For someone who struggles with anxiety, few things are as bittersweet.
One one hand, I love experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a place for the very first time or revisiting old haunts and feeling the warmth of nostalgia flood in. I enjoy adopting a totally different schedule–or no schedule at all!–for a time and engaging in the late-night life chats that inevitably unfold with my travel companions. I appreciate the reminder that my hometown is just one tiny speck on the map and my lifestyle is just one possible way. I even get a kick out of packing my suitcase with non-perishable snacks and three-ounce toiletry bottles and feeling like I have everything I need in life in just one bag (er, maybe more like two or three). Simply walking into an airport sends my heart racing with excitement and possibility as I imagine where other travelers might be headed and ponder, yet again, how insanely awesome it is that we can wake up in one city, state, or country and fall asleep that night in another.
But–and there’s always a “but” when it comes to anxiety–the very elements of traveling that contribute to its novelty, excitement, and ability to impart perspective can also trigger huge amounts of worry and stress. The mere thought of plunging into unfamiliar and uncertain situations that are largely out of my control often tempts me to call the whole thing off, to generate a flimsy excuse as to why I can no longer go, and to retreat to the safety and comfort of my home, where adventure may not await but where at least I know what to expect.
As I’ve discussed in my recent 2-part series on strategies for managing anxiety, I’ve come a long way since this past January when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Things like getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, and practicing yoga have helped immensely in enabling me to feel healthy, balanced, and like my true, upbeat, goofy, passionate self again. But certain situations, especially those involving any type of travel, seem like an open invitation for those old, irrational thoughts to creep back in–a reality with which I was confronted this past weekend when I went to visit my younger sister just a few hours away.
Typically, I wouldn’t know spontaneity if it knocked on my door and delivered a pizza, so I was quite proud of myself for accepting her last-minute invite without hesitation. I was also truly excited to spend time with her and knew that it would be a low-key trip: the drive was easy, I would be staying for only one night, and I was visiting my sister, for Pete’s sake, so I should be able to just relax and be myself. As you can imagine, then, I was completely blindsided by the uneasiness I felt at various points before, during, and even after the trip. (Yes, after!) Don’t get me wrong, I still managed to have a great time overall, and I don’t regret the visit one single bit. But I was certainly reminded of how much stepping outside of my normal routine can shake me up, how much I obsess about and overanalyze things that should be fun and carefree, and how lonely it is to feel anxious while everyone else appears to be relaxed and enjoying themselves.
I plan to write more on the topic of travel anxiety, since it’s an obstacle I am truly committed to overcoming and would love to help others tackle as well. I took several longer trips this summer (including a two-week stay in Europe), so I have many thoughts on the matter! I want to make the posts as relevant and useful as possible, so I invite you to comment below (or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know which aspects of travel anxiety you’d like to hear more about!