Even for the most level headed person, travel is a stressful affair. Your schedule, what you can bring with you, and where you are going is often out of your hands. Have a flight to San Antonio but you got routed to Tulsa? Yep, that happens. This loss of control is a key reason why many anxiety sufferers are so hesitant to travel. People suffering from grief or PTSD also experience similar travel resistance as they are pulled from the safe comfort of home. The use of pharmacological agents for travel anxiety management is commonplace, but unnecessary. Here are five effective ways to minimize your travel anxiety symptoms.
1) Pack and Plan Well in Advance
Anxiety is triggered by feelings of unpreparedness. Avoid this by reviewing your itinerary, or planning an itinerary to determine the most important factors (i.e. transportation and lodging.) For each day, make a list for and write out what you will need for any planned activities. As you pack, check off items on your list to make sure that you don’t forget anything. If you’re still feeling unsure and have enough time, unpack and repack. This is not to make the process obsessive, but to quiet any fixations that may arrive when you begin your journey. For trips longer than a week, begin the process three weeks before your departure. For trips less than a week, seven days should give you ample time to prepare.
2) Bring your Comfort Items in Your Carry-On Luggage
Even though you will be on the go, it’s settling to have all of your necessities with you. Planes and transportation hubs are known to be loud, crowded, and frenetic places. Think about your calming or nighttime rituals at home. Do you wear a sleep mask or fuzzy socks to bed? Mimicking your home routine is the most effective way to provide comfort while traveling. Earplugs or noise canceling headphones are a must since noise sensitivity is a common side effect of people with anxiety or brain injuries. Healthy snacks are also a necessity as between 80%-90% of your serotonin levels are regulated by your gastrointestinal tract. This means your best shot at regulating your mood is to make sure you eat well and drink plenty of fluids.
3) Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Although they are legal in most of the world, in various cultures, both caffeine and alcohol are considered drugs. Caffeine exacerbates anxiety and alcohol can depress your mood. Avoid them both. Caffeine jitters are unnerving and “beer tears” can quickly spiral out of control. Stick with water, real fruit juice, or herbal teas.
4) Notify an Accountability Partner
One of the interesting facts of travel anxiety is that it is a form of agoraphobia. Even for people who have never struggled with travel in the past, stress, grief, or a traumatic event can completely upend independence. There is a perceived fear that something will happen at home while you are gone: a fire, a robbery, a death of a pet. To manage these fears, speak with someone you trust and who is aware of your anxiety. Provide him or her with an itinerary of your trip and a set of keys just in case. If you are plagued by the feeling that you left an iron plugged in or that your pipes might burst, it is not abusing a relationship to ask your trusted friend to check for you. Keep in mind, it is only appropriate to ask someone to check on a pet-free home once while you are gone.
5) Prepare Various Coping Techniques
Consider what happens when anxiety comes upon you when you are at home. If you are stuck on a plane and can’t go for a walk, remember the other tools in your arsenal.
- Take deep breaths, making sure to exhale at half the rate of your inhale. If you are breathing in for four counts, hold your breath for two, and then release over eight counts.
- If you use calming points, apply pressure for 30 seconds on one of these spots. The center point right above the bridge of your nose and the point where your middle finger meets your palm are acupressure points used to promote grounding and awareness in uncomfortable situations.
- Packing lavender scented lotion or Bach Rescue Remedy may also be used to self soothe.
- Finally, downloading podcasts or listening to an audiobook is a great distraction away from your anxiety and toward something else. Depending on your ability to focus, try podcasts that aren’t too complex and of various lengths. The Memory Palace, WTF with Mark Maron, and Anxiety Slayer are diverse options worth checking out.
Preparedness, routine, and self-care are the foundations in handling travel anxiety. Commit to these processes and no doubt you will notice a change in your demeanor. With continued practice, these steps will empower you as you explore the wonderfully diverse world and its cultures.