As you know, Bart and I recently went to Quebec City for a quick 4 day getaway. Although I now love to travel, I used to be TERRIFIED of airplanes, and had to work through that anxiety by taking as many flights as I could afford in order to work through and face the anxiety head on. I am NOT good with change – it takes me MUCH longer than the average to adjust to it, which probably explains why although I love to be in other cities and travel around, why I didn’t do much travelling over the years compared to my friends. Although every ounce of my being wanted to travel all over Europe during and after university, I could not bring myself to do it, whether it be alone, with friends, or in a group of people. I forget just how anxious I get about change, until it is about to happen, or is already happening.
The morning of our flight, my anxiety began, and it came out with irritation and anger towards Bart. I settled down once we got to the airport – thankfully for both of our sakes. When we got to the hotel and checked in, my panic began to set in – we were in a new place, and I had none of my comforts around. I began to panic about the entire trip, and questioned why we were even there. Did I tell Bart any of this? Of course not! I have gotten SO USED to these thoughts that they are normal for me, and even if I recognized that they were abnormal thoughts, I doubt I would share them! After a day or so in Quebec City I was fine, but it does take my brain a while to adjust to a change like this.
SO, what do I do to handle this type of anxiety so that I can enjoy as much of the trip as possible? Here are my tips:
When making your travel plans, also put some effort in planning and preparing how you are going to deal with your symptoms. Anticipation of uneasy travel will often bring on more stress and anxiety about your upcoming trip. Be ready to face your panic attacks by having a plan of coping skills ready beforehand. For example, deep breathing techniques, visualization or meditation may be all you need to get through your fears. Practice relaxation techniques and other self-help strategies in the weeks before you travel and you may find your symptoms stay under control on your next trip. I train my brain into believing that every aspect of the trip is going to be fun and I have nothing to worry about. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!
When traveling, it is not uncommon to focus more on your symptoms. One way to manage your symptoms is to put your focus elsewhere. Instead of concentrating on the sensations in your body, try to bring your attention to other activities. For example, you can bring along a good book, favorite magazines or enjoyable games. I always have my kindle, a magazine, and my iPad on me for constant distractions!
Turn your negative thoughts around by diverting your attention to happier thoughts or visualize yourself in a serene scene. Use affirmations to center on more calming thoughts, such as repeating to yourself: “I am safe” or “These feelings will pass.” When the plane is taking off and landing, I always tell myself “you’re ok, the plane is safe, you aren’t going to die” – how sad is that?! Meanwhile, Bart is fast asleep and clueless next to me!!!
Another way to distract from any unpleasant physical sensations is to bring awareness to your breath. DEEP BREATHS will calm your ENTIRE body down.
Focusing on your breath can have a calming effect. For instance, start to bring attention to your breath by breathing slowly and purposefully. You can become even more focused by counting each of your breaths, counting on each refreshing inhalation and again on each deep exhalation. Once your breath has steadied, you can also relax your body. Intense feelings of panic and anxiety can bring tension and tightness throughout your body. To refocus and relieve these sensations, try doing some stretches, moving through a few yoga postures, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Bringing awareness to your body can allow you to counteract your somatic symptoms.
It can also be beneficial to focus on what you are looking forward to on your trip. Have an itinerary that will include activities you enjoy. If you’re traveling for business, see if you can schedule some time to check out a new restaurant, get a massage, or fit some exercise in at the hotel or outdoors. By concentrating on fun activities, your excitement for your trip may take over your worry about your symptoms.
Don’t Fight Your Panic Symptoms
If your symptoms become too overwhelming to distract yourself from, try to simply allow them to run their course. Panic attacks often heighten within a few minutes and then gradually taper off. If you resist your panic attacks, you may actually experience increased anxiety and panic-related fears, such as feeling that you are having a medical emergency, losing control of yourself, or going insane. If you have panic and anxiety while traveling, try to surrender to your symptoms, reminding yourself that they will soon pass. Consistently conceding to your symptoms may reduce your fears around them and strengthen your sense of control.
Go with a Travel Buddy
Many people with panic disorder have one or more loved ones that they feel comfortable and safe with. If possible, try to enlist a trusted friend or family member to travel with you. Make sure that your travel companion is aware of your fears and anxiety. Your loved one may be able to assist you in coping with your symptoms and boost your sense of security while traveling. For some, just having that person there is all that is needed to have a much more relaxing trip. I never travel alone, and if I do, it’s to visit a friend or family member. My last trips have been with Bart, my family, my mom, and to visit Chris in Japan. I brought the comforts of home with me I guess you could say!
I find that drinking chamomile tea, smelling lavender essential oil, or lemon balm also helps calm me down.
Living with a panic disorder can be challenging, but your diagnosis should not hold you back from having a fulfilling life. With practice and preparation, you may be able to travel without taking your panic and anxiety with you.
Hope these tips will help you on your next trip! We are headed to Japan for my brother’s wedding in October, so I will need to employ ALL of these during that time, especially since my body will be completely out of whack due to the 12 hour time difference!
Speaking of my older brother Chris, he is home for a couple weeks to visit! We haven’t done much this visit outside of just relaxing with the family, which has been awesome! Here are some photos from the last few days!