Traveling can be a rewarding and enriching experience, but it can also seem intimidating if you live with anxiety. The prospect of navigating unfamiliar situations and managing logistics can be stressful, and you might worry that you won’t be able to fully enjoy your trip as a result of your symptoms. How can you manage travel anxiety so that your journey is a success? While each person and travel scenario is different, there are a variety of techniques you can try that may help keep your travel-related anxieties in check so that they don’t hold you back from exploring new places.
For people who are already living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, the stress of traveling (or planning to travel) may be a trigger that causes their symptoms to worsen. After all, travel almost always means confronting unfamiliar scenarios while far from your usual routines and networks of support. Many different anxiety disorders have related traits that can exacerbate difficulties with travel, aka travel anxiety, including:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This condition is characterized by disproportionate levels of worry and anxiety about many different concerns. It could lead you to feel more stress than usual about the details of your travel arrangements or spark unreasonable fears about the things that might go wrong.
People with this disorder experience panic attacks along with potentially disruptive fears about how or where these attacks may manifest in the future. They might find it hard to stop worrying about what would happen if they had a panic attack while in an airport or in a place where they don’t speak the language.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety involves an intense fear of being watched, judged, humiliated, or rejected by other people. Since traveling virtually always means interacting with strangers and being around large groups, it can be a trigger for those with this disorder.
Someone with agoraphobia has an irrational and excessive fear of public spaces, unfamiliar surroundings, and/or open areas. It’s hard to avoid being in public when traveling, so this condition can make the process seem very intimidating or even impossible.
So how can you avoid letting anxiety ruin your travel experience? The following strategies could help you manage your travel anxiety symptoms so you can enjoy your time away.
Identify Your Triggers
Even if you feel anxious about the entire idea of the trip you’re planning, there are likely certain aspects of travel that are particularly stressful for you. Many people with anxiety disorders have specific triggers that tend to provoke their most severe travel anxiety symptoms. Recognizing these triggers and thinking ahead about how to cope with them can be helpful in managing your travel anxiety.
What parts of the journey are you most anxious about? Is it the thought of looking foolish because of cultural norms you don’t know? Do you worry a lot about something going wrong with your flight? Are you concerned you might have a panic attack and be unable to get help?
Journaling or otherwise writing down your thoughts and feelings about traveling could be an effective way to identify travel anxiety-related triggers. In addition to helping you figure out which elements of the journey are causing you the most stress, studies suggest that this process could help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in and of itself.
Create A Detailed Plan
You might be tempted to avoid thinking about what could go wrong during your travels, but this approach may only increase your fear related to travel anxiety. Instead, it could be best to confront the possible negative scenarios and create a plan for how to cope with them. For instance, if you’re worried about missing your connecting flight, you could research alternate travel arrangements and deliberately leave some wiggle room in your planned arrival time. This type of planning can help make the sources of your travel anxiety seem more manageable and avoid negative psychiatric consequences.
In addition to planning for mishaps, you may also want to create a detailed itinerary to help you organize your travels. Research indicates that proactive planning may help lower stress by reducing uncertainty. However, you may also want to remind yourself that it’s okay if some things don’t go according to plan and that you’ll be able to adapt if things change.
Pack For Self-Care
It can be easier to manage and overcome travel anxiety if you have some small sources of comfort to help bring you calm while you’re away. You may want to pack things that you can use to create little rituals of relaxation no matter where you are. Possible examples include:
- Scented sachets or sprays, since research suggests that some types of aromatherapy could help you feel calmer in the face of travel anxiety
- An eye mask to help you get quality sleep while you’re away, which can help keep anxiety under control
- Noise-canceling headphones to help you avoid overstimulation and find calm
- Books, crossword puzzles, handheld games, or other ways to keep your mind occupied
- Workout clothes, since a short workout or even a brisk walk may help decrease symptoms of anxiety
- A scalp massager to help reduce anxiety by releasing some physical tension
Plan And Budget For Relaxation
In addition to bringing items that can help you feel calm, it could be helpful to set aside some time and perhaps some money for self-care during your trip. Even if you’re traveling for work, it might be a good idea to plan for a bit of stress relief and even self-indulgence along the way. You could try to find time for a massage, take one night in a nice hotel room, plan time in your schedule to just sit in the park or walk on the beach, or sneak away from your colleagues to dine by yourself one evening.
Learn Some Anxiety Reduction Techniques
Exercises for mental and physical relaxation may help you reduce your symptoms of travel anxiety in the moment. Learning and practicing methods like these before your trip may help prepare you to better cope with any difficulties that could arise.
- Sensory grounding. Grounding techniques can redirect your attention to the world around you instead of your own anxiety, potentially preventing a panic attack. A common method is to take notice of concrete things you can perceive with each of your five senses. As a bonus, this can also help you take note of the novel sights and sounds of your travel destination.
- Meditation. Mindfulness meditation has shown considerable effectiveness in reducing anxiety symptoms in many people. You can practice it for 10–20 minutes per day from anywhere by sitting still, taking slow, deep breaths, and noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise without judging them or trying to control them.
- Earthing. Some studies suggest that being in contact with the ground may help lessen symptoms of anxiety, perhaps by conveying a sense of stability and comfort. This is known as “earthing”. You can try it for yourself by sitting, lying down, or planting your feet firmly and paying attention to the sensation of touching the ground.
- Expressive journaling. As we noted above, journaling may help with worry and anxiety. Writing about what’s making you anxious instead of bottling it up could provide a constructive outlet for your emotions to lessen their intensity. Plus, taking time to also record the positive and interesting things about your travels could help cement the happy memories for you to look back on later.
Connect With A Loved One
In the internet age, going to a new place doesn’t mean you can’t still lean on your support network. When your travel anxiety gets particularly strong, you may want to reach out to an understanding friend, partner, or family member to let them know what you’re feeling. You may not be able to talk with them over the phone right at that moment, but even writing out a text message or email may be comforting on its own, and you could check in via phone or video chat then or later if possible. A simple conversation with someone you trust could go a long way toward helping you feel less alone or worried in the face of travel anxiety.
Talk To A Therapist
Talk therapy can be an effective way to manage and treat anxiety, including travel anxiety. If you’re getting ready for a trip and are feeling anxious about it, reaching out to a therapist beforehand to discuss your worries could be a good way to mentally prepare for travel. If you connect with a therapist online, you may be able to continue your sessions during travel as well. The ability to talk with a mental health professional from anywhere you have an internet connection is one significant benefit of online therapy platforms.
Research into online therapy suggests that it may be able to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms, with various studies of its effectiveness having found no meaningful difference between attending therapy online or in person. This appears to be true for symptoms of a wide range of anxiety-related conditions, from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the anxiety you may be living with.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why Do I Get Anxiety Before Traveling?
There are many different reasons why you might feel anxious before traveling, also known as "travel anxiety". Your previous negative experiences could trigger anxiety symptoms. It could be a fear of flying, being in crowds, being in unfamiliar places and situations, worrying about your safety, or worrying about family or obligations back at home.
What Relieves Flight Anxiety?
If you experience flight anxiety, it may help to meet with a mental health professional to address your symptoms. You can also try to engage in various coping mechanisms to keep yourself calm, such as trying breathing techniques and grounding exercises, challenging distorted thoughts, and avoiding substances like caffeine that can intensify feelings of flight or travel anxiety.
How Can I Overcome Driving Anxiety?
If you experience driving anxiety or have physical symptoms of anxiety from a vehicle accident, it may help to meet with a mental health professional to address your symptoms. You can also plan your journeys during the day instead of at night, since nighttime driving can be more stressful for many people. Giving yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush may be helpful as well.
How Do You Relax When Traveling?
Making a conscious effort to relax while traveling can help you avoid or decrease feelings of travel anxiety. You can also focus on maintaining healthy routines as best you can, such as sleeping enough, eating well, and exercising. If you’re traveling with others in an unfamiliar place, taking time to yourself away from them may help you recharge and relax. You can also practice meditation, breathing exercises, or similar techniques to help yourself relax no matter where you are.
What Is The Best Sedative For Flying?
If you experience high anxiety or panic attacks during air travel, it’s usually recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional for help coping with symptoms.
Is Fear Of Flying A Mental Illness?
Aviophobia, or the fear of flying, is a common phobia. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders according to the DSM-5 and can generally be managed and/or treated with professional attention.
How Can I Relax When Flying?
If you experience flight or travel anxiety, it may help to meet with a mental health professional to address your symptoms. You can also try to engage in various coping mechanisms to keep yourself calm, such as trying breathing techniques and grounding exercises, challenging distorted thoughts, and avoiding substances like caffeine that can intensify feelings of anxiety.
What Helps Manage Anxiety?
There are various coping techniques you can try to manage anxiety, even if it's not related to travel anxiety. Some of these include practicing breathing or grounding exercises, journaling, making healthy lifestyle changes, and speaking with a therapist.
Is Driving Anxiety Common?
Driving anxiety is fairly common, especially in those who are new to driving and/or live in places that are difficult to navigate or have lots of traffic. The clinical fear of driving is called vehophobia or amaxophobia.
There’s no one medication that’s right for everyone who experiences symptoms of travel anxiety, and medication in general might not be the answer for each individual who is living with an anxiety disorder. To find out what type of long term anxiety treatment might be right for you, it’s typically recommended that you consult with a mental health professional for advice and guidance that pertains to your specific situation.
Can Traveling Relieve Stress?
Traveling can relieve stress in some people and increase it in others. It depends on the individual, the type of trip, and other circumstances.
Can You Be A Pilot If You Have Anxiety?
Since anxiety disorders are generally considered to be treatable, it is generally possible to pursue the career path of your choice even if you’re experiencing symptoms and/or have been diagnosed with one.
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