after all, is within our mind.
4. Create a mantra for yourself
Its the simple things that have worked the best for me. While travelling, you are bound to run into those unwanted situations that triggers your anxiety but it doesn’t have to turn into a snowball affect. I’ve noticed a process that my mind and body experiences during those moments. A fleeting thought, entertaining that thought, tightening of the chest and then unbearable anxiety (with more depth to each step). The moment i notice any sign of anxiety, i say my mantra in my head. Perhaps yours is ‘everything is going to be okay’ or ” i can do this”!
My mantra is simple, Breathe. Mantra’s are almost meditation. Its something you tell yourself over and over again. Sometimes, i go to the extent of writing this word across my wrist (perhaps ill even get a tattoo) so that its not only my mantra but a visual anchor. When i see or hear this word, i trigger a chain of thoughts that not only distract me from my initial worries but remind me of all the things i have learnt and to simply be still and breathe.
5. Be prepared
Avoid the additional stresses that trigger worry by having some of your trip prepared and made easy for you. When i say prepared, i do not mean plan everything to extreme details. Over planning stresses me more than no planning. When i use the word ‘prepared’ i am referring to those back-up plans that elemenate stress when things don’t go to plan. Make sure you have everything you need, photocopies of passports and flight details, accommodation locations etc. Create a pre-departure check list and make sure you tick those boxes.
Be prepared but embrace those moments of spontaneity. Its the spontaneous moments that scared me the most but changed me into who i am today.
If you were to meet me today, you wouldn’t consider me a very anxious person. In the past year, i have lived and worked abroad, visited 16 european countries and achieved things i never knew were possible (for me). The battle is still real, i still have my moments of struggle but i now have an understanding of my mind and body, i can identify anxiety when it is approaching and i have equipped myself with strategies to fight against it. Travel has changed who i am, it has strengthened me as a person and opened my mind to lifes possibilities.
I’m going to take on this world.