Travelling with Anxiety


I’ve touched briefly on my generalized anxiety disorder in previous posts, but wanted to write a special one regarding travelling with anxiety as this is when I struggle with it the most.

Anxiety looks different for everyone. I have difficulty with regular tasks, but it’s fairly minor and I’m still highly functional. However, when I travel to new and unfamiliar environments my anxiety goes into hyper drive. This is frustrating as travel itself is already fairly stressful, and having panic attacks in the middle of the airport security line is awful. I have almost missed my flight in the past because I just couldn’t make it through the queue, and nearly every plane I’ve been on has involved some level of freak out in the cramped bathroom. Despite things being pretty under control at this time, I still could not keep myself from having a melt down 2 hours into a 12 hour flight to Shanghai.

Here is a list of things that I have found helpful to reduce my anxiety while travelling.

1. Be as organized as possible.

Know what your trip is going to look like! Use a site like booking.com to find a hotel that is close to where you want to be and that has a private bathroom if that’s what you need to feel comfortable. When I am having an anxiety attack all I want in the world is a private toilet haha.

Arrange transport from the airport to your hotel so you can seamlessly transfer without much confusion. Select your airplane seats ahead of time to be in the part of the plane that feels best for you. I prefer to be on an aisle (so I can get up without disturbing anyone or getting trapped) and as close to a washroom as possible. I also find it helpful to be near the flight attendants because being able to see them calm and comfortable really helps me.

When selecting a destination keep in mind what things will be like when you get there. Ho Chi Minh was really busy and was challenging for me. Maybe if you have social anxiety don’t go to somewhere that you will be surrounded by people and caught up in a serious hustle and bustle. I’ve always wanted to go to India but in looking at the street life I realized I may not be able to keep it together there, so that plan has been back-burnered until I feel like I am in a stronger place mentally.

2. Bring the comforts of home with you.

I always pre-load my iPad or phone with my favourite songs, movies and TV shows and have a big pair of noise cancelling headphones. Wear clothes you are comfortable in and bring a pillow or blanket to sleep in or cover yourself with if you need to hide.

Of course it is also extremely helpful if you have a travel companion that you trust and can be honest with about how you feel, and that can provide you with support when you feel unwell.

3. Embrace your anxiety, rather than fight it.

The most helpful thing I have discovered, hands down, is that to control my anxiety I have to accept  it. Acknowledge that I have anxiety and that I might freak out, and that it is ok to freak out.

Since I have started to be candid with other people about my anxiety I have felt a lot better about it. The worst is when I start feeling anxious over the possibility that I might feel anxious. I am afraid it will be embarrassing, people will judge me, that I will mess everything up or inconvenience the people I am travelling with. So before I even actually experience any anxiety, I feel anxiety about the fact that it might be coming, then suddenly it is happening and I can’t stop it.

Tell yourself it is ok to have a panic attack. You won’t die, you’ll just be uncomfortable for a bit, but likely in a way that is sort of familiar to you by now. When I get to the airport I have to tell myself it is ok to puke. I make a deal with myself that I can puke as much as I want after I get to the loading gate. There are washrooms everywhere in the airport and if you are open with people about being a terrible flyer I think it takes away some of the potential embarrassment. People understand! So allow yourself to feel terrible. I find that 90% of the time eliminating the need to “fight off” an anxiety attack helps me to relax and then the anxiety never really comes.

4. Bring some back up tools with you

So what happens if you do find yourself with that sinking feeling while you are trying to sleep mid-flight? I always make a quick trip to one of the bathrooms (and they are usually right there because I pre-book my seat!) and do some deep breathing exercises.

Download the mindfulness app Stop, Breathe and Think for your phone and listen to your favourite meditation with your headphones on. This app is great, I learned about it from a friend when I woke her in the middle of the night due to my anxiety in Los Angeles. She was all “There’s an app for that” and she was so right!

On my last flight I found myself repeating “My anxiety does not control me” into the mirror and thinking about how I was going to force myself to have these experiences because staying home out of fear my whole life is just not an option. If I have to feel terrible for the entire flight it’s still worth it in the end because I will have seen a new country, taken lots of pictures, spent some quality time with my partner.

Other back ups include speaking to your doctor about medications that would be appropriate to help calm you. I get Ativan for my anxiety but have never actually taken it in a true anxiety situation because in that moment I’m way too afraid of sudden allergic reactions, overdoses and other dramatic crap. I have honestly never been able to take one out in public, but sometimes having them and knowing that I could is enough to comfort me.

In the end it’s important to remember that you are not alone in living with anxiety. If part of the reason you feel anxious is because you fear the plane will crash, remind yourself you are statistically more likely to be killed by a goat or struck by lightning. If new places make you anxious, travel to as many new places as you can until the feeling wears off, or pick your destination based on what you feel comfortable with. If you have to start with a 1 hour flight and work your way up to 12 hours or more, then do that! Be kind to yourself. Your body doesn’t know that it’s not the right time to put you into fight, flight or freeze mode, it thinks it is preserving your life somehow. There is no shame in exploring medication options to help with chemical imbalance if you are unable to control your anxiety with deep breathing and mindfulness. There are lots of options out there and lots of people you can talk to about your anxiety. I hope this is helpful 💞

33 comments

  1. Great post with some really useful tips. I suffer from anxiety particularly when travelling (even on my daily commute) and have always found distraction to be the best technique. Closing my eyes and focusing on music or an audio book (I can’t read or watch tv) help or starting a conversation with someone (I often travel alone).

  2. Really great post! Thank you for opening up and sharing things that have worked for you. I know flying can be a major anxiety inducing period of time, but you are one strong cookie for embracing the challenge and figuring out what works for you! You get it girl!!

  3. Great post 🙂 Having anxiety does suck at times but I try not to allow it to swallow me up. My dr was wonderful and prescribed me some medication for the flight and for anytime when things might get to rough. I found that i only had to take it on the flights. I used the method of these people do not know me and I will probably never see them again. You are gorgeous in the photo xx

  4. Your last line -“I hope this is helpful.” Yes ! it is! It helps someone who loves you, to try to understand what is
    happening when you have an anxiety attack. That is very helpful for me.
    I think writing about your coping methods (all good!) confirms to me the really strong and resourceful person I know you are.

  5. I so relate to this post. I’ve had people suggest getting a small “therapy” dog, which are easy to get a doctors approval for. I really need it just to drive the car to the store! Wonderful helpful post!

  6. I found this such an interesting post! I’m planning to go traveling this year and am a bit worried about how I will cope with my anxiety. I will definitely keep these tips in mind x

  7. Thank you for posting this. I was just working today on planning a trip that’s coming up in a few months to visit people I know long distance from work, but I’ve never actually met face to face. They live in a city I’ve never visited. I’m a farm kid and I don’t handle cities exceptionally well anyway. I don’t love flying but I can convince myself that it’s a means to an end. I just hope I don’t make too big a fool of myself…

    • Thanks for reading! You’ll do great on your trip! Don’t worry about what others think, I’m convinced that like 50% of the people I see while travelling are also freaking out, we are all just so good at hiding it. 😊 Have fun in a new city 💞

  8. This was so helpful to read. So often, I forget that I’m not the only person in the world who struggles with anxiety and I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am to discover honest bloggers like you to help me remember this fact. I recently took my first solo trip on an airplane and, even though it was only a 45 minute flight, it was huge for me because I struggle tremendously with travel anxiety. I made it through though, and with that in mind, as well as these great tips you’ve provided, I look forward to traveling solo more often! Excellent post. I look forward to reading more from you!

    • I’m glad you found it helpful! I just skimmed your post about anxiety (I’m kind of driving, so I’ll read it more thoroughly later hahaha) and I had anxiety as a kid that went undiagnosed as well. It’s a hard thing to deal with, especially when you don’t know how to explain what your brain is doing and people just think you are sick with a bug. I really, really recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It’s a slim but super impactful book about Frankl’s experience during the holocaust and what lead him to the creation of logotherapy. The idea of embracing anxiety to take away its power came from that book. Such a life changer!

      • Gosh, I’m sorry you know what it’s like to have struggled with anxiety for such a long period of time. It truly is one of the most difficult things, but I am so thankful that people like you are brave enough to share their stories. Because of that, others are finding that same courage, and those who are lucky enough to not know what it’s like are finding ways to be more accepting and understanding.

        Thank you SO much for the book suggestion. I will absolutely pick up a copy. Please throw any other good reads you know of my way!

  9. I don’t go out a lot because of my anxiety. It makes life pretty hard even with meds. I don’t tell people about it because even my mom doesn’t get it: most people tell me to get over it. They don’t get it. I even emailed my mom a list of things that help to understand people with anxiety better, and she thought it was enabling behaviors. Ugh.
    So I take my anti-anxiety meds and my anti-depressant and try to function. But traveling is the worst. I have this irrational fear that I’ll get sick and be stuck somewhere.
    It makes no sense but I can’t work around it well.
    Good for you to be able to work with it while traveling! You are brave and strong!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s