The holiday season is drawing near!
In the coming months, you may find yourself taking a trip to be closer to loved ones, or perhaps to spend a vacation away from home. Travelling can be met with excitement and new opportunities, but the uncertainty that is faced when stepping outside of one’s comfort zone has the potential to trigger anxious feelings. Whether it is an international flight or two-hour road trip, this type of travel anxiety is not new and has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep anxiety from holding you back, we hope we can provide tips on how to adequately prepare for the travel and to make the best out of your visit!
Symptoms of Travel Induced Anxiety
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Rapid heart rate, chest pain, or difficulty breathing
- Restlessness and agitation
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased concentration or difficulty focusing
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of dread or immense fear
Causes of travel induced anxiety
- Past experiences (one study shows 65% of people who had been in a major car accident developed travel anxiety)
- Hearing about negative travel experiences (plane crashes, foreign illnesses, being a victim of crime)
- Biological risk factors (some people are genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders)
Additional stressors might include:
- Worrying about finances and gift giving
- Sadness about breaking holiday traditions
- Fear of getting sick or making others sick
- Family conflict resulting from differences in risk comfort level
Ways to reduce your stress level while travelling
Getting into a good mindset
Remind yourself why you want to travel…is there someone you haven’t seen in a while that you miss dearly? Is there something you want to see that has been on your bucket list? Do you need a change or break from daily life? Once you have a reason, motivation increases to help meet your goal.
Practice relaxation techniques…calming your body can help alleviate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety as well as clear your mind. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises are proven to be effective strategies. See this comprehensive guide to learn what works for you.
Prioritize your health…your mental state largely depends on how you are treating your body. For instance, if you have been consuming caffeine, staying up late, or haven’t gotten much fresh air, that creates an environment for anxiety to fester and worsen. Before travelling, ensure you have eaten a nutritious meal, gotten a good night’s sleep, and participated in physical activity.
Anticipating mid-trip concerns
Identify potential triggers…this looks different for everyone, it could be booking a trip, boarding a plane, or packing a bag. Write them out so you can prepare a coping action should the anxiety arise. If you get nauseous during travel, make sure you have Gravol on hand, if you second guess yourself on whether you booked a hotel correctly, print off the confirmation so you have it for reference, etc.
Plan for the ‘what-ifs’…unexpected situations come up, but you can have a backup plan for those bumps in the road. Getting lost? Have a printed-out map/directions in the event of a GPS malfunction. Becoming sick? Check with your bank, work, insurance company before your trip to arrange travel health insurance. Accommodation cancellation? Have a list of nearby hotels/motels/hostels with their addresses and phone numbers you can call to secure your stay without further delay.
Bring distractions…’the devil makes work for idle hands’ or in other words, unoccupied minds can be susceptible to intrusive thoughts. Pack movies, books, puzzles, games, technological devices, music, pre-downloaded podcasts, Sudoku, anything that will keep you engaged during a stressful moment. It also helps to bring something comforting from home that will make you feel safe, connected, and grounded, like a token, scent, or photo of a loved one.
Consider buddying up…having someone by your side can offer peace of mind. You will have someone to talk to, help problem solve, and to enjoy the trip with. Bonus if the person is an experienced traveler! But it can also be beneficial to take someone along for the ride who doesn’t have the opportunity to get out much. An adventure and change of scenery can improve someone’s mental well-being.
Leave your worries at home…by making sure responsibilities are covered. Arrange for someone to check in on the house, feed the pets, or set up automated ‘out of office’ e-mail responses and bill payments. The less you will worry about regular obligations, the more space you will have to be present on your trip.
Embracing the experience
Relinquish what you can’t control…you’ve done some planning, weighed your options, made a decision, now it is time to go. Observe and explore new perspectives, ways of living, cultures, the natural environment, without any expectations. You will broaden your horizons and perhaps develop an interest in a new area.
Find community…being prepared and open minded does not always block anxiety entirely. It is important to establish a support system for when challenges occur so you can vent, express your fears, and exchange advice. A network could look like an online support group, a psychotherapist, or a trusted friend.
Allow time to decompress…upon returning, give yourself some space for transitioning back into your routine. Take an extra day of work, don’t make any plans, and stay offline so you can unpack, grocery shop, catch up on sleep, whatever you need to do to settle in and get organized.
WHAT tips work for you?
“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.” – Hilaire Belloc