Traveling with Anxiety

Lil disclaimer to get us started:  Gonna get incredibly real with y’all in this post so beware.  Anxiety is something I NEVER talk about on a public platform because I know there are people much much worse off than me so I strongly avoid complaining about it openly.  

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Sorrento, Italy

Anyone even remotely close to me knows that I have always struggled with anxiety.  You name it and it probably makes me anxious.  Social events, making big purchases, going to work, leaving the house, yep, yep, yep, and yep.  I’ve ruined experiences for myself and relationships with others as a result of this issue and I’ve learned A LOT about myself and how to cope through these kinds of challenges.  I’m kind of granola (aka scaredy cat) when it comes to medicating and refuse to put anything stronger than ibuprofen and a little caffeine in my body so the only option I’m left with is teaching myself to cope the best way I know how (though if you are someone who needs to medicate more power to ya- no judgment).

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Charleston, SC

I have learned that bottling up how anxious I am feeling does nothing but hurt myself (and others if they are affected by it without knowing the reason) so in recent years I have learned to be a little more open about how I’m feeling and fortunately, the people who matter to me have continued to accept me for I am and I am forever thankful for those people!

Now that I’ve clued a few more important people in my life into this issue, a couple of them have asked me how I’ve stayed so calm with all of our travels (past and upcoming) and the answer is easy – I haven’t!

2018 was a year FULL of traveling!  Stephen lived in Washington, DC for three months, we made several trips to Charleston, honeymooned in a three-stop Italy trip, road tripped to Manhattan with some friends, ate our hearts out (literally) in Nashville, and rang in the new year in Paris just to name a few!  Our 2019 travel plans so far include Chicago, NYC, Iceland, London, Amsterdam, and Greece and I am trying to convince Stephen to add more to the list.  He doesn’t start his job until September and we are trying to fit as much travel as possible in while his schedule is still moderately flexible.

 

One of the reasons we’ve been able to fit so much in so little time is that Stephen and I are absolute pros at hitting the ground running as soon as we reach a destination and not stopping til we’re on the plane home – we are exceptionally good at fitting in a LOT in just a LITTLE time.  Fortunately for me, oftentimes we are so busy trying to fit so much in that I am kept TOO busy to be alone with my thoughts and get nervous.  We approach each trip as if it will be the last opportunity we’ll ever have to go there (which, let’s be honest, it very well could be!) and spend hours researching the must-do’s of each destination then pack our trips full from sun-up to sun-down each day!  Anyone else struggling with anxiety can probably relate to the fact that staying super busy is a great way to keep those negative feelings at bay.

 

There are some aspects of traveling where anxiety just can’t be avoided.  When we fly I usually spend the night before or the morning of heaving into a toilet (told you we’d be getting real here!);  I don’t mind flying really, but get terrified of the unknown so every time we go somewhere I’ve never been (especially if there’s a language barrier) I worry worry worry about all that I don’t know.  Are we prepared enough?  Do we have enough money?  What if one of us gets sick or hurt?  What if I can’t find anything to eat?  How are we going to communicate?  Questions galore race through my head and I hate not having the answers.  I am pretty largely in charge of planning when we travel (Stephen really prefers to fly by the seat of his pants which obviously doesn’t mesh well with an anxious person- love you babe 🙂 ) so I feel completely responsible for everything that happens when we travel and am terrified that I will have forgotten something important; wracking my brain for potential mistakes I’ve made takes off and gets out of hand very quickly!

Once we’re at our destination I get anxious before every mealtime; I am an embarrassingly picky eater and I also get painstakingly terrified when I don’t know the layout of a restaurant (Do we wait to be seated?  Do we go up and order?  Do we pay here or at the counter?  Sounds kind of amusing but these are actually REALLY upsetting questions for me and I really hate not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing- maybe it comes from working in the service industry for four years and being used to knowing these things?  Who knows!  Anxiety knows no limits.).  One time in Rome Stephen and I tried to split a pizza and got yelled at in Italian!  You can imagine it just about sent me into an anxiety-ridden stupor when we were there (Note to all those thinking about visiting Italy: if you’re sitting at a restaurant you better be ordering your own entrée if you don’t want to get yelled at!).  We’ve also been yelled at in French while at a Parisian restaurant, but that’s a longer story.  These are the kinds of things that usually do me in.  I am a Type A rule-follower and anything less than following the rules and the status quo is honestly debilitating for me; I basically lose the ability to talk or listen to others because I am sitting there, lost in my thoughts, regretting my actions, wondering how I could have done things differently to avoid this situation.

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Rome, Italy

It sucked.  There I was, sitting in one of the most amazing cities in the world, and I was completely blind to it because something had happened where honestly, the person yelling at us probably went about his day and didn’t think twice about that interaction.  That’s just it though, we can’t choose what makes us anxious and anxiety has no rhyme or reason.

So how did I get past it?  Like I said earlier, I really didn’t.  If I’m being honest I still really cringe about it and if I think hard enough about it I can sort of shut down because I feel so icky about the interaction.  You can’t just turn anxiety off.  What I have learned (and am still actively learning to do) is suppress it the best I can by being open about what I’m feeling and after acknowledging it, focusing on how lucky I am to be where I am.   I know how disappointed I would be with myself if I realized it was time to leave our destination and all I had been able to focus on was how anxious I was feeling.  I know how guilty I would feel if I hadn’t been fully present with Stephen in these places that we may never get a chance to return to.  I have to remind myself to stay focused on the many many positive and exciting things happening all around me when we are traveling.

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Paris, France

It is work…hard work at that. But traveling is a priority for us in this season of our lives.  It is a top priority for us.  Our adventures fuel us as a couple, but to be able to fuel us I first need to fuel myself.

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Sorrento, Italy

The fact of the matter is it is OKAY to feel anxious;  if it wasn’t I would be in a really rough place because the reality is I will probably never not be an anxious person – it just is what it is.  Traveling will probably never be in my “comfort zone.”  It’s not comfortable!  It’s scary and exciting and exhilarating and oftentimes, yes, uncomfortable.  But it is important to us.  Really, really important to us.  And guess what?  I have yet to regret a single adventure we’ve been on.  Every time we travel (internationally or not) my heart comes back feeling ten times more full than it was when we left.  Despite being uncomfortable at times, Stephen and I have incredible amounts of fun when we travel and it has brought us closer than ever because of the communication and compromise we’ve had to learn when traveling (his patience and understanding have been a help too!).

The more I force myself to face my anxieties and kick myself out of my own comfort zone, the easier it is to do so.  I acknowledge that I am nervous and then I make myself move on and focus on what we’re doing and where we are; acknowledging it is half the battle.  ‘Anxious’ is not a mindset; if it was, it would be possible to change.  ‘Strong’ and ‘brave’ are mindsets that I choose to utilize in my life and in my travels and it is through this that I am able to cope and why I will be able to continue to travel and enjoy doing so.

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Gonna end this by saying I consider myself lucky that despite never being able to completely get rid of my anxiety, through a lot of hard work (which continues every. single. day.) I am able to get past it in order to enjoy things far beyond my normal comfort zone and I know that many people would not be able to say the same.  I encourage everyone to be open with themselves and others about any mental health struggles they may have and not to hesitate getting help if needed.  We aren’t going to end the stigma by staying silent 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

Sydney