So, I am no stranger to relocating and traveling. In fact, I love meeting new people, learning different culture and customs, and adapting to new ways of life. As well, I am no stranger to managing anxiety. My life path number is four and my soul surge number is two—so anxiety is in my charts (Hey, we can discuss numerology later).
Guess what? I am not alone in dealing with anxiety. According to the National Institutes of Health (2013), nearly 40 million (18.1%) people in the United States are affected by an anxiety-related disorders annually. Anxiety is an emotional response characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical response (e.g. such as elevated heart rate, poor concertation, or sweaty palms).
Anxiety can be triggered by major life events, such as relocating and/or traveling because there is a level stress associated with planning. Take me for example, I am setting out to travel the world and live abroad in various countries for the next few years. Yikes! I meant to say, Yay!! There is quite a bit of planning (i.e. decision to sell all possessions, working abroad, communication, etc.) to deal with such major life event as this. Of course, there are countless “What if..” situations I pondered. None, of which I can control the outcome. So, why not travel?
Here’s the thing…..you can cancel your trip and/or plans and it could minimize your anxiety. But, who wants to live with such constraints? Who desires to be controlled by fear? Not me, and I am sure, not you.
How to Journey Boundlessly with Anxiety: Pre-Travel Tips
Here’s a few tips on how to calm your mind, so that you can get yourself out into world!
Take It Back To Your Roots
Anxious thinking can sometimes distort the picture of what you once desired. It is important to remind yourself why you wanted to set out on this journey. This is the root of making your dreams a reality. Imagination isn’t just for kids; it works wonders for all of us. Visualize yourself on your trip visiting and doing all the things that you imagined when you first booked your trip. For example, I imagine myself on cobblestone road wearing harem pants and dancing freely to beats of live music. This visualization does it for me–instant happiness and reignites the desire to travel.
A Conversation with Your Future Self
Take a moment to imagine your life six months to a year, or ten years from now. If you cancelled your trip, what would you say to yourself? Would you say, “Why didn’t I just do it?” Living with regret of missed opportunities can have a lasting imprint. Last year, I felt so stifled because I had not taken the opportunity to live abroad like I dreamed of as young girl. After a major health scare earlier this year, it was the fear of not living my fullest potential that forced me to give my anxiety a swift kick and plan my trip.
Practice Good Mental Wellness: A Safety Plan
I’m not just a mental health practitioner, but a real person who deals with the challenges of anxiety. It is important that we take steps to ensure mental proper mental hygiene. This not only prepares us for travel but it also protects us as we travel away from our “safe haven”. Here are few ways to manage pre-travel anxiety (good for travel, too):
Monitor Your Thoughts
There are times when we are unaware what’s making us stressed or anxious. Jotting down your thoughts can help you figure out what the root of the problem. Once you’ve done that, you can work on challenging and changing your negative thoughts. I recommend to my clients to keep a journal or tablet to keep record of thoughts.
Challenge Your Thoughts
With anxiety, most times, your head is full of self-defeating, negative thoughts. Though these thoughts might feel true, remember that anxious thoughts distorts the reality of our experience in that moment. After you monitor your thoughts (by jotting down what you are thinking), it is time to challenge those thoughts by jotting down facts that support or refute each thought. You will likely be surprised by how many of your thoughts are dramatized, or irrational. Simply, substitute that negative or refuted thought for something that minimizes your anxiety.
As simple as that sounds, taking time to breathe has great benefits. When we become anxious, it shallows our breathing. Shallow breaths trigger the mind to feel like it’s in danger; it’s part of the fight-or-flight instinct of all living beings. So, breathing exercises are a way of telling our brains to chill out so that it can communicate with the rest of the body. Here’s an example of how to breathe properly to distress: Inhale for a count of “and-1, and-2, and-3”, then exhale for a count of “and-1, and-2, and-3”. Repeat until you feel calmer and have a little fun by adding relaxation music (YouTube has great videos of relaxation music) or visualizing something relaxing while you breathe.
Talk to a Professional
There are times that you may need support from a professional. A mental health practitioner (psychologist, professional counselor, or clinical social worker) can provide you with the tools you need to manage your anxiety more efficiently. Don’t have time to go into an office? No problem, there are professional counseling and therapy services that offer support online or by phone. Ask your therapist if they offer tele-therapy services, the flexibility is priceless. If you need a therapist on-the-go, I offer flexible packages to meet your needs (e.g. HIPPA-compliant therapeutic text message and video session packages.) Learn more here.
Take Control of Your Plan
Anxiety can increase when you feel things are out of your control such as “what if this happens?” thoughts. You can’t predict the details of future events, however, you can prepare as best as possible with developing a detailed plan.
Invest In Travel Insurance
Life happens. You eat great street food or indulge in home cooked meals in a Casa Particulares (AirBnB-like stays in Cuba) and now you have the worst case of travelers’ diarrhea or you are dancing down a cobblestone road and stomp your toe. Travel’s insurance can protect you from life’s expectancies. It can be used to protect for lost luggage as well. I use World Nomads for my travel needs. If you desire a piece of mind, then protect yourself.
Don’t want to carry a paper map? MAPS.ME is a phone app for android, Blackberry, and IOS users that provide you with maps across the world. It can be used offline (e.g. should you lose cell service) by downloaded the maps while you still have service.
“Thank you, driver”
I suggests researching transportation to areas in which you plan to travel. This can be done using a simple google search (e.g. “transportation in Guatemala”), which should bring you websites for companies. However, I encourage you to review a few blogs from travelers who have traveled to your destination, they will likely have a few helpful tips. This can also help your budget!
Pack Your Bags
Attempting to pack your bags the night before, is a recipe for a panic attack. Make a packing list several days before departure, so you can add anything missing. Bring along items that can be used, if start to feel a anxious (e.g. a book, playlist, mandala, fidget spinner, or anything small that is comforting to you). Search YouTube for ideas of how to pack according to the length of your trip (i.e. weekend trips, 7-days trips, 1-year abroad, etc.).