One of my biggest passions is campaigning for mental health awareness. As someone who struggles with mental health issues, I know how important it is that we address and treat these conditions.
But the thing is, I travel. I’ve built a blog and a career from travelling, which means that I do still travel even when I am having mental health problems. This means that I am somewhat of a veteran when it comes to travelling with anxiety!
For some people, travelling is something that they would love to do but fear that they can’t because of anxiety. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can do it.
Of course, there are different degrees of anxiety, and I understand that some people feel very severe panic and terror at the thought of travelling. If this is you and therapy is accessible for you, I would recommend having some sessions before travelling, with the goal of your trip in mind.
But these travel anxiety tips should help most anxiety and panic sufferers when planning holidays, backpacking trips and more.
Seeing a Therapist While Travelling
If you are struggling, you can always access therapy on the road anywhere with a WiFi connection. There are lots of services offering this now, such BetterHelp – so don’t feel like you’re cut off from getting the help you need while travelling.
Social anxiety is a big one that many people, travelling or not, face. I’ve been so surprised to learn that many other people also suffer from social anxiety and are plagued by worries about fitting in and whether people in a group like them.
Personally, I have found that travel and always meeting new people helps my social anxiety.
But I am aware that some people get very extreme anxiety when in new groups of people, and may even feel panicky. My main advice to these people would be:
- Remember that anyone you’re talking to is just a person as well. They have insecurities and fears, just like you. They might even be having similar anxious thoughts to you right now!
- Remind yourself of your great qualities and gently tell yourself that if someone was to decide that they didn’t like you it’s more fool them.
- It’s ok to take yourself away from situations sometimes. It’s also ok to be completely unsocial when you want to be! I love meeting people, but I can also be very introverted and sometimes I just want to go and sit on my own, even when everyone around me is socialising. That’s totally normal.
- Drinking can be fun to do with new friends, but don’t just get drunk because you’re feeling uncomfortable in a group. That’ll only cause more anxiety.
I have suffered from extreme health anxiety, and while it has improved a lot, it’s still very much there and I have to really keep myself in check to not revert back to how I was.
Hypochondria gets a bad rep, mainly due to its perception in the media as being someone who wants to be ill. But let me tell you, nobody with real hypochondria wants to be ill – we’re all scared senseless of being ill. Health anxiety is a real, very disabling phobia.
The danger sensor of people who have health anxiety is in overdrive constantly, and they’re always fearing for their life. It’s exhausting.
But I do still manage to travel with health anxiety. It can be tough, but I’ve devised enough of a strategy now to be able to enjoy travelling and to deal with my health anxiety when it crops up. My advice is:
- If you’re travelling somewhere where you need them, do make sure that your jabs are up to date, and that you see the doctor before going away. Everyone should do this, and if you forget it will only cause you more anxiety.
- If you’re going away long term, also make sure that all of your routine tests are up-to-date. This again is common practice.
- It’s worth mentioning that for vaccinations and routine tests, it is more than possible to get these in other countries. Doctor standards vary across the globe, but you’ll find good healthcare on all continents. Don’t feel like just because you’re going away, it means that you won’t be able to access healthcare.
- Don’t be afraid of seeing the doctor abroad, but also don’t see a doctor compulsively. This just makes anxiety worse.
- Many people have vague symptoms that are normally nothing to worry about, but people with health anxiety cannot stop worrying about them. My general rule of thumb is if I think it could be health anxiety, it is.
When I woke up in Laos feeling like something was lodged in my throat and unable to stop producing saliva, I went to the doctor. When I couldn’t hear anything out of my left ear, I went to the doctor. (BTW – both of these situations were nothing serious and very easily resolved).
When I get vague aches and pains, feel a little dizzy or lethargic, or have slight belly cramps, I tell myself that I’ll see how I feel the next day and reassess the situation. Normally I’ve forgotten about it by then.
I’m not the best at flying, even though my rational mind knows I am perfectly safe. I especially melt down during take-off. But there are some great ways to manage flight anxiety, including:
- Think about why you are scared of flying. Working out exactly what scares you about flying should help you think about your phobia practically and essentially rationalize the fear.
- Remember the statistics – flying is the safest mode of transportation. The odds of being in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million. Put like that, flying suddenly doesn’t seem so scary.
- Distract yourself– if you get anxious on the plane, try not to dwell on the fears. Recognise them as worries, but try to put them in the big picture and remember those statistics we spoke about. Then try and distract yourself – with an in-flight movie, a book or by talking to your travel mates.
- Learn about how planes work – This YouTube video should help you begin to understand the science of planes.
General anxiety can come in many forms. You could fear heights, wildlife, being alone, being in a cramped space, and more. Sometimes, general anxiety can lead to panic attacks – which are never fun, especially when travelling.
My advice for general anxiety sufferers is:
- Be organized – at least at the start. It’s fun being spontaneous, but when you first start travelling it will help a lot to know exactly what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to read as much as possible on a destination and at least mentally plan things, even if you don’t book anything. You can normally change your plans, but it will help you a lot to have some sort of idea about what’s going on before you go out.
- Try and have some kind of routine – it’s comforting to know that no matter what happens, you’ll have your security of having a nice lunch each day or you’ll be able to watch the sunset. You’ll know that you have something stable to look forward to each day. Having a good sleep routine is great for anxiety levels.
- Remember it’s totally ok to have some time out – if it’s all getting too much, you can absolutely stay in and watch Netflix. You can even book yourself into a nice hotel, order room service and get a massage if that’s what you want – you don’t have to be doing stuff all the time.
- Talk to people, even if it’s not face to face – you meet some amazing people while travelling. You might find when you get chatting to them, you want to open up about your anxiety – and you’ll find that most people are very understanding and happy to talk. But even if you don’t want to chat to people face to face, there are so many support networks. If you’re a girl, try Girls Love Travel Facebook page for a group of supportive women who will be happy to talk about travel and anxiety.
Travel is hard, and traveling with anxiety can feel incredibly daunting. But it is always worth it – no matter what happens, you’ll learn so much about yourself on the way. It can seem absolutely terrifying – I’ve been there, I know – but if you want to travel, you don’t need to let anxiety hold you back. You can do it. I have faith in you.
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