Tips for Traveling with Anxiety

I have serious wanderlust. I imagine a life filled with traveling, seeing the bright, beautiful, and wild things this big world of ours has to offer. I want to literally travel all over the world and see every inch of it. Unfortunately, this wanderlust is in major contradiction, even full out war I’d say, with my anxiety disorder. Kind of hard to travel to Europe when you have agoraphobic tendencies, and therefore difficulties even leaving your own house.

I’ve been fortunate enough to go on all-inclusive vacations to the Caribbean, I went to Italy for my honeymoon, and have even been to visit Israel, Barcelona, and several states in the US. Every single time I’ve left home, even if it’s a 2-hour drive away to visit Niagara Falls, I’ve been stressed. It’s a major adjustment period for me, each and every single trip I take, because it’s always just a little too far from home base.

Since adding a baby and parenting responsibilities into the mix, my stress levels with regards to traveling have compounded. Now I’ve got to not only consider myself, I’ve got to worry about packing a baby (holy shit they come with a lot of stuff) and taking care of him in a new place where everything is different. Change and break of schedule are not my friend – my kid doesn’t seem to like it either, although he’s WAY more adaptable than I am.

We’ll get to our destination and it’ll take me about 3-4 days to really adjust and get to some semblance of normalcy, where I’m not always wound up and stressing out about being away. This in turn only really leaves 2 days to actually enjoy my vacation before it’s the last day and once again time to stress about packing us up and getting to the airport on time. When all is said and done, a week vacation doesn’t really feel like a week vacation. My wanderlust simply results in this unbearable need to see this big beautiful world, and then stressing about the plans I’ve finally made to see said big and beautiful world.

Over the years I’ve found a few things that really help manage this stress while traveling – because let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m giving up seeing the world because of some stupid anxiety disorder (she said through clenched teeth and nervously shaking hands).

List like your life depends on it.

Much like anything that has to do with anxiety, and parenting – planning is the key. I make lists. Like we’re talking lists down to the number of underwear I’m packing for my husband, a note reminding me to take every kind of medication known to man and child, and let’s not forget the Que-tips and the dental floss (I and my husband can’t live without them, respectively, we both have issues OK).

If I’ve made a list a few days in advance then I’ve had time to slowly start completing that list, packing, checking things off, and buying the things that I’m missing. That takes some of the onus off of the planning, makes me feel more in control, and better prepared in general.

Get a little ‘lost’.

I try to take activities with me that’ll provide me with the opportunity to unwind and get lost. Lost as in out of my own head (in the relaxing sense, not the crazy sense). For me personally, this largely includes my E-reader and about 30 good reads. I’ll find some time while on the plane or on the trip to just read, even if it’s for 15 minutes at a time. It allows me to unwind, releasing all the muscles that I’ve been holding clenched from tension since before we’ve even boarded the plane.

During this time my husband will kindly take our kiddo for a swim or a walk, or for a nice stroll to hit on the bar tenders at the all-you-can-drink bar (toddler is doing the flirting, the husband is just the wing man – you should see my 2 year old’s success rate, he’s irresistible). These moments are so important for me, and I give my husband the same courteousy in kind, to suntan and do whatever it is he does while throwing that beach volleyball around. Balancing relaxation with parenting, or if you’re not a parent then just general activity, while on vacation is so crucial.

This applies even if you’re not on an all-inclusive beach. If you’re traipsing around Florence, Italy, running from site to site, take some time to just sit down, relax, enjoy the view. If running around and keeping busy is what helps you get outside of your own anxious thoughts, then by all means do that, but don’t forget to take some time to actually enjoy your surroundings. It’s easy to get lost in being lost – so much so we forget to take a second to stop and smell the roses (figurative or real, you get the point).

Get out and about.

Now whether we’re at an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean, or whether we’re traveling around Italy, leaving the hotel/apartment where we’re staying (which has now become new home base) is also difficult for me. I’ve now mentally claimed this as home – so the agoraphobic tendencies don’t just stay in my actual home, they come along in my suitcase and grip onto my temporary home as well. Before going on an outing, I make sure I’ve got my meds on me, some lozenges, water, a pair of headphones for music on car rides, and sometimes even something to fidget with helps (like a beaded bracelet).

Oddly enough, when it comes to outings like this – sometimes even doing them spur of the moment instead of planning them in advance is ideal for me. Kind of contradictory for someone who loves her schedule, I know, but this way there isn’t any preconceived intention of an outing, so there isn’t any pressure on me to go anywhere beforehand. There are no expectations that I could possibly be crushing by bailing last minute, and I haven’t had to sit and ruminate on the prospect of leaving my hotel/apartment for the past three days in dread and nervous anticipation of a planned outing. This way, if I wake up and feel up to the task, we grab our things (I’ve always got my bag of ‘stuff’ packed for the beach anyways, so it’s ready to go regardless) and head out on an adventure. It makes things more spontaneous and exciting, and I haven’t been stressing about it for hours and days beforehand.

Do what makes you happy.

Ultimately, traveling and vacationing is something you’re doing for yourself – or I am assuming you’re doing it for yourself if you’ve spent all that time and money planning a trip – that means you have to do what makes you happy and what you are comfortable doing. If today is a difficult day and you can’t seem to go on an excursion – then take the day to enjoy some of the activities or sites closer to where you’re staying. If you suddenly feel like you just can’t leave your room, don’t feel guilty about doing a little Netflix and chilling instead! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re ‘wasting a day of your vacation’, because if you’re comfortable and relaxed doing what YOU want to be doing, then it’s not a waste of a day.

I know how precarious an anxiety disorder is, and I know how detrimental it can be to your mental health and your progress to push yourself too hard too fast, but that being said, I encourage you to try to push your limits bit by bit. Even if you try to go outside of your comfort zone the smallest bit, its already a win because this world has so much to offer us, how will we ever see it, know it, or experience it if we do not go outside of what we already know and trust? So try to encourage yourself to do something brave, anything, no matter how small it may seem. Today it’s a little, tomorrow it’ll be a little bit more.

I hope to see much more of this world, and I’m certainly not going to let my fears get in the way of experiencing something wonderful. Neither should you.

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I'm not just a parent with an Anxiety Disorder, I'm a really damn good Mom. Or so I keep telling myself daily. Join me as I try to figure out what works on this wild ride of coping and parenting.

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