Alicia Michelle
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Disclaimer: This article does not imply or establish a therapist-client relationship. This post should only be used as an educational and self-help tool for solo travelers who experience anxiety, seeking techniques to cope. Please do not use this article to self-diagnose. 

Wherever you go, realize you are there.

And if the person you are includes anxiety, then managing your well-being can be challenging if you love to explore the world.

However, traveling with anxiety doesn’t have to be scary. Besides anxiety is a common condition and highly treatable even on-the-go.

In particular, grounding techniques are one of the many effective treatment methods.

Understanding Anxiety

As an umbrella term for emotions related to fear, a little bit of anxiety can be good for you. In small doses, anxiety helps you avoid dangerous situations. It helps you prepare for unfamiliar experiences, such as when you travel to a new place.

Anxiety can become a clinical problem when it persists for an extended period of time (6+ months) and when it significantly impairs your ability to enjoy life. The characteristics of an anxiety disorder are described by Nick Wignall (a licensed Clinical Psychologist) as persistent feelings of dread, fixation on catastrophic future possibilities, and avoidance behaviors. There are well-known clinical anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety. 

As the most common mental illness in the US, anxiety disorders affect nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Since the COVID-19 pandemic’s advent, anxiety has taken on a new face with increased health-related fear being widely reported by researchers.

What is grounding techniques?

They are coping strategies designed to help pull you out from the clutches of intrusive memories, panic attacks, and emotional distress. Grounding techniques can be used for any condition in the anxiety family, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Health Anxiety (Hypochondria)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety
  • Major Depressive Disorder (Depression)

There are 3 types of grounding techniques:

  1. Physical. These techniques require physical movement. Physical techniques typically address anxiety’s physical symptoms.
  2. Mental. Grounding techniques that involve your mind. Mental techniques typically disrupt racing thoughts and intrusive memories.
  3. Soothing. Like a figurative security blanket, soothing grounding techniques address emotional distress and panic symptoms.

Want to learn more about solo travel? Check out this post on tips to gain confidence to travel solo

Ready to get started with conquering your anxiety? These methods will help you travel with anxiety so you can still have fun.  

1) Recite an Anchoring Phrase

If you feel a panic attack coming on, try reciting an anchoring phrase, or a series of words designed to keep you rooted in the present:

“My name is (your name). I’m (n) years old. I was born in (your hometown). Today is (today’s month, day, year), and I’m currently in (your location).”

Once you’ve got the anchoring phrase down to a science, try expanding it. Then recite what you look forward to the most during your travels, what you plan to eat, and how long you plan on staying in your current location. 

2) Walk it Off

Physical movement is your friend when it comes to managing anxiety, as it produces your body’s natural sleep-promoting, stress-busting chemicals called endorphinsA gym, however, is not required to reap physical movement’s benefits.

While planning your itinerary, ensure that it’s filled with at least a 30-minute walk per day. To keep track of time, use your cellphone as a stopwatch. To stay grounded while walking, pay close attention to:

  • The rhythm of your footsteps
  • The texture of the terrain beneath your feet
  • If you’re walking during sunrise or in the evening, observe how the light shifts

3) Laugh out loud

A great alternative to walking in the event of inclement weather or physical limitations, as laughter also produces endorphins.

Make yourself laugh by thinking of a funny joke or encounter you experienced during your trip. Watch your favorite comedic film or YouTube video. Try to aim for 10 minutes of laughter.

Have a good laugh reading this post on 10 travelers spill their first solo trip!

4) 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Known as the “relaxing breath” technique is effective against anxiety’s physical aspects. Specifically for heart palpitations, trembling, and sleepless nights. This is because deep breathing exercises regulate the fight-or-flight response when you’re feeling stressed. The technique massages your vagus nerve, the part of your body responsible for promoting calm and relaxed feelings.

To get started with 4-7-8 breathing method, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Then prop the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and perform the following steps:

  • Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds (the most important part)
  • Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds
  • Repeat the above pattern for 8 full breaths

Generally, to monitor this technique’s effectiveness you should try rating your anxiety levels on a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 as being severe anxiety) before and after completing the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

I love to perform this grounding technique at the end of the day to decompress from afternoons spent sightseeing Click To Tweet

5) 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique

Have you ever experience racing thoughts? You can calm your mind with this physical technique through the following steps:

  • Find 5 things you can see. Note any peculiarities in your environment. Do you see any distinctive buildings, people, or landscape features? 
  • Find 4 things you can feel. This can include your skin, your clothing, or surrounding furniture.
  • Find 3 things you can hear. What sounds surround you? Can you hear car horns, bird song, or distant conversation? 
  • Find 2 things you can smell. If wearing perfume, what are its notes? What do your surroundings smell like? 
  • Find 1 thing you can taste. Have you eaten or drank recently? What does the inside of your mouth taste like?

For best results, try pairing the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique with the 4-7-8 breathing method from above. Pay close attention to how your body feels as you do so.

6) Examine Nearby Items

This is another great technique for racing thoughts.

To perform this solution, take a few minutes to examine items around you. Focus on their qualities until your racing thoughts subside:

  • Clothing. What fabrics are your clothes made from? How does the fabric feel? What colors are you wearing?
  • Technology. Are your gadgets heavy or light? Shiny or matte? Metal, glass, or plastic?
  • Jewelry and accessories. How many beads are strung on your necklace? Do you have any positive memories associated with your jewelry?

7) Describe What’s Around You

I find this technique is most effective against social anxiety; try it at airports, train stations, and bus stops.

Grab a notebook and pen in-hand, take 15 minutes to describe your surroundings. Be as detailed as possible.

What do you hear, feel? How do your surroundings compare to your place of origin? How do they differ?

To clarify, when combined with the physical act of writing, you can divert your thought process away from future worries and toward the present reality.

Find out how you can minimize your travel anxiety with this beginner’s guide to planning your very first trip!

8) Listen to Music

Fill your downtime on the road with your favorite tunes.

In addition to reminding you of your place in the present, music also makes your brain release dopamine, your body’s pleasure chemical.

9) Visualize Someone You Love

A soothing grounding technique used in response to anxiety-induced emotional distress.

Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and visualize someone you love. This could be your family, friends, or romantic partner. Think of how you feel when you are hugged by them. Remember how their voice sounds. Would they have any comforting words to offer you? What would they say?

10) Repeat Self-Affirmations

Anxiety has a nasty habit of making you believe things are worse than they really are.

Use self-affirmations as a gentle push-back against spiraling thoughts and intrusive memories. By deliberately repeating them over and over until you feel calm again. Additionally, try experimenting with various positive phrases until you find 1 or 2 that resonate with you and your beliefs. Here are some examples:

  • “My thoughts cannot hurt me. My thoughts can be changed.”
  • “Anxiety might make me feel uncomfortable, but I’m in control of my mind and body.”
  • “I am more than my anxiety.”

Worried about contracting COVID-19? Use the following phrases:

  • “I have done everything in my power to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
  • “You will have a low chance of catching COVID-19 because I wash my hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.”
  • “I am safe, healthy, and strong.”
“You cannot control the pandemic at-large, but you can control how you respond to it.” Click To Tweet
  • “Sometimes I cough and sneeze. This is normal and does not mean I have the Coronavirus.”

In the face of panic attacks, try pairing these self-affirmations with deep breathing exercises:

  • “This too shall pass.”
  • “I’ve survived this before and I’ll survive this now.”
  • “You got this!”
  • “Just ride it out like a wave.”

When practiced over time, self-affirmations train you to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Practice makes perfect. The more you incorporate grounding techniques into your existing routine, the more natural they’ll feel, and the better you’ll become at managing your anxiety. Try practicing 1-2 grounding techniques every day, even when you’re not feeling anxious.
  • Focus on tangible senses. Grounding techniques are more effective when you focus on your 5 senses instead of your emotions.
  • Start early. Always start the aforementioned grounding exercises at the first sign of an anxious episode. Don’t wait until you’re already stressed!

When should you see a professional about anxiety?

As grounding techniques are a tried-and-true way to manage your anxiety, know that they are not a replacement for treatment in a therapist’s office. If your anxiety is severely affecting your mood, day-to-day activities, or relationships, consider enlisting a mental health professional’s help.

Which grounding technique will you use first? What do you think about grounding techniques? 

Are you interested in writing for Packs Light? Apply to become a contributor.

Learn how to manage anxiety as a solo traveler with grounding techniques. And make the best of your trips wherever you go!
Learn how to manage anxiety as a solo traveler with grounding techniques. And make the best of your trips wherever you go!

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