Traveling with Anxiety

I struggle with anxiety.

Flights make me anxious, changing up my routine stresses me out, and the unknown provokes a profound amount of worry for me.

You’re probably wondering why the hell someone like me would opt to take a trip like this.

The truth is- while I hate feeling anxious, I hate missing out on life’s greatest experiences more.  And travel, for me, is one of those great experiences.

The past few weeks have been incredibly fun, but my anxiety level has gone through the roof.  I’ve spent many waking hours in the middle of the night and early morning feeling my heart race and my palms get sweaty.  I’ve tossed and turned in the bed willing my mind to slow down and let my very tired body rest. 

It amazes me how much the mind affects the body.  Even now, sitting on a short flight I can conjure the same physical reaction if I play the highlight reel that’s been going through my mind:  What if we ARE insane for doing this?  Why are we spending SO MUCH MONEY on this when we could buy a house and be more fiscally responsible?  What was I thinking quitting my stable, good job back in Chicago?

These questions and the physical feelings that result from them feel so real.  Realer than any positive advice someone else may give me when reassuring me that what we’re doing is great and won’t in fact be a monumental mistake.

I’m producing these feelings, and they’re wholly mine, and like many other completely valid feelings, they were all too real and serious.  In the middle of the night, these feelings are the truth. 

So how do I deal with them?  

When I’m feeling like this- and lucky enough to recognize it as a pattern of anxiety- I try to talk to someone.  I find Nate and tell him that I’m freaking out.  I breathe deeply and repeat to myself, "You’re okay.  You’re exactly where you need to be right now."

The idea that you can talk to yourself as if you’re an outsider is a relatively new concept to me. It’s one I’ve adopted in the past few years after doing a lot of reading and researching about mindfulness.  

I've started to realize that, while all of our thoughts and feelings seem true and valid when they occur to us, we are capable of selecting thoughts.  I’m able to zoom out and see that a line of thinking may not be productive or related to reality.  

Our minds are built to see trends and create stories.  This trait has helped humans survive for many years, so it’s natural that we continue to gather pieces of information and look for patterns that tie together in one cohesive narrative.  It’s how I get from, “I’m scared to quit my job,” to, “I will never be able to get another job again and will have to be homeless or live in my parents’ basement.” 

When I say this final thought aloud, it sounds ridiculous.  Of course I’ll get another job eventually.  It may not be the moment we return to the U.S. and it may not be the exact job I want, but it will happen.  

The thing about anxiety is- it festers when you hide it.  The longer these worrisome thoughts stay secret in my head, the more real and terrifying they become.  

So for now, knowing that this trip will be amazing but also challenging for me, I'm focusing on a few things:

  • Listening for anxiety when it creeps up
  • Recognizing that I'm feeling anxious and sitting with those uncomfortable feelings
  • Reaching out to someone to get perspective
  • Working to calm myself down and find tools that work quickly for me 

Travel is fun but there's a real challenge to it as well, at least for me.  My goal for this blog is to accurately portray what a trip like this feels like- the good, bad and the ugly.

Thanks to so many of you who have listened, e-mailed and texted when I've freaked out, and for sharing your own stories of anxiety.  It helps to know I'm not the only one.