We all know the mix of fear and excitement when visiting a new, unfamiliar place. But sometimes the stress of travel plans can lead to travel anxiety. Although it is not an officially diagnosed mental disorder, for some people, travel anxiety can become severe and can even prevent them from taking a well-deserved vacation or a promising business trip. .
Read some of the common triggers of travel anxiety and my tips for overcoming them.
What causes travel anxiety?
People can develop negative associations with travel from a variety of experiences. One study found that 65% of people who had been involved 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 travel anxiety. Just hearing about negative travel experiences, like plane crashes or foreign illnesses, can cause some people to experience a surge of anxiety. Of course, anxiety disorders can also be caused by biological risk factors – with some research indicating strong genetic links for the development of anxiety in young adults and beyond.
Feeling anxious before traveling is completely normal. Scratch that; anxiety is completely normal. It is our body’s natural response to stress. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help you better manage your anxiety levels before heading to the airport.
Identify your triggers
Anxiety triggers are things that cause your anxiety symptoms to increase. These triggers can be travel-specific, like planning a trip or getting on a plane. They can also include outside factors like low blood sugar, caffeine, or stress.
Pay attention to what seems to trigger you, and then you can begin to overcome them with healthy coping mechanisms. It could be your sign to consider therapy with a psychologist or counselor to help you identify your triggers and start living a less anxiety-provoking life.
Plan some scenarios
Often it’s those pesky “what ifs” that trigger us. And while we can’t plan for all the worst-case scenarios in the book, you can plan for many of them. For example, “What if I get lost?” Well, you can always keep an offline map on your phone or guidebook handy to make sure you can find your way back even if you don’t have WiFi or mobile devices available.
Here are some of the most common:
- What if I run out of money? I can always contact a relative or a friend. I can bring a credit card for emergencies.
- What if I get lost? I can keep a paper map or guidebook and my phone with me.
- What if I get sick during the trip? I can buy travel insurance before I leave or make sure my insurance will cover me.
By preparing for worst-case scenarios in advance, you’ll find that most problems have a solution, even when you’re not near home.
Plan your responsibilities at home while you’re away
For some people, the idea of leaving home is what causes the most anxiety. Leaving the house, children or pets can cause extreme anxiety. But just like planning ahead for your trip, planning while you’re away from home can help ease those worries.
If you need it, hire a house sitter or ask a trusted friend to stay with you to help take care of plants, pets, or any other business while you’re away. A good babysitter will provide you with regular updates while you’re away so you can feel like everything is in good hands while you’re away.
Bring lots of distractions
What is your favorite activity that helps reduce your anxiety? For some people, video games and movies provide a visual distraction to pass the time. While others find comfort in quieter activities like reading books or doing puzzles.
Whatever your distraction, remember to take it with you. Pleasant distractions can help keep negative thoughts and feelings away, 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 ease your anxiety by taking care of your body:
- The day before your trip, drink plenty of water and nourish your body. Anxiety can decrease your appetite, but the brain and body need fuel to fight anxiety.
- Make sure you have plenty of water to stay hydrated as thirst increases due to anxiety.
- When you’re at the gate or in your seat, do a 10-minute meditation with soothing music to help clear your thoughts.
- When you’re in your seat, making sure you have something to read or watch, or even just saying the alphabet backwards will give your brain something to focus on.
- Practice compassionate and encouraging self-talk. Tell yourself, “I can do this. I’m safe.”
When traveling, it is also important to think about food choices. The foods we put in our bodies can directly affect our ability to regulate our mood, including the amount of anxiety we feel. Be mindful of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake when trying to manage anxiety.
Active relaxation is one of the most important ways to teach your brain to deal with anxiety and reduce your stress levels. So even if you decide not to get distracted, try 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 significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety. Take a deep breath, relax your muscles and try to ground yourself.
If therapy, pre-planning, and distractions are enough to help, medication is an option worth exploring, even if it’s not long-term. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are two types of medications commonly prescribed to people with anxiety. Studies have shown that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective for the treatment of long-term anxiety.
In the case of a panic attack while traveling, a benzodiazepine such as lorazepam can provide immediate, short-term relief.
Find the positives while traveling
Traveling is a popular activity, and exploring new experiences, cultures, and cuisines is an amazing way to broaden your view of the world.
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Before your trip, it can be helpful to write down any positive experiences you hope to gain from your trip. Keep this list with you when you travel and refer to it during times of anxiety.
Ultimately, the holidays allow you to change your habits. Try to see this as an opportunity to reinvent yourself and just enjoy the fact that you are outside of your daily routines and away from everyday life.
If you suffer from travel anxiety, you may find it difficult to participate in or enjoy travel. Before a trip, mindful preparation can help reduce your negative thoughts about travel.
While traveling, mindfulness, distractions, and even medication are all options you can explore to reduce your travel anxiety. Be sure to set your own pace and follow each stage of the journey and the elements of the itinerary as you go.
Efrat Sagi-Ofir is CEO and Founder of Air Doctor. Air Doctor is a startup that connects travelers to a global network of 20,000 local doctors through an easy-to-use app, to receive appropriate medical care from anywhere in the world.
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