Beauty from Fear: Traveling with Anxiety
Traveling is extremely rewarding, no matter what you do or where you go. Each place has a different feeling, created by the people, the atmosphere, and the experiences you have there. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what actually makes a place feel different, especially when each person hastheir own perspective. For me, this place represented how poverty and necessity could create such beauty with its colors and textures that lined the streets. Signs and other forms of communication signaled people passing by or simply acted as a statement of individuality. The lush atmosphere and the sparkling blue of the water brought a tropical feel to every view. It was vibrant, even with all the protests and ruins. It felt open and endless and yet completely trapped and surrounded at the same time. Its own little pocket of beauty with its underlying hardship.
It also felt adventurous, and yet I had a feeling that everything tended to stay the same. I flew through the jungle absolutely amazed by the different types of nature that surrounds me, climbed mountains of greenery with stunning views on small horses, took shots of alcohol that tasted like honey. It was a party, free and weightless. We floated through the air while wind rushed around our faces and bright colors flew by in a blur. If my eyes weren’t open I’d miss it. Even hidden in the jungle following a path of waterfalls, it still felt rooted somehow. It was exciting and then it was nerve wracking.
Every person has their threshold. A point where they are about to cross over the level that their brains or bodies are able to handle. Some people have shorter thresholds for different things. About halfway down… I think it was just the amount of time. My skin was being rubbed off my feet for too long, my body was cold for too long, I was at a high level of stress for too long. I had stopped being able to see the beauty that surrounded me quite a while ago. Then I reached it, looking over the edge… that was the threshold, and I felt it well up inside me. It's not nervousness. Its past the butterflies in my stomach, past when my heart feels like a rock in my chest. Its past any feeling except realizing I can't breath. It's the point when my brain starts to scream we can't breath. Find a way to breath. Don't pass out. Every exhale was, “I'm sorry”. As a couple people crowded around me. I'm sorry I'm sorry… then after some amount of time, my brain realized I could go around, I could make it down, I could breath again, I was fine. At that point, when I realized everyone was looking at me, it wasn't embarrassment that I felt. It wasn't frustration either. It was something else. Disappointment that I couldn't enjoy this amazing place and adventure like I know I should have.
No two adventures are the same. No two places are the same. No two perspectives on life are the same and you can plan as much as you want to (and trust me I try) but nothing will ever go as planned. The best thing you can do is learn to roll with the punches. And don't let that stop you from striving to see other people's perspectives, and feel the environment they live in and grow as a person through all of it.
If you have experienced anxiety, you’re not alone. 18% of American adults have an anxiety disorder, and 3% has experienced a panic attack (and that’s just diagnosed). But that does not let some people stop from traveling. 21% of Americans traveled overseas in 2016 with many more traveling within the country.
Through all my experience traveling with an anxiety disorder so far, here are my tips for not letting it get in the way of finding those incredible corners of the world:
Nothing combats anxiety quite like a good plan. Knowing what you should expect and being ready for whats to come can really keep your heart and stomach calm. I even have a bag that I always have with me with anything I might need: food, Advil, Pepto, toilet paper in a ziplock bag, a pen, Dramamine, quarters, a golf pencil, chapstick, and emergency money. Your items might differ from mine, but I know that the sticky situations I have been in the past would have been a lot better with one of these things. Now I always have them and can rest assured I don’t need to be anxious about those situations happening again.
2. And… When that plan doesn't work out...
Try to remember you can handle it. It's ok if the flight is delayed. It's ok if you have to ask for directions. I say “try” because this is often hard to remember when you find yourself alone and anxious. Let the anxiety happen, there’s no fighting it but think in terms of checkpoints. I will be fine once I am settled on the plane. Now just get there, don’t worry about the next step yet. Before you know it, you’ll be at your destination.
3. Surround yourself with people you trust.
Either new friends or old. There is safety in numbers, even if it's just in your head. There will be more brains to think through situations that don’t go as planned, and more people to distract you if you do become anxious.
4. Communicate with others.
You have to take responsibility for your own happiness, so speak up if your group is talking about doing something super outside your comfort zone. Suggest something you like to do or express that you don’t like roller coasters. Someone else might be feeling the same way and you can do something else together.
5. Recognize your limits.
I don't mean stay in your comfort zone because stepping out of it is the only way you will grow, but know and stick to your true limits. If you have debilitating anxiety about heights, you don't have to go rock climbing. Sometimes it is good to push yourself, and sometimes it's not worth the emotional and mental repercussions. Be honest with yourself about what that means to you.
6. Focus on the positive.
I know it's easy to get sucked down the black hole of anxiety, but keeping thoughts light can go a long way. The catch is that it does take practice, self-control, and self-awareness. Start by focusing on what you do love or appreciate about a place.
7. Get a mantra.
Whatever your true anxieties are, think of a phrase that will remind you that you can do it. Whether it’s being one of the top divers on your diving team, or the fact that everyone feels anxiety sometimes, find what gives you confidence and keep that in your mind.
8. Follow the right things.
There are so many people out there that inspire people with anxiety or just motivate people in general. There are bound to be multiple social media accounts you can follow and resort to when you feel unsure. My personal favorite is the Motivate app, which has inspirational videos that leave me feeling like I can do and handle anything.
9. Find a routine.
Whether it's just brushing your teeth, getting coffee, and sitting out on the balcony for a half hour each morning, a routine is just a bunch of activities where you absolutely know what’s going to happen. Therefore, less anxiety. Having that routine is essentially making a safe part of your day, making you more able to handle whatever else comes your way that day.
Yes, it is one of the best ways to help anxiety. Personally, I noticed a huge difference between before I traveled and after a month of traveling alone. It was night and day. It helped mostly because my brain started to realize I could do it, I dealt with the unknown and I was okay. I gained more confidence in myself, and now I know I can handle even more. Opening your mind to other perspectives also helps. All of a sudden that panic attack over which college I would get into didn't have as much legitimacy when I saw what other people in the world worry about.
I know that even knowing all of this and taking all possible precautions, you might break down in the car before you even get to the airport. What matters is that you go, and that you don’t let the fear get in the way of all of the amazing experiences you will have, all of the amazing people you will meet, and how much you will grow as a person. Through all of the inevitable hiccups, beauty and growth will come out of it.
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