We all know the mixture of fear and excitement when visiting a new, unfamiliar place. But sometimes the stress of travel plans can lead to travel anxiety. Although this isn’t an officially diagnosed mental condition, for certain people, anxiety about traveling can become severe, and may even stop them from going on a well-deserved vacation, or that promising business trip.
Read some of the common triggers of travel anxiety and my go-to tips for overcoming it.
What causes anxiety about travel?
People can develop negative associations with travel from a variety of experiences. One study revealed that 65% of people who’d been in a major car accident developed travel anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness – affecting 40 million adults each year in the United States alone.
Having a panic attack while in an unfamiliar area can also lead to anxiety over traveling. Simply hearing about negative travel experiences, like plane crashes or foreign illnesses, can cause anxiety to spike in some people. Of course, anxiety disorders can also be caused by biological risk factors – with some research indicating strong genetic links for developing anxiety in young adulthood and beyond.
Feeling anxious before you travel is entirely normal. Scratch that; anxiety is completely normal. It’s our body’s natural response to stress. Thankfully there are some things you can do to help you better manage your anxiety levels before you head to the airport.
Identify your triggers
Anxiety triggers are things that lead to an increase in your anxiety symptoms. These triggers could be specific to traveling – like planning for a trip or flying. They may also include outside factors like low blood sugar, caffeine, or stress.
Pay attention to what seems to be triggering you and then you can start to work through them with healthy coping mechanisms. This might be your sign to consider therapy with a psychologist or counselor to help you identify your triggers and start living a less anxiety-inducing life.
Plan for certain scenarios
Many times, it’s those pesky “what-if’s” that set us off. And while we can’t plan for all the worst-case scenarios in the book, you can plan for many of them. For instance, “What if I get lost?” Well, you can always keep an offline map on your phone or guidebook on hand to make sure you can find your way back even if you have no WiFi or mobile devices available.
Here are some of the more common ones:
By preparing for worst-case scenarios ahead of time, you’ll see that most problems have a solution, even when you’re not close to home.
Plan for responsibilities at home while you’re away
For some people, the thought of leaving home is what causes the most anxiety. Leaving the house, kids, or pets can cause extreme anxiety. But just like planning ahead for your trip, planning for whilst you’ll be away from home can help ease those concerns.
If you need to, hire a house sitter or ask a friend you trust to stay at your place to help look after the plants, pets, or any other affairs while you’re away. A good sitter will provide you with regular updates while you’re away so you can feel like everything’s in good hands while you’re gone.
Bring plenty of distractions
What’s your go-to activity that helps reduce your anxiety? For some people, video games and movies offer a visual distraction to pass time. While others find comfort in quieter activities like reading books or doing puzzles.
Whatever your distraction is, consider bringing it along for the ride. Enjoyable distractions can help keep negative thoughts and feeling at bay, giving you something positive to focus on instead.
Come back to your body
Anyone who suffers from anxiety can tell you that anxiety isn’t just in your head. And you can mitigate your anxiety by tending to your body:
While traveling, it’s also important to be thoughtful about food choices. The foods we put into our bodies can directly affect our ability to regulate out moods, including the amount of anxiety we feel. Be mindful of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake when trying to manage anxiety.
Actively relaxing is one of the most important ways to teach your brain to manage anxiety and reduce your stress levels. So even if you decide to pass on the distractions, try out some deep breathing exercises or close your eyes for a quick five-minute meditation to center yourself and your thoughts.
Research shows that mindful meditation can help to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. Breathe deeply, relax your muscles, and try to ground yourself.
If therapy, preplanning, and distractions are enough to help, medication is an option to explore – even if it’s not long-term. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are two types of medication that are commonly prescribed to people suffering from anxiety. Studies found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most effective for long-term anxiety treatment.
In the case of a panic attack while traveling, a benzodiazepine like lorazepam can provide short-term, immediate relief.
Find the positives in traveling
Traveling is a popular activity, and exploring new experiences, cultures, and cuisines is an incredible way to widen your worldview.
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Before your trip, it may be helpful to write down all the positive experiences you hope to get from traveling. Keep this list with you as you travel and refer to it during moments of anxiety.
Ultimately, vacations give you a chance to change your habits. Try to view this as an opportunity to reinvent yourself and simply enjoy the fact that you’re out of your day-to-day routines and away from everyday life.
If you have travel anxiety, you may find it difficult to participate in or enjoy traveling. Before a trip, mindful preparation can help reduce your negative thoughts on traveling.
During the trip, mindfulness, distractions, and even medication are all options you can explore to reduce your travel anxiety. Make sure you set your own pace and take each leg of the journey, and itinerary items as they come.
Efrat Sagi-Ofir is CEO & Founder of Air Doctor. Air Doctor is a startup that connects travelers to a global network of 20,000 local medical doctors through an easy-to-use app, to receive appropriate medical care from anywhere in the world.
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