Travelling with anxiety: You’ve exceeded your baggage limit

First off, I would like to think that I don’t come across as a particularly anxious person. I think years of practice have helped me manage the feelings that come with this unfortunate affliction. That being said the people that know me well know I definitely have my moments. Anyone that knows the feeling knows that it can make everyday tasks seem daunting and anything more than that seem impossible. I’m not talking about the occasional jitters, I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that keeps you inside all day; that unshakeable sense of impending doom.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it is necessarily “about” something. Sure, certain things can definitely trigger it but half the time it is the anxiety that comes first and the reason that comes last. The wave of dread can come over you at any time. You can be having a great time and feeling completely normal and then two minutes later you’ve convinced yourself without a doubt that the next breath you take is going to be your last. It’s irrational. It’s stupid. And as soon as the feelings inevitably pass you feel just as ridiculous as you have sounded to those around you for the last 10 minutes. The shitty thing is, the natural response for people around you during this time is the last thing you want to hear.

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“Calm down.” I understand people mean well but it’s the equivalent of telling a depressed person to “cheer up”. It’s said with the very best of intentions I’m sure but unfortunately at that particular time it feels like you’re on fire and someone has just thrown a cup of water in your face to ease the pain. The best you can hope for is a quiet and calm place to weather the storm.

For people that do have a predisposition towards anxiousness, things that are seen by most as enjoyable can be absolutely terrifying. Travel of course is included in this category. Before leaving for Europe I was going through a bit of an anxious rough patch; going through the motions day in and day out and feeling terrible about the most mundane tasks. Even when I had something to look forward to it would be drenched in bothersome feelings of doubt. I had forgotten what excitement without nervousness had felt like. My one way ticket to Europe has proved to be so much more than just that. I had no idea when planning my trip that this would also be my ticket to a more relaxed, bearable existence.

As I touched on briefly in my last post, there’s no two ways about it, travelling to a new place without the support and safety of home can unravel even those with the coolest demeanours. The unknown is an intimidating concept in theory and an even harsher reality to face at times. That being said, there are huge upsides. Of course, you get to experience new and amazing things, get out of your bubble and see things that you couldn’t have previously imagined would be so beautiful. But it also obliterates your previous threshold for stress. All those things that you thought were important and worth worrying about before? Irrelevant. The lens you view the world through is now different, you can’t quite put your finger on it but you feel it every day.

I’m not saying it’s easy. There’s been times where I have wanted to pack it all in and run for cover. And more often than I’d like to admit, in times of dire need I’ve had to turn to my trusty travel companion, Xanax. But deep down there’s some part of your brain, right at the back, (unfortunately sometimes it’s not so accessible when you need it) but it’s there telling you that everything is going to be okay.

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I think it’s safe to say that almost every single person has felt anxiety at some point in their lives even if they have not had to live with it on a day to day basis. Whether it’s because of some significant upcoming event, someone or something you don’t want to face or maybe you just had a big weekend.  But if you have been reading this and you could identify with any of what has been said so far then you might find the following to be a useful exercise.

Say “Fuck it.” The feelings aren’t going to go away by themselves so you might as well give yourself a reason to be anxious. Do something you wouldn’t normally dream of doing. Don’t just step outside your comfort zone, jump over that motherfucker, flip it upside-down. Redefine the shit out of it. Force yourself to do that thing that your previous reservations would have never allowed you to do and throw off the torturous shackles of fear and apprehension. You’ll live. And you certainly won’t regret it.

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