A version of this article has been published on Thought Catalog since I originally posted it.
Anxiety is something I have dealt with for most of my life, and I’ve written about it before. As I’m sure others who suffer from anxiety will understand, going on a trip can bring up a lot of opportunities for anxiety to rear its ugly head.
Last year, I went on a few short trips with family and friends, and there were several times when anxiety cropped up and made things unpleasant. Since one of my goals for 2017 is to travel more, I’m going to have to work on finding more ways to deal with my anxiety. Luckily, I have already figured out a few things that help me deal with anxiety while traveling. Hopefully, if you deal with travel-related anxiety some of these methods will work for you as well.
1. Find things that comfort and soothe you and bring them along.
What’s comforting or soothing to one person may not be helpful at all to others, so you’ll have to figure out what works for you. For me, there are a handful of things that I use to help calm myself down when I feel anxiety coming on, and I know it’s important that I have access to these things while I’m traveling.
One thing that is soothing when I am having anxiety is putting something warm, like a microwavable heat wrap or a hot water bottle, over my chest or stomach. I tend to get sick to my stomach when I’m anxious, and putting something warm over it relaxes me and helps ease an upset stomach. For travel, a hot water bottle might be more portable, especially if you’re backpacking and want to pack light, or won’t have access to a microwave.
You might also find that certain scents calm you down, and want to bring something with that smell along. For me, I like the Badger Balm Stress Soother. It smells nice, and it comes in a tube so it’s easy to apply and convenient for traveling. I also find anything lavender scented to be calming. Whatever scents help ease your stress and anxiety, there is likely a travel-friendly way to carry it with you.
2. Distract yourself
If you are an anxious person, then you probably know how distracting yourself can be a helpful way to deal with anxiety. What works for you may vary. It could be reading a book or watching a show or playing a game of some sort.
Once activity that I really like to use as a distraction is playing solitaire, especially when I deal the cards out by hand. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but something about the combination of the tactile feel of the cards as well as the concentration required helps me to focus my thoughts on something other than anxiety. It requires enough mental energy that I don’t focus on my anxiety, but not so much that I become more frustrated or overwhelmed.
3. Listen to calming music
Listening to calming music is a tried and true method of dealing with anxiety. In fact, scientists have actually identified the song the is most likely to reduce stress. The same study identified several other songs that are proven to reduce stress in listeners significantly, and you can download the playlist on Spotify. I actually downloaded Spotify recently solely for the purpose of having this playlist at the ready, and it was totally worth it.
4. Take time for yourself, especially when traveling with others
This is extra important if you are traveling with family. Even though I get along really well with my family when we go on vacation together things always get stressful and cause my anxiety to go up. This past summer, I went on a trip to Ocean Shores with them, and while it was fun, I definitely had to find time to be alone. So whether this means going on a walk by yourself or getting up before everyone else to eat breakfast in peace, find a little time to spend with yourself when traveling with others.
It’s also important to make sure you are taking care of yourself when you are traveling on your own. Don’t push yourself to go on another tour or see one more sight if you feel like anxiety is starting to overwhelm you. It’s okay to turn in early and spend an evening at your hotel or hostel just reading or watching a show on Netflix. If you don’t let yourself relax and recharge when you are struggling with anxiety, then it’s liable to get out of hand and can make the rest of your trip unpleasant.
5. Let your travel companions know about your anxiety
I tend to be really reluctant to let other people know about my struggles with anxiety. Opening up to others about it is something I want to work on this year, as I think that sharing our feelings with those close to us can be really beneficial to our mental health.
So if you’re traveling with friends or family and you are struggling with anxiety, let them know. Sometimes even just talking about it can make you feel better. Plus, you never know when someone else may be going through something similar or might have some helpful suggestions on how to cope.
I know this is easier said than done because oftentimes we don’t talk about our mental health struggles because we are afraid people will judge us. However, I find that this is rarely the case. If you are with close friends or family, then chances are these are people who love you and care about you, and they aren’t going to judge or criticize you for your anxiety.
If, however, you find yourself in a situation where you are traveling with people who you really can’t open up to, or if you are traveling alone, it might be a good idea to have some friends or family members back home that you can call/text/skype with if your anxiety gets really out of control. And if your mental health issues become too much to deal with, there are always phone helplines and online chat helplines that you can contact in a time of crisis. (Some resources: 1, 2, 3, 4)
These are just a few ways that I have found to help me deal with my anxiety. Hopefully, these tips will help you combat your anxiety on your next trip so that you can fully enjoy your travels.
Do you have anxiety or other mental health issues? What do you do to deal with them while traveling?