Traveling is supposed to be fun, but it can also mean struggling with phobias and anxieties. Some people are afraid of flying, driving and crowds. Some are consumed with worry about crime, random accidents or, these days, terrorist attacks. It can even lead some people to avoid traveling or doing things they would otherwise enjoy. There are several strategies, however, for coping with these fears, and getting the most enjoyment out of your next vacation.
Time Required: As long as it takes
- One of the simplest ways to cope with phobias and anxieties is to master some relaxation techniques. Sign up for a yoga or meditation class. Practice deep breathing methods. Creative visualization is especially well-suited to travel fears. If you are panicky on a plane, for instance, imagine yourself instead at your destination having a wonderful time.
- Take care of your body, and your mind is sure to follow. It might not sound significant, but you'd be shocked at how dramatically you can reduce stress through simply diet changes. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, eat well, take vitamins, cut back on sugar, get exercise (even if it's just a daily walk). You can eliminate a lot of anxiety by simply cutting out caffeine, which I know many say is the single best thing they did to reduce stress.
- Get to the root of the anxiety through therapy with a licensed professional. Even though many may be reluctant to pursue this course, it can be quite helpful - especially with the right doctor or counselor. Our fears are often about something entirely different, and talking through these issues can often reveal the true cause of the stress. This makes it so much easier to cope.
- A doctor can also help you cope with stress through medications, however this can be a tricky path. Many anti-anxiety drugs can be hard to stop taking. Users of Xanax, for instance, must be weaned off the drug, as a possible side-effect of withdrawal IS anxiety attacks. They can be a good solution, however, for occasional instances. Since travel is often something done from time-to-time instead of a daily basis, drugs can make a viable alternative.
- I cannot say enough for the power of distraction. There is a scene in the movie, "French Kiss," in which Meg Ryan is taking a flight to Paris and is terrified. Kevin Kline picks an argument with her and, Voila, the plane is in the air and she didn't even notice. When you travel, bring anything that can distract: a GameBoy, books, games, portable DVD players with engrossing movies, people who carry on interesting conversations, etc. You get the idea.
- Don't obsess. It's easy to spend hours researching train safety, for instance, but it will probably only feed your fears instead of helping. Even doing extensive research about anxiety can bring on anxiety.
- Start coping before you leave. Keep in mind stress and anxiety over a trip can start days, weeks, even months before a trip. Don't wait until you are there and already in panic mode to deal with these anxieties. Practice them any time you feel stress in your daily life (and who doesn't) or any time thoughts of the trip bring on anxiety.
- Take baby steps in dealing with your fears and anxieties. If your fear involves flying, perhaps try taking a short 1-hour flight to a nearby city before tackling a trans-Atlantic flight to Paris. It can even be helpful to practice going to the airport before the trip, just to get more comfortable with the process.
- Hand over control more often in your daily life. You don't have to always be the family member to pay all the bills or get the kids out in the morning. Anxiety is often about needing control, and lacking the ability to control events in our lives. Anything you can do to adjust to delegating control in other areas can help.
- Avoid fear-inducing references, which can only heighten your stress levels. If you fear flying, don't watch a movie about a plane crash. If your fears are related to terrorism, stop watching the news reports for a couple days. If you are exposed, remind yourself how unusual such events are, or that a movie is mere fiction. This is especially key right before you travel, which your tension level could already be up.
- *DISCLAIMER: These tips are simply things I have found to be very effective for myself and others I know who travel often. I am not in any way, shape or form an expert in anxiety, phobias or panic. Only a psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist or physician can properly diagnose and treat mental disorders.