Updated October 4, 2020
If you suffer with anxiety, the idea of packing up your life and travelling the world could fill you with dread.
For me, it was the opposite.
I thought that leaving home again and going back off on my travels would be the answer to all my problems.
But, as most of us know deep down, it’s really not that simple.
This is a story of my personal experiences of travelling with anxiety.
I’m sharing it in the hope that it will resonate with you and maybe even help you with your own struggles.
Warning: this post contains content about mental health issues and anxiety, as well as details of my reaction to the #MeToo movement. If this is likely to bother you (as it did me), please don’t continue reading.
When anxiety struck
Anxiety hit me hard and fast, with no warning at all.
I was living at home in the UK when I first experienced it, on my year-long break from travelling.
I was stuck in a soul-crushing, phone-based customer service job trying to save money for my next travel experience. Just working and sleeping over and over, and living with my partner, Theo.
Everywhere I looked, I was bombarded with stories and headlines related to the movement as more and more people came forward with their stories.
Social media, TV, radio and newspapers were all screaming about it and I couldn’t get away from it.
And so, feelings and emotions that I had been suppressing for years suddenly rose to the surface and overwhelmed me.
Because yeah, as you’ve probably guessed… Me Too.
I couldn’t focus on anything anymore. I felt horribly low all the time, I was constantly on the verge of tears, and I was terrified of answering the phone at work (which was the main component of my job).
It wasn’t long before I had an anxiety attack in front of my boss who, thankfully, was incredibly supportive and did her best to make my time at work as stress-free as possible. But I still dreaded each day.
Is travel the answer?
In short, no.
And you may be thinking that was a stupid question anyway.
But at the time, all I could do was reminisce about the five years that I’d been travelling; I had loved my life, my self-confidence had grown incredibly and I loved the person that I had grown to be through my experiences.
And now I was back to square one. Well, actually, it felt more like square minus-five.
I just kept thinking that, once I left my job and got back out into the world, I would go back to being the person that I had once been: carefree and happy.
I did end up saving enough money to travel again with Theo, so we finally quit our jobs and flew to the other side of the world.
But, my anxiety didn’t stay packed up at home with my other belongings; it snuck into my baggage and came along for the ride.
Hong Kong, where I previously lived for two years and have been visiting for more than ten, is like my second home. I’ve walked its crazy, wonderful, chaotic streets more times than I even know.
This time, it was different.
On the good days, I would walk around and nobody would have known what was going on in my head. Except Theo, of course, who was on the receiving end of my death-grip on his hand.
On the worst day, I clung to him like he was my life raft as I hyperventilated and buried my head in his chest, unable to look anywhere but at his shoes as people around us stared.
The people were the problem. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but there were just too many of them for me.
I felt trapped and claustrophobic whenever we went out in public in the city; a city that I knew well and loved.
And that’s when I realised that travel really isn’t the answer.
I can be in the most incredible places and experiencing wonderful things, but that doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to feel happy, safe and calm.
Travelling with anxiety has been a very different experience, but it has continued to shape me into the person I am. And nobody can take that away from me.
For me, these are all things that I’ve always loved and, although there have been some tough times, I still enjoy them as much as I ever did.
If you can work through those tough times, the good times seem all the better.
The next time I visited Hong Kong, my anxiety around large crowds of people had improved dramatically; however, this was right at the beginning of a global pandemic.
Soon after that trip, the majority of the world went into lockdown in one form or another. Social gatherings and large crowds became just a memory for a while as we lived in fear of the invisible virus.
Suddenly the anxieties that had been lying low were brought back to the surface. As things started opening up again and people started to gather more, I know that I wasn’t the only one who began feeling nervous and anxious around other people.
If that was you, too, just know that I’m right there with you. We’ve got this.
Coping, learning & growing
I’m happy to report that, while I still struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, I am generally much happier and healthier in my mind.
I’ve learned that I shouldn’t rely on external factors to make me feel better; I need to help myself.
And even though I said travel itself isn’t the answer, travelling with anxiety has given me the opportunity to make a happier and more enjoyable life for myself and has helped me to take the time to figure out what I can do to help myself feel better, going forward.
I’ve grown to realise that there is no rewind button that will take me back to my former pre-anxiety self and, to be honest, even if there was, I would no longer want to push it.
This is who I am now, and my ability to keep moving forward is a testament to my strength.
Before I finish up, I’ll leave you with a few things that I hope will help if you’re struggling too:
- Breathe. Of all the coping mechanisms that are out there, breathing is the one that never fails for me. Block out everything else and just focus on breathing. I highly recommend trying out a mindfulness or meditation app like Headspace for specific breathing exercises and calming meditations.
- Take care of yourself. We’re so busy with everything that’s going on around us that we often forget about taking care of ourselves. Find a little something that makes you happy and make some time for it every day.
- It’s okay to have a bad day. I used to get annoyed with myself for feeling bad when I was in an amazingly beautiful destination, which then made me feel worse. Just because you feel like you should be happy with what’s happening in your life, that doesn’t mean that you have to be. Give yourself some time to work through those feelings instead of trying to block them out.
- You’re not alone. Even though, in the worst times, you may feel like you’re the only person feeling this way, or even that there’s something wrong with you, it’s not true. Trust me, more people than you could ever know feel the same way at times. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
Final thoughts on travelling with anxiety
At the time of publication of this article, we’re coming up to World Mental Health Day, which is observed on 10th October every year and aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.
In sharing my story for the first time, I hope that in some small way I’m contributing to that awareness.
Ironically, the writing and publication of this post has caused me some anxiety in itself. But if it has helped you even a little bit, it was worth it.
I know that 2020 has been an incredibly tough year for so many people, both physically and mentally.
If this resonates with you and you’d like someone to talk to about travelling with anxiety or to share any thoughts or experiences you may have on the subject of mental health at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
You can leave me a comment below or join the newsletter and send me an email. I would genuinely love to hear from you. 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- How to stay healthy while travelling
- How to be a pro at surviving long term travel
- 11 Ways to beat the post-travel blues
All images in this post are the property of lastminutewanders.com
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