How to Deal With Pre-Travel Anxiety

How to Deal With Pre-Travel Anxiety

“You used to love the bumps,” my mom said some years ago while we flew through minor turbulence. Clinging to the armrest beside her, I couldn’t believe it. How could I have ever loved this? As I scanned the flight attendants’ faces for clues of a serious problem, the bumps eventually smoothed out, but I wouldn’t settle until landing.

Preparing for a flight was almost as agonizing. Every bad news story was a sign of impending doom. I’d end up stocking my carry-on with necessary items: something to read, a pair of warm socks, and Xanax. 

While the Xanax did help at the beginning, I’d always end up feeling foggy and deflated the next day. And I noticed every time I geared up for another flight, I’d feel even more terrified than I did on the last one. If I didn’t love seeing new places more than I hated getting there, I probably would’ve given up traveling. But I didn’t want that to be the case. I loved having adventures and I’d married a world traveler. We had hopes of raising our daughter to travel just as extensively. If I wanted to keep exploring the world, I knew I would have to figure out how to make traveling with anxiety more bearable. These are a few of the things I learned along the way. 

How to Calm Anxiety Before Travel 

Traveling with anxiety can be intense, but for many, the days leading up to the trip are worse. This is especially true for those who’ve been in accidents, those who already struggle with an anxiety disorder, or those who experience situational anxiety, which refers to anxiety provoked by specific situations. According to one study, 65 percent of people who had been in a major car accident developed travel anxiety.1 And if you already struggle with anxiety or a panic disorder, travel can trigger panic and anxiety symptoms. For many, pre-travel anxiety is related to what might go wrong, including minor mishaps like losing luggage or getting lost. Here are a few short-term and long-term recommendations to address anxiety before it emerges on your next trip:

Short-term tips: 

  • Give yourself time: Get on the road early so you have time to relax. Practice self-care in the days leading up to a trip, such as eating well and not skimping on sleep

  • Set reasonable expectations and be flexible: While it’s tempting to think long lines at security will ruin your trip, this thinking doesn’t leave room for adjustments and back-up plans like getting on another flight or taking a different route.

  • Stay positive: When you catch yourself ruminating about what might go wrong, remind yourself that you are capable of handling setbacks. This may also include identifying your triggers, so you know what to stay away from (like bad news before a trip). 

Some long-term tips to consider:

  • Take medication: A homeopathic remedy like Brillia may help by reducing the symptoms of anxiety before a trip if taken at least 2-3 weeks before travel. Unlike anti-anxiety medication like Xanax, Brillia does not require a prescription and there are no harmful side effects, but it does take time to build up in the system and when combined with healthier lifestyle choices. Brillia can also complement any current medication or supplements because it does not have any contraindications so you can add it to your regimen without worry. While it is possible to switch to Brillia from prescription drugs, it is recommended to discuss this with your doctor first.

  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Strengthen your mindfulness muscles regularly, so you can use them on your trip when anxiety bubbles to the surface. This may include yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. 

  • Ensure you have been getting adequate sleep well before traveling so tiredness does not contribute to your anxiety.2 Practicing good sleep hygiene like keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule and limiting screen use before bed has been linked to decreased levels of anxiety.

  • While your tablet or phone may help you stay entertained during a flight or road trip, be sure it doesn’t add to your anxiety. Excessive screen use may make anxiety worse in the long run.   

  • Follow a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Poor nutrition has been shown to exacerbate anxiety. 

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What to Do if You Are Traveling with Someone Who Has Anxiety 

Instead of asking the flight attendant to switch seats, have a conversation with your anxious companion to figure out how you might help. Maybe they want you to chat about the new show you’re watching or maybe they just want to hold your hand in silence. Practicing mindful breathing techniques together might also ease their worries. Liz Graham3, a licensed social worker and therapist at Tribeca Therapy in New York City, suggests preparing an anxiety first-aid kit together, which could include anything from soothing music to coloring books. 

Tips for Relieving Flight Anxiety 

In addition to giving myself enough time to get to the airport, practicing self-care, and avoiding the news, I’ve learned a number of techniques to combat flight jitters. These are especially helpful when dealing with those occasional bumps:

  • Eat before the flight and avoid caffeine: There’s nothing like low blood sugar and too much caffeine to fuel anxiety. While I tend to drink coffee every morning, I stick to water on flights and never fly on an empty stomach. 

  • Breathe: Mindful breathing is a powerful tool for anxious travelers. Try this: breathe in for three seconds, hold for three, release for three. If your mind starts to drift, gently bring it back to the breath.

  • Distract yourself: Load up your tablet or phone with engrossing entertainment. Chances are you’ll be so distracted, you won’t even notice the bumps.

  • Become knowledgeable: According to Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., ABPP, of the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center, familiarizing yourself with airplane noises and safety protocols can help quell anxiety.4 “Our anxiety is fed by 'what if?' catastrophic thoughts. Once you become knowledgeable, your 'what if' thoughts will be limited by the facts,” says Seif. 

Tips for Relieving Car Anxiety 

Feel anxious on the road? In addition to practicing mindful breathing, and not skipping your breakfast, you can also relieve car anxiety by doing the following: 

  • Focus on the present: Don’t focus on obstacles you may encounter on a long car journey. Remind yourself to focus only on the stretch of road you’re currently on. This will deter you from being swept away by what ifs.

  • Don’t drive when sleep-deprived: Poor sleep isn’t just linked to traffic accidents5, it’s also linked to anxiety.6 Be sure you’re well rested before you get behind the wheel so you can be a safe and relaxed driver.

  • Consider carpooling: Maybe your mind runs rampant with worry when you’re all alone in your car. Consider carpooling so you become absorbed in conversation instead of anxiety.

Traveling With Anxiety During COVID-19

COVID-19 has made traveling a more anxious activity for many people, even those who didn’t have travel anxiety in the past. After all, according to the CDC, the more you travel, the more you risk becoming exposed to the virus.7 While travel is strongly discouraged during lockdowns, for those who must travel, learning how to do so safely will help ease related anxiety. It is recommended to check with your local health department to weigh the risks of traveling in your area before booking a trip. If you do travel, mitigate the risks by taking all necessary precautions like wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer. If your destination requires a quarantine, prepare yourself by researching what the quarantine entails and what you’ll need to bring to be comfortable. 

While traveling with anxiety isn’t always easy, there are ways to make it more manageable. By planning ahead and equipping yourself with the right tools, there’s no journey you can’t handle. 

References: 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
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