Anxiety and Pre-Travel: How to Manage the Madness

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?

Selling The Bedroom Furniture
“Let Go” buyer coming to haul bedroom furniture away. #NoTurningBack

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
adult book business cactus
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

Breathe

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.

Map It

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.).

 

Bon Voyage!

Resting Warrior Face

Well, you have probably heard of the expression, “Resting B*tch Face”.  No?! Well, it is a phrase that describes a facial expression to warn others to stay clear of one’s path.  So, maybe that’s not you, or not even,  a person that you know.  But, what about that person who maintains a face of calmness, or happiness when things are falling apart.  I am not speaking of losing a favorite jacket at the movies or having a flat tire during rush hour in 100° weather; but rather, serious life events that can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional well-being.  Usually, these people are praised for their strength and resiliency.  Sometimes they are highly regarded in their social circles for their perceived strength.  These people maintain what I call , “Resting Warrior Face”.  It is their armor.

Armor, or armour [ahr-mer] is a protective covering that is used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an individual, usually during combat, or any covering worn as a defense against weapons.

 

Armor is not bad because, after all,  it is the mediating factor in maintaining our safety.  But, think of a person who has been shot while wearing a bulletproof vest.  We know from research and testimonials that these individuals survive, but they still sustain bruising and sometimes, minor injuries.   People utilizing Resting Warrior Face sustain emotional injury, but the armor that is observed by others is usually more than a barrier to harm; it is a mask.  This mask hides our vulnerabilities.  As mentioned in my earlier posts discussing thinking errors, sometimes these vulnerabilities are reinforced by irrational thoughts.  For example, “People will not respect me if they see me cry”, “I am weak if I say that I feel sad”, “I will look weak if I say that I feel lost”, etc.  When we adopt wearing masks, we hid our authenticity and place ourselves at greater risk for poor mental health.

Resting Warrior Face Pitfalls

Imagine the person who was shot wearing the bulletproof vest; they sustained bruises and injuries which they are attempting to conceal, so they smile through the pain. Maybe they conceal the injury because they do not want others to “worry”. The truth is, there could be countless reasons in which they have rationalized wearing the mask, usually, due to thinking errors.  Even with the hardest of smiling, it cannot stop the pain without caring for the wounds.  As the pain intensifies, the stress leads to mental health issues which they may seek unhealthy ways to manage the pain. The same can be said about individuals with Resting Warrior Face(mask), the wounds must be tended to for proper healing.  The following are risks of adopting a Resting Warrior face without tending to the impact of the emotional injury:

  • Prolonged Stress  can seriously comprise our health leading to digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain,  memory and concentration impairment.
  • Mental Health Issues can be distressing. There is a higher risk of developing depression including the risk of suicide or homicide, anxiety, and substance use.
Avoiding Pitfalls of the Resting Warrior Face

It can be challenging to be vulnerable.  Societal pressure makes it extremely difficult for people to admit they need help. This can be true for men, women, and even, children.  For men, this notion tends to place value on being in control, tough, and independent.  As for women, this notion tends to place value on being excellent at balancing parenthood and marriage and taking responsibility for  victimization.  For children, there are gender roles that can cause a disruption in their emotional growth when they feel that they have not ascribed to them successfully. So, you want to look as cool as a cucumber or as tough as a warrior?  Here are a few tips for you and loved ones:

The Warrior

Warrior Lady 3

 

Indeed, you are a warrior! But, when you are wounded  you must take time to:

  • Recognize that your feelings are part of the impact of the occurrence and vulnerability.  Feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, or fear does not reflect the reality of your situation.
  • Understand that what you have experienced is not a sign of weakness.
  • By all means, don’t be afraid to cry.  It is okay to remove the mask, and say to the people around you, “I am deeply hurting right now”.  It is a healing process.
  • Talk about the situation with someone you trust.
  • Avoid the temptation to keep your mask on and isolate yourself from the people you love and who love you.
  • Seek help from a mental health professional,  employee assistance program (EAP) at work, or a counselor at your school.
  • If you feel like hurting yourself and/or hurting someone at any time and no one is around to help you, call 9-1-1 or the 24-hour national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

The Warrior Tribe

tribe

Let it be known that we are all connected, and this is, especially, true for those with whom we hold a close relationship with. As warriors, we count on our tribe (family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc.) to help guide us when we are immobile due to injury. Here’s how:

  • Acknowledge that you are aware of the warrior’s situation (e.g. “Tammy, I imagine this is a tough time for you.  I’m sorry that this has happened).  Offer to listen when they need someone to talk to (e.g. “If you want to vent, I am here to listen”).  Make sure that you listen and not add too much of your emotional commentary.
  • Remind them to eat well, go to sleep at regular hours, and get out of the house for some exercise.
  • Offer to go for a walk, go to a movie, or just to stop by and spend some time with them.
  • Acknowledge that you aware of situation and how difficult a situation may be to deal with.  If the warrior has a history or currently using  alcohol and/or drugs, offer to assist them in getting professional help or offer to go to a support group with them.
  • If the warrior has a history of depression and/or suicidal behavior, ask if them if they are having suicidal thoughts.  This is likely the hardest conversation to have because,  often people feel that mention of suicide will prompt a person to act. But, it can actually save the person’s life because you may be the one person who has shown interest in their distress.  Remember, we all want to know that somebody cares for us. If having this conversation is too distressful for you, advice the warrior to call 9-1-1 or the 24-hour national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Warriors are on a journey, and along the way may be wounded. Treat the wound and keep traveling. Let your Resting Warrior Face be reflective of your strength, resiliency, and perseverance to heal your wounds.

 

Navigating past the roadblocks along your journey can be quite challenging and sometimes, you might need professional support. If you desire help to navigate past a road block on your journey, schedule a personal session with me today.