Leaving on a jet plane: 6 tips for traveling when you have anxiety

Leaving on a jet plane: 6 tips for traveling when you have anxiety

Few things trigger anxiety more powerfully for me than travel. Whether for work or fun, travel is my nemesis. It’s an age old, ice cold fear of loss. The things that make me who I am are tied up with home and family and job. Leaving them feels like leaving the best part of me behind. There’s a yawning worry that I am not enough without these places, people, and roles.

For me, the worst is the preparation to leave. Packing, getting last minute prescriptions filled, finding my confirmation numbers for flights and hotels. I have a need to clean my house, leave things perfect, spend time with my pets and my family, There’s never enough time for all of those.

Every time I leave it feels like I won’t come back. The plane will take off and keep flying and flying, straight out into space. I will become untethered from the earth. “Goodbye” somehow takes on a sense of permanence.

So, I’m on my way to a conference, an event in itself that triggers anxiety. I’m on a plane right now, and I’ve made peace with the leaving. As I sit here listening to the kids next to me chatter about their trip to Costa Rica, I remember that travel opens up potential for discovery and for excitement.

I treated myself to a sit down breakfast at the airport, and the waiter asked me about my trip. He said, “Maybe you’ll meet a cute guy who will flirt with you.” The absurdity of that made me laugh. I told him I’d take a selfie of me and the cute guy to send to my husband.

But the waiter and the noisy kids next to me remind me of others ways to think about travel. That’s good. The trick, for me, though, is learning to prepare for a trip without losing my wits. Everyone is different, and I’m not recommending these tips so much as reflecting on what has helped me.

  1. Stop talking about it and stop thinking about it. Expressing my angst, thinking and reflecting about my fears don’t help me. For the most part, my anxiety is irrational and thinking about it won’t solve the problem. Instead it keeps the anxiety at the forefront. I am learning to stop saying, “I’m dreading this so much” and a thousand other things I think before a trip. Rumination is unhealthy, and refusing myself permission to make my anxiety articulate limits my rumination.
  2. Accept the fact that I find travel stressful and let it be. I’m unhappy when I travel. Like so many other uncomfortable things in life, travel requires me to accept discomfort. I’ve traveled before. I’ve been successful at it, and I can do it again. Anxiety is just one part of being me, and that’s ok. I don’t have to be happy about it or excited about it.
  3. Allow my family to help me. Both my husband and daughter love to travel, so I can lean on them to help me pack and plan. I can look forward to seeing them when I return and make a plan for a celebration.
  4. Remember the things I do like about travel. I love hotels. I love being in bed and watching television. I love room service. I love the little shampoos and the stacks of towels.
  5. Go into “toddler” mode. When I first had my daughter, a friend gave me advice about toddlers. When their emotions spiral and amp up, I need to step back and remove myself from the emotion. Step back into a calm place, where I can comfort the toddler. Lower the temperature. I need to do the same with myself. I need to step back and comfort the child inside.
  6. Breathe. Stop. Sit. Close your eyes. Breathe. Count each breath. Focus only on the breath. Be in a quiet moment.

I’d like to say that I’ve got the travel thing well in hand. But last night I did all of the wrong things and ended up having a panic attack. Today, I’m trying to just accept that I didn’t get it right. I’m trying to accept my anxious ways. And, I’m writing this blog to remind myself of what I need to do next time.

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