5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul

Remember when I discussed my love-hate relationship with traveling? Below is a story that I’ve wanted to share on the blog for a while but haven’t due to a fear of sounding spoiled or ungrateful for “complaining” about an incredible opportunity. But I finally decided that in order to truly illustrate how crippling anxiety can be–and how much it can lead someone to think and act in ways he or she isn’t proud of–I needed to share. I also hope this post will serve to remind me, as well as anyone else who suffers from anxiety, of why it’s so important to travel anyway, worries and all.

5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul | Anxiety can tempt us to remain in the comfort and familiarity of our homes forever, but sometimes traveling is exactly what we need to calm our minds and lift our spirits.

Imagine having the opportunity to enjoy a two-week summer vacation in Europe with your significant other.

Even better, imagine that airfare costs are already covered, and you’ll get to stay with relatives who can help you navigate the unfamiliar landscape and plan all sorts of fun activities. Sounds pretty peachy, right? I mean, who wouldn’t totally jump on this once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Well, apparently me.

More specifically, the anxious and depressed version of me that was presented with this exact opportunity last winter.

At that time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by school, work, and life in general that the thought of any additional commitment, let alone one of this length and intensity, was simply too much to bear. My mind was so ridden with anxiety that I could think only of what could go wrong, and my heart was so depleted of hope and enthusiasm that I no longer knew what it meant to enjoy or look forward to things.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, was totally jazzed for the opportunity–as anyone in a healthy state of mind would be–and (lovingly) begged me to say yes. Thankfully, in between lengthy periods of fear and dread, I experienced a few moments of clarity that enabled me to see how much the trip would mean to him and to our relatives abroad. So after weeks of painful deliberation, I agreed, albeit with great reluctance. And in the months leading up to our departure in May, I continued silently dreading the trip and wanting to bail approximately every 5 minutes.

Things finally started to turn around for me during the week before we left, when I attended my first therapy session and got a much-needed dose of perspective (as well as some helpful strategies for managing my anxiety while traveling). By that time, I had also completed my final semester of grad school and gotten a few nights of decent sleep under my belt, and as I’ve said before, adequate rest truly does wonders for my general outlook on life. As a result, I was able to board our first flight with significantly less apprehension.

To make a long story short, as you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, the trip ended up being fantastic in spite of all the worry and hype. I assumed that traveling would only further drain me, but instead, I found the two-week excursion to be completely reinvigorating. I’ve taken several smaller trips since then and have noticed similar effects, so I’m convinced that there’s something both energizing and healing about going somewhere new, even if the thought of doing so initially generates a lot of anxiety. Specifically, here are five ways that I believe my trip to Europe served to rejuvenate my mind, body, and soul when I needed it most:

  1. It provided a much-needed change of scenery. Although I had fantasized about spending my first few weeks of summer break lounging around and doing next to nothing, I’m not sure I would have been able to get the R&R I craved this way. I still had an ongoing research project to wrap up and a summer job to prepare for, so if I had remained within reach of my desk, laptop, and Bottomless Pit of Death and Despair e-mail inbox, chances are that I would have spent all of my time either working or feeling guilty about not working. By leaving everything behind and surrounding myself with brand-new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, I was finally able to break free of old habits and thought patterns that only served to heighten my anxiety or spiral me deeper into depression.
  2. It allowed me to lose track of time. In my day-to-day life, I tend to be pretty obsessed with plans and schedules and staying “on track.” When I travel, though, I typically pay far less attention to the clock, only checking the time when I need to make a flight, dinner reservation, or the like. In Europe, I went with the flow and slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and let activities and conversations last as long as necessary without feeling pressured to wrap up and move along to the next agenda item. And it. Was. Awesome.
  3. It enabled me to engage in many rewarding conversations. One of my favorite things about traveling with family members and friends is that spending extended amounts of time with these individuals naturally seems to spark awesome discussions. Long walks, relaxed meals, and late nights provide the opportunity to go beyond small talk and delve into the things that really matter. And being in a different city, state, or country always opens my eyes to new insights and observations about the world, providing the perfect springboard for a good heart-to-heart.
  4. It included plenty of rest, great food, and exercise. Vacations can definitely present an opportunity to skimp on sleep, eat a ton of junk food, and forgo exercise, but I think the most rejuvenating trips incorporate healthy habits in an organic way. On this trip, for example, we didn’t schedule any sort of daily workouts–but boy, did we end up walking a ton as we explored beaches, castles, markets, and more. We also didn’t adhere to any sort of diet plan, but in our efforts to enjoy the wide variety of foods we encountered, we ended up eating plenty of fresh, wholesome stuff along with the French pastries, Danish hot dogs, and other treats.
  5. It reminded me what I’m capable of. For some people–maybe even most people–going on an extended trip may not require much strength or bravery, but for me, it took a whole lot of both. So when all was said and done and I had accomplished the thing I had feared and dreaded for so long, I regained a bit of confidence that I could take on additional challenges in the future. And I regained a bit of hope that maybe anxiety and depression didn’t have to be my forever.

Your turn! Tell me, do you find traveling to be rejuvenating? Why or why not?

Advertisements

Managing Anxiety: 5 Strategies That Have Worked for Me

Managing Anxiety: 5 Strategies That Have Worked For Me | Strategies such as embracing the diagnosis and seeing a trusted therapist can help keep anxiety at bay.

This past January, I visited my doctor to discuss some disturbing symptoms I was experiencing, namely dizziness, chest pains, and a rapid heart rate at the most unexpected and inexplicable times (such as when I was driving, lying in bed, or sitting in church). I walked into her office terrified that at just 24 years old, I was already exhibiting signs of early-onset cardiovascular disease. I walked out with the knowledge that while my heart and blood vessels were functioning just fine, my brain was another story: I was experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) along with panic symptoms. (Later on I would learn that I demonstrated many symptoms of clinical depression as well.)

In the months since these discoveries, I have taken a number of steps in hopes of improving my mental (and subsequently physical) health. I still have a long way to go, and GAD may be something that I have to learn to cope with for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, I have found a number of strategies and lifestyle modifications to be helpful thus far, and today I’d like to share some of them with you.

Unfortunately, given the relatively high prevalence of anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and separation anxiety disorder), it seems quite likely that either you, dear reader, or someone you know and love suffers from one of these conditions. So while the following strategies may not be groundbreaking, I feel compelled to share, if for no other reason than to offer hope for the many others in similar situations. And although I am not a medical professional and am therefore in no position to diagnose or treat anyone else, I do have six years of public health education under my belt, so I intend to discuss the issues in an informed and responsible manner.

I have a total of 10 tips to share, but since I’m nothing if not verbose, I’ll keep this post at a manageable length by discussing only the first half. So without further ado, here are five strategies that have helped me manage my anxiety over the past seven months. And although I’m not focusing specifically on depression in this post, many of these same tactics have helped me tackle those symptoms as well.

  1. Embracing the diagnosis and admitting that I need help. Although the diagnostic labeling of mental health issues can be a controversial topic, for me, discovering that my experiences had a name was immensely helpful. It enabled me to research the disorder and better understand what was going on in my body and mind; it gave me an explanation for my irrational thoughts and actions other than “I’m ridiculous” or “I suck.” It provided me with the vocabulary I needed to communicate my situation to others and helped me to understand that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. And most of all, having a diagnosis forced me to finally acknowledge the gravity of my situation and motivated me to take action and reach out for help. I was no longer just “stressed about school”; I was truly miserable and functioning suboptimally in almost every area of my life, and I lacked the knowledge and resources to turn things around all by myself.
  2. Taking medication. I was initially a bit reluctant and ashamed to take the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that my doctor prescribed. The list of potential side effects made my current symptoms seem like a cakewalk, and since I’ve always been an advocate of making holistic lifestyles changes rather than relying solely on pills, I felt like a hypocrite for taking meds right away without at least attempting therapy first. (Therapy came later; see item #3.) But my desperation drove me to start taking the medication anyway and I’m so glad that I did. My panic symptoms (dizziness, chest pains, and racing heartbeat) have completely disappeared, and I haven’t experienced any noticeable side effects. We eventually upped my daily dose a bit and I’m happy with where we’re at right now. Yay for normal serotonin levels!

  3. Seeing a therapist with whom I really connect. Once I finished the semester and my schedule was more accommodating, I started making the 1-hour commute to visit a therapist who came highly recommended by several people I know. Although I wasn’t expecting to find a perfect fit on the first try, after just one session with Nicole, I completely understood why these individuals had spoken so highly of her. She was warm, funny, and an incredible listener, able to weave the various threads of my experiences together into a coherent picture for me to gaze and reflect upon. I laughed, I cried, and I discussed things I hadn’t even realized were bothering me, and the whole time I felt completely comfortable and respected, even when she pointed out that some of my thoughts or actions might be irrational or counterproductive. I’ve continued seeing her all summer and can’t believe the difference. Whereas my medication has helped alleviate my physical panic symptoms, therapy has helped tackle the thought patterns that send me into a spiral of anxiety in the first place.

  4. Talking and writing openly about my experiences. Initially, I wanted to share what I was going through with as few people as possible–my parents, my boyfriend, and maybe one or two friends. I was still processing it all myself and didn’t know how to go about discussing it with others. So for a while, I waited, avoiding the topic whenever possible and speaking vaguely of “appointments” and “medication” whenever I couldn’t get around it. And that’s totally okay! Eventually, though, I felt that I was ready to share–that in a way, I needed to share. My public health education had taught me many things, one of which was that mental health issues are incredibly common and yet all too often not diagnosed, treated, or even discussed. I had always lamented this reality and wanted to do something about it; here was a glaring opportunity. So I started by writing, and then, with some trepidation, by sharing that writing. Hitting “publish” on my first blog post was both terrifying and thrilling; I was finally being completely open and honest about my mental health, but what would people think? Would friends and family suddenly find me burdensome and unstable? Would colleagues be less likely to trust me with major tasks at work for fear that I might not be able to handle the pressure? Would everyone roll his or her eyes and tell me to get over myself? I was fortunate to receive an overwhelmingly positive response, but I see now that even if I hadn’t had such a warm reception, sharing my experiences was the right move for me. On a personal level, writing and talking about anxiety, depression, fear, perfection, vulnerability, mindfulness, identity, and more have been incredibly therapeutic, and on a professional level, I like knowing that in some small way, I’m helping to fight a stigma that causes so many people to suffer in silence.

  5. Being patient with myself. In some regards, I’m a very patient person; however, when it comes to my own personal development, I often expect myself to have it together at all times, to be good at things on the first try, and to flawlessly and immediately adapt to whatever life throws my way. When I started realizing that I would never expect this level of perfection from a family member or friend, I knew that it was time to start being kinder and more patient with myself. I’m going through a lot of life transitions right now, with graduation, moving, and the search for my first full-time job. It’s okay that it’s taking me more than a day, a week, or even a month to wrap my brain around it all. I also can’t expect managing my anxiety to be a perfectly linear process; there will still be plenty of days when I find myself overthinking the smallest of things, worrying about the unlikeliest of scenarios, or feeling tense and panicked for no discernible reason. I’m aiming for large-scale progress, not day-to-day perfection.

So there you have it! In the next installment, I plan to focus more on health behaviors such as sleep, exercise, and caffeine intake. In the meantime, if you have any advice of your own for managing anxiety (whether or not you have a diagnosed disorder), please feel free to leave a comment and enlighten us!

What Anxiety Feels Like (And Why I’m Done Letting It Stop Me)

What Anxiety Feels Like (And Why I'm Done Letting It Stop Me) | Anxiety is uncomfortable, but we can't let it keep us from telling our stories.

Today was an anxiety day.

My therapist, Nicole, would probably prompt me to describe my anxiety in terms of where I’m feeling it in my body, what it looks like, etc. She’d encourage me to “lean in” to the discomfort rather than turning and running away, to “talk” to the feeling and ask what it needs from me.

Although I always feel a bit silly playing this game, it’s surprisingly helpful. So I would respond that the anxiety is in my stomach–right alongside fear and sadness and all of my negative emotions, apparently. But unlike the sadness and the fear, which tend to take the form of big, bulky shapes in dark, foreboding colors (like slate gray or deep purple), the anxiety is a fluttery, feathery thing in pale blue. It’s like crepe paper blowing in the wind, except far less festive. The more I think about it and “lean in,” the more rapid the fluttering becomes, and the uneasiness in my stomach escalates from a simmer to a rapid boil. And I have no clue what it needs from me because I’m not even sure exactly what’s causing it.

Well, that’s not totally true. I could probably venture an educated guess: I just returned from a 2-week vacation only to be slammed with stress and conflict at work (doubly awful on a jet-lagging brain); I miss my long-distance boyfriend like crazy and don’t know when I’ll see him next; and, oh yeah, I just graduated with my master’s degree last month and have no idea what I’m doing with my life from now on. And quite honestly, I’m so tired and worn down from earning said degree that I’m not even feeling all that motivated to figure it out. Rather than job searching or soul searching, I’d rather search for the nearest pillow and take a nap.

So yeah, that’s probably some of why today was an anxiety day.

And although I keep feeling the urge to write about it all, I also keep hesitating to do so. Sometimes I push aside the urge to write in favor of doing “real” work, something that will make me feel productive when I cross it off my to-do list. Other times I push aside the urge because I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words, or at least words that sound good, and being the perfectionist that I am, good isn’t good enough. And sometimes I push aside the urge in favor of doing other things for other people and convincing myself that “me time” is overrated and narcissistic anyway.

But I want to stop making excuses. I want to stop worrying about writing something elegant and start focusing on writing something real. I want to stop acting like I’m superhuman and don’t need breaks and start allowing myself to be the vulnerable, limited, imperfect human being that I actually am. What I write may not always be pretty or make sense or result in a publishable post. But I’m tired of letting anxiety stop me, of letting it rob me of my happiness, my motivation, my creativity, and my joie de vivre. I’m tired of letting anxiety win. Quite frankly, I’m just tired.

So listen up, you fluttery, feathery, pale blue thing that has taken up residence in the pit of my stomach: Don’t get too comfortable. I’m telling my story, and you can’t stop me.