- 7 Strategies to Help You Cope With Your Anxiety While Traveling - September 4, 2020
You’ve planned perfectly. You will get to the next city wearing your last set of clean-ish clothes. You have spoken to your host for the evening and are planning to meet them in a café downtown. You’ve just left your previous stop in good spirits, paid your transport fare, and are settling in for the four-hour drive.
That’s when it all goes wrong. The bus you’re supposed to take has been idling in the station for two hours. Your fellow passengers are urging you to wait.
“Just a few more minutes,” they say. But it’s already 3 pm. You won’t get in until 7 at the earliest – into a neighborhood you don’t know, to a bus station on the outskirts of town. Another hour passes, and you realize you aren’t going to make it before dark.
How did you make this mistake?
I’m describing a situation that occurred traveling from The Gambia to Dakar, Senegal a few years ago. It was one of my first major solo trips and had been amazing up until this point. I’ve always had issues with anxiety but had been feeling clear and confident for the whole month-long trip – until now.
If you also deal with frequent anxiety, this situation might seem incredibly scary, and it was. I was stuck in an unknown place with total strangers, with no way of retreating to a comfortable area. How could I regain control?
1. Take deep breaths and think positive
I knew I was going to be getting in late, so recognizing that and making a new plan could have helped me calm down while I still had some control over my thoughts.
2. Eat a snack
I always try to carry a chocolate bar with me. First of all, you get to learn about the local sweet treats. Eating something, especially something familiar, can help distract you from the stressful situation and calm down.
Focus on eating the food slowly, one bite at a time. Chew completely and swallow. Consciously going through these motions can give you something to focus on and bring you back to the situation at hand.
3. Contact someone
If you have cell service, try to call a friend or family member. You can also ask a local if you can borrow their phone. Sometimes discussing the situation with familiar people can help you find a solution.
This is how I was able to snap out of my panic spiral and start thinking logically again.
4. Assess the situation
Hopefully by this time you’ve started to regain control and can deal with the situation at hand. The best way to do this is to talk to the locals. This was my biggest mistake – I was in a packed share-taxi with people who knew the region well – any one of them could easily have helped me get to my host from the station, even if we arrived after dark.
People can sense that something is wrong anyway, so asking for help will put them at ease as well. If there are no other people around or you don’t trust asking a stranger, try to plan ahead.
I had a full 3 hours in the share-taxi that I could have used to learn about the bus routes to and from the station, where taxis arrive at the station, and how to get into the city. This will leave you feeling confident and reassured that you have still some control.
5. Treat yourself
We all love traveling on the cheap, but if there was any time to spend some extra money, this is it. Whether it’s going to a hostel or Airbnb instead of Couchsurfing, buying a meal at a restaurant instead of making more instant rice and sandwiches, or taking a taxi instead of a bus, it’s okay to invest in your mental health while traveling.
6. Take the night off
Recovering from the stress of a panic attack can be exhausting, so don’t forget to be kind to yourself even after you’ve fixed your situation. When you get to your place for the night, turn in early.
Read a book, watch TV, and just give yourself some time to unwind from the day’s events. If you have a one, a hot shower can help you feel refreshed and renewed. If not, try to wash your face, hands, and hair at the minimum.
Sleep early and don’t set an alarm. Let your body and mind wake up when they’re ready to start a new day.
7. Learn from the experience
After everything is all done, take time to reflect on the situation. What went well? What went wrong? Did you have enough chocolate with you? Did you forget to eat before leaving? Learning from your panic attacks can prepare you for the next time.
We all act differently while traveling than at home and learning about how your anxiety reacts to travel is important to learning and growing as a traveler.
Remember, every person experience stress and anxiety differently. If these steps don’t work, that’s okay.
Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Anxiety shouldn’t keep you from doing what you love, because traveling can and should be a freeing experience. Everything will end up okay, and you will come out the other side stronger, more prepared, and more knowledgeable than before.
Do you use any of these tips to manage your anxiety while traveling? Discuss in the comments below.
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