Suffering with anxiety is hard enough when you have a stable, permanent environment; if you choose to travel, you then face a ton of obstacles that the ‘regular’ traveler may not encounter, or even consider. However, many people nowadays are recognizing the importance of not letting their mental illness control their decisions, opting to take the difficult path and venture on out into the world…with a few trusted tips, of course.
Whilst I’m no medical expert, I’ve suffered enough with anxiety, depression, and other related issues, whilst on the road and at home, to form an understanding of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. However, this is purely down to my own experiences, and it is important to discover for yourselves how best to integrate your own love of traveling with your anxiety, making sure you are safe and well.
Sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is to admit that I can’t do something. I just can’t go on this trip, can’t do that activity, etc. Whilst everyone else around you encourages you not to let it ‘beat’ you, sometimes it is just safer and more beneficial to your health to take it easy, and say no. There have been a couple of times where I have listened to this advice and been better for it, but there have also been times when I have succumbed to peer pressure and ending up feeling so much worse. Only you know your own state of mind and well-being. Deep down, you will now exactly when it is time to sit something out, take some time to focus on yourself, and save yourself the stress that often comes with planning a trip, being away, and undertaking a new experience.
Hopefully though, there will be many more times when you feel you are well enough to say ‘screw you anxiety!’ and take the plunge. Nerves hit everyone before they go off on an adventure, whether it be in the form of excitement or genuine worry, so you’re definitely not alone in those feelings anyway.
Deciding what type of travel style is best for you really helps if you have decided to go away. There are pros and cons to both, it really is just a case of personal taste. Myself, I prefer to travel slowly, focusing on a country or area for a longer period of time and settling into some sort of routine, getting to know the area/people around me. I feel that it puts me at ease, allows me to calm down, and I feel secure knowing I have a bed or place to go back to, if my anxiety or depression does get the better of me one day.
However, lots of people prefer to travel much quicker, often due to lack of money and/or time. Besides these two reasons, spending just a few days in each place may also have mental health and anxiety benefits; you are always active, keeping your mind and body occupied. This type of traveling is usually seen on group tours too, which can also help with the planning side of trip, or if you’re a first time traveler. I’ve been on a couple of organised tours, and whilst they are fast-paced and you are often exhausted at the end, the ease of undertaking the trip largely outweighs this. On the other hand, they are not great if you just need a day to yourself to relax, or if you do begin to feel anxious/down and need some time to recover, as there usually isn’t any.
No matter what type of travel style you opt for, anxiety attacks and low moods can strike at any time, as fellow sufferers will know. Having a plan of action in place if this does happen is therefore a great thing to organize before you embark. Again, what you do will vary person to person, but if you really are stuck for ideas and can’t pinpoint what makes your anxiety/depression better, a friend recently told me about her use of a ‘mental health first aid kit’. She takes this on every trip she goes on, carrying it in her rucksack in case of emergencies. In it, she has pictures and letters from home, coloring books and pens, and calming herbal teas. Something like this is a great idea, and again can be personalized and altered to you. I usually carry a sketchpad and pencils in my bag, as I find drawing distracts me and calms me down, if I do need to take a minute for myself during a trip.
The main thing to take from this is to listen to your mind and body. If you don’t feel ready for a trip, don’t do it, or scale it back somehow. Decide on a traveling style that is right for you, not just what your friends are into. And finally, have in a place some sort of back-up if you do begin to feel yourself getting anxious. Anxiety and travel can actually go hand-in-hand quite harmoniously, if you are careful, kind to yourself, and (most importantly) remember to enjoy it!
Later this year, I will be moving to Vietnam to teach English, something that this time last year I could not have imagined myself doing. However, I’ve taken some time recovering and focusing on myself getting better, and am pleased to say that I’m looking forward to the trip with (mostly!) minimal worry. Of course I am aware that I’ll most likely get anxious or sad or at least something during the move and transition (and will definitely make sure I am prepared for that!)…but it just goes to show, that you don’t need to let your anxiety stop you from traveling, taking new jobs, and doing something outrageous!