I distinctly remember walking into a beautiful temple in Ubud, Indonesia. One minute I was observing the delicate carvings of a wooden statue, the next I was struggling to breathe. My heart was racing, and I felt nauseated, dizzy, and very close to fainting.
At the time, I thought I was losing my mind, but I’ve since discovered I had experienced a panic attack. It was the first of many panic attacks I experienced on my travels. Then, I realised I wasn’t alone — 7.3 per cent of the world experiences anxiety. That’s a whopping one in 13 people!
Luckily, there are ways of managing it. Here are some techniques I use to deal with anxiety on the road, which you can use too!
1.Plan for your anxiety/panic attacks before you travel
Sometimes the fear of having a panic attack while travelling can actually trigger a panic attack! So, now I think of a plan of action to overcome it. For example, a few weeks before a trip I force thinking uncomfortable thoughts and then I implement breathing techniques. I take deep breaths through my nose, imagine it flowing through to my lungs, hold it for a second, and then breathe out for five seconds.
I also place an elastic band around my wrist and snap it against my skin to distract me. Speaking of distractions, I download upbeat music which gets me into a happy vibe and watch videos of my family that make me laugh to take my mind off my anxiety.
2.Plan, plan, plan!
One of the biggest sources of my anxiety is arriving at a new destination and not being able to arrive at my accommodation safely. It’s bizarre! I conjure irrational images of me getting kidnapped, or being forever lost in a foreign country. Even now as I write this, the thought of it makes me feel sweaty and panicked!
Anxiety is often triggered by the feeling of being out of control. So, the solution is to get in control. Start out by thoroughly researching your destination beforehand.
- Google map the distance between the airport and your accommodation. Try and find pictures of the airport arrivals and your accommodation.
- Plan your transport, the safest option, the cost, and how long it will take to get to your accommodation.
- Write a list of activities you want to see or do.
3. Get tech savvy and find your tribe
There are a number of websites and apps out there to help people suffering from anxiety.
The SOAR app helps you overcome a fear of flying and the Anxiety Free: iCan Hypnosis (iTunes) and Stop Panic & Anxiety Self-Help (Google Play) apps help you manage and overcome anxiety.
No More Panic, the Anxiety Social Net, and the Anxiety Support Group are great support groups you can integrate with so you won’t feel alone if and when you feel anxiety. You can post questions, read advice on how to overcome anxiety, and connect with others in these groups who face the same challenges.
4. Get comfortable
It’s important to bring items that make you feel more comfortable and at home to alleviate stress and unfamiliarity. I always carry my red neck pillow on my travels. I pack a little blanket that can be rolled up and tucked into my backpack (quite similar to the ones you receive on aeroplanes). These items help me sleep better every night on my travels and keep me warm and calm on plane, train, and bus journeys.
5. Understand your triggers and mitigate them
I realised after a series of panic attacks that one of my triggers was temples. Another one was the journey between an airport and my accommodation in a new destination. The triggers were irrational, but it was important for me to recognise and manage them accordingly.
Common triggers can be alcohol, crowded spaces, caffeine, and medication, just to name a few. You may not know all the triggers immediately, but you can create a list and minimise your exposure to the specific ones.
Anxiety can happen to even the most seasoned travellers but similar to any challenge in life — you have the choice to run away or learn how to overcome it. You may not learn how to handle it immediately, but that’s ok! Every step you take to overcome a challenge represents growth and self-progress.
Remember this beautiful Chinese proverb ‘The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.’
If you suffer from anxiety, then you, my friend, are a gem about to be polished!