How to deal with travel anxiety

Travelling can make me anxious.

New places, new food, new routines can all trip me into an anxious state, increasing my heart rate and temperature, distracting me and leaving me unable to relax. I have found this very frustrating. The time of the year when I am most looking to unwinding, often ends up being the very time I battle to retain my peace.

But this year we went to Portugal for 12 days. And I was not anxious.

I was a bit nervous about going: the flight, the drive to the hotel, what the accommodation would be like. But none of these (appropriate and understandable) nervous feelings strayed into the realm of anxiety.

I have been mentally well for a while and therefore anxiety isn’t waiting to pounce in the same way it used to, but I have also learnt what I need to make for a restful holiday. How to manage the potential anxiety so it is less likely to strike. Here are the things that have been most helpful for me.

  1. Be honest about your expectations for the holiday. Whether you are holidaying with friends or family make sure you are all on the same page. Be honest about what you are hoping for, how much downtime and how much exploring? How much time at the pool and how much at the beach? If you are on a sightseeing trip, how much are you intending on packing in? How much sleep would you like to get? If you are travelling with small children how many times would you like to be able to have a lie-in? (Maybe make a deal before you leave). If you have ironed these things out before you leave you are less likely to regularly encounter conflict (which can cause anxiety) and more likely to know you are going to get the rest/space you need.
  2. Be honest about how you are feeling. Talk to someone about your anxiety associated with the holiday, if possible the person you are travelling with. If I have given my husband a heads-up about something I may find stressful or may trigger my anxiety and have told him what would help me most in that given situation not only am I going to feel supported but I may also get the help I need when I need it (ie. a couple of minutes to gather my thoughts, a cold drink if I am getting too hot, a moment to do some mindful breathing without the kids climbing all over me). I have often found that outing these subconscious fears prevents them striking in the moment, as though stealth and secrecy were there way in and by talking openly about it they no longer have the power they once did. *
  3. Expect the first 24 hours to be hard. New places, especially with kids who are tired from travelling, can be hard to adjust to. When everyone is tired and in unfamiliar surroundings feelings can run high. Expect this. Lower your expectations. Have an iPad handy and don’t worry if the kids are on that more than they are enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
  4. Don’t drink too much. I know this is not necessarily easy on holiday. It is tempting to let your hair down and indulge, but I have found being careful I don’t drink too much means anxiety is less likely to raise it’s head. Boring but true.
  5. Download a mindfulness app before you leave. Headspace and Calm are both excellent and offer free trials. If you have never practiced meditation or mindfulness before don’t let that put you off.  Start the day by listening to a ten minute meditation, click on the app, stick your headphones in and enjoy. The meditations on these apps are completely self-explanatory and will tell you what to do, how to breathe and what to think about. Take ten minutes to do this before you get out of bed, you will not regret it.
  6. If possible get some exercise. On holiday this year I set myself a swimming goal. Everyday we were at the pool I increased my swimming by ten laps. It was just a bit of fun, and the kids often joined in, but it helped regulate my adrenalin, gave me time to think and helped me to physically unwind.

*If number 1 and 2 are not available to you, write down your hopes and expectation and how you feel in a journal. Keep up with this throughout the holiday. It is good to process your feelings and will hopefully stop you getting trapped in the negative thought spiral.

Remember you are stronger than you think and can do hard things. Remember to let yourself off the hook if you do feel anxious, you have coped with this before and will again. Remember you are loved and have a place to belong.

Hope these reminders help and you have a great holiday.

Also, a small gift from me: if you pop your details in the boxes below I will send you a 60 second meditation. Print this out and take it with you and read it whenever the anxious thoughts begin to intrude.

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