There is so much to look forward to when traveling: new experiences, visiting with loved ones, space for relaxing. Yet, for many of us traveling is a bit of a headache. Luckily, there are various ways we can manage travel stress and anxiety, which can provide relief and a greater sense of relaxation. Below are five ways you can manage your travel anxiety to truly take advantage of your upcoming travel plans!
Consider what is at the heart of your travel anxiety. Identify themes in your anxious thoughts. What is the story you are telling yourself that fuels your anxiety symptoms?
By identifying what is at the core of our anxiety, we can address our worries more efficiently. This question may not be easy to answer at first, but with some reflection, we can often discern themes within our anxious thoughts and the worst-case scenarios our mind creates.
Possible Themes within Anxiety include:
-Uncertainty/Feeling Out of Control: We are out of our element when we travel. Our routines are disrupted and our support may be out of reach. Simultaneously, we can feel uneasy about leaving our homes unattended. We can be confronted with uncertainty and fears of being out of control.
-Safety: Again, we can feel that we are venturing into the unknown when traveling and worries of being harmed, stranded, or trapped can surface. For some people the safety concerns may be financial or relational and for others it may be related to statistically rare events (e.g. plane crashes).
-Responsibility: We can feel responsible for the trip being fun for everyone. We can put pressure on ourselves to anticipate the needs of others and to derive solutions for any complaint or inconvenience. This is an unrealistic and unnecessary expectation for the self.
Regardless of which theme(s) are prominent, a helpful approach to address our concerns is one that balances logistical planning and radical acceptance. For example, we can plan to ask a friend to check on our home periodically while we are away or we can install a camera that notifies us of anything suspicious. Simultaneously, we can accept the reality that we cannot plan for everything and uncertainty exists. Yet, we can ground into the idea that, whatever comes up, we will take the steps needed to handle whatever problem arises.
It is a common trap to overbook a trip to the point of exhaustion. We can end up rushing around and focusing on the next activity versus what we are doing right now. I am someone who used to prefer to have everything planned out…and after every trip, I returned home feeling drained instead of rejuvenated. One way I balance my preference for predictability with the emotional benefits of spontaneity is by making a Google map where I log several options for restaurants, activities, nature excursions, and other points of interest. In coordination with others, I make reservations for one meal per day and for a couple of activities. Within this schedule, there are various gaps that provide flexibility. This way, if the group needs a nap, there is space. If the group flows into an unexpected activity there is space. And, at the same time, I can rest easy knowing there are dinner reservations at 6:00 to provide the predictability that I need to relax and enjoy myself.
You may have your own style of balancing flexibility with structure. Some of us need to be more intentional in balancing these factors, while others balance this intuitively. Reflect and discern whether your anxiety may be due to lacking structure or too much of it.
For many of us, traveling is a time when we give ourselves permission to freely indulge. While delicious and stimulating, we often neglect the maintenance of our body’s physical needs. Sleeping enough, staying hydrated, and eating nutritious food are all helpful in managing poor mood and anxiety. Consider setting phone reminders to drink water, ordering a side of vegetables with some meals, and including an afternoon nap on a busy day. Small efforts to nourish the body can go a long way.
If you have sensory sensitivities, also consider in what ways you can recharge or make yourself more comfortable. Ensuring you have a hat or sunglasses to shade from brightness, wearing clothes you know are comfortable for you, and taking breaks when feeling overwhelmed are all ways to care for sensory needs.
Coping Strategies are as necessary as a toothbrush when traveling. Luckily many coping skills are portable and easy to use undetected. Taking deep breaths, repeating a grounding statement, and talking through your stress out loud can all be helpful.
One visual coping strategy that can be helpful is imagining a shelf in your mind. When worries come up, you evaluate whether the concern needs your attention at that moment. If so, problem-solve and sort it out. If it does not, put the concern “on the shelf” and come back to it when you return home. Alternatively, you can make a list on your phone of the concerns you need to revisit when you return home. What’s interesting, is many of the concerns will likely feel irrelevant days later.
One of my favorite coping strategies, especially when traveling, is grounding through the senses. Take a deep breath and smell your surroundings, feel the sun on your face, and listen to the sounds around you. The problem in your mind is likely not here right now. It can wait on the shelf while you enjoy your travels.
When anxiety, stress, or other emotional pain shows up, it can be helpful to explore whether something deeper is going on. Is there a reason that you do not want to go on your trip? Perhaps a reason you do not wish to acknowledge? Is there anything you are denying? Denial and avoidance distort the original source of stress. The stress then attaches itself to something trivial, such as which pair of socks to pack. Examples of deeper sources of stress/anxiety include spending money beyond our means and ignoring the impact, resentment in relationships, patterns of self-sacrifice that leave us feeling unfulfilled, a need for rest versus adventure, and feeling undeserving of the trip.
There may not be anything deeper going on, of course. Still, it may be helpful to explore the possibility.
We all deserve opportunities to recharge and replenish. I hope these tips create more space for you to enjoy your upcoming travels!