For many, the thought of travelling abroad can conjure up feelings of excitement. Maybe it’s the idea of standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower looking down over Paris, swimming among the fish on the Great Barrier Reef, or admiring the vast landscape from the edge of the Grand Canyon. The world offers so much opportunity!
However, it can be a very different perception when you struggle with anxiety. It feels debilitating when your thoughts are racing, contemplating what might go wrong at every turn.
What if the plane crashes…? What if I have a panic attack…? What if I get kidnapped…?
These thoughts can be all too familiar and make you feel overwhelmed. It may seem as if there is no option but to avoid the travelling dream all together, as to travel would mean putting yourself in situations that could trigger your anxiety. However, it’s important to understand that facing your fears can help you to tolerate and manage your anxiety, as well as rebuild your self-confidence.
If you do suffer from anxiety and decide to travel, here are seven ways in which you can make things easier for yourself while on the road.
Have a plan and stick to it
Anxiety can often make you feel like you are not in control, so to counter this you can plan and prepare as much as possible. This can include making sure you are fully packed with plenty of time to spare, get transport and accommodation booked in advance, and have a general idea of what it is you want to do and see in any given place. Most importantly, don’t talk yourself out of it despite how you might feel… It is almost never as bad as you anticipate!
Develop a routine
Travelling means that there is likely to be a change in the structure of your day, which can lead to increased feelings of anxiety. It is helpful to form a routine for yourself as soon as possible. For example, setting an alarm to ensure that you get up at a specific time each day can be useful.
Physical activity and exercise release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body. While travelling, it can be helpful to schedule some time each day to be active. Even something as simple as a 10-minute walk can help to build motivation, lift mood and reduce anxiety. Alternatively, you could centre some of your travelling plans around physical activities, like booking trekking or canoeing adventures.
Leave your comfort zone
Anxiety can make you want to avoid certain activities and situations. Although it can seem like the worst idea in the world, the best way to tackle this is to face these things head on. The physical symptoms of anxiety can feel awful and overwhelming, but they are physically harmless and your body is fully equipped to deal with them. If you allow yourself to experience these feelings by doing the things that you fear, you will notice that the symptoms will pass, and lessen over time. This will help you to start to tolerate the anxiety more, and give you the confidence to continue facing your fears.
Practising mindfulness while abroad can help you to manage your anxiety effectively. This therapeutic technique helps you to focus on the present moment without judgement. You can try this by using your senses to focus on the external environment, and with the help of apps like Headspace.
Take your medication
If you are taking prescribed medication for anxiety, ensure you have enough for your trip. It may be helpful to discuss this with your GP beforehand. Don’t stop taking your medication suddenly, even if you are feeling much better. It is most helpful to do this in a graded way with the support of your GP.
Use online resources
The internet can be a very useful tool, especially when you are abroad. There are some great self-help tools online, which offer further support and advice for how to manage your anxiety and depression effectively. It could be helpful to make a note of these before you travel.
One in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, and anxiety disorders are among the most common. One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (commonly shortened to CBT), and you can request this support through your GP. It is provided free on the NHS, and may be a helpful thing to pursue prior to your travels.
Sally Willan is a cognitive behavioural therapist whose job it is to help people with anxiety – she really does know what she is talking about. She is also a keen traveller, having visited a variety of countries, including Canada, the UAE, and Ecuador.