Traveling with anxiety
Updated: Jan 16
If you ask anyone who knows me, they'll tell you that traveling is my favorite thing to do. However, it's not always the easiest thing for me to do; I've been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD for 13 years now, which means it's not always as simple as hopping on a plane and jetting off to a new city for me.
In a post-9/11 era where we see all sorts of scary flying headlines in the news, from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight to the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, I've found myself becoming more and more scared to fly. Although it is not a debilitating fear, my anxiety and OCD can sometimes get the best of me while we are taking off, experiencing turbulence in the air or landing.
Sometimes, I have irrational thoughts about the plane dramatically plummeting out of the sky for no reason, or thinking that I am on the flight that will make headlines for mysteriously disappearing during its flight. I freak out at the slightest noise I hear during the plane ride. I even double-check the plane manual to make sure I'm not on a Boeing 737 Max—a model that, as we all know, has been grounded as of this year.
Although I have irrational thoughts, it's a part of my anxiety that I haven't been able to shake lately, especially after working in two international newsrooms that have asked me to do further research on the infamous Boeing 737 Max. At the end of the day, all I know is that the more headlines I see about plane crashes and malfunctions, the harder it is for me to fly.
However, I'm fortunate in that my fear of flying has never stopped me from getting on a plane. That being said, not everyone with anxiety is that lucky.
That's why I wanted to write this article—to tell those who are struggling that they are not alone, and also as a cathartic exercise, to find more coping mechanisms and tactical tricks to help both you and I out the next time are in the air. Well, or even if we become generally stressed while traveling, for that matter.
After all, there are so many moving elements when it comes to traveling—although some travel bloggers make traveling seem easy, we all know the stressful planning and mishaps that go down behind the scenes!
The next time you find yourself stressed while traveling, try one (or several) of these tips:
1. Listen to a calming travel playlist
Sometimes, if I need to focus on something other than the unsettling noises a plane makes while taking-off, or if I simply need to tune out the screaming baby in the row in front of me, I pop in my earbuds and tune into my favorite playlist. When I travel, I typically listen to the "calming travel playlist" I made on Spotify. Feel free to check mine out below or make your own with your favorite relaxing songs! Bonus: this playlist is very nap-friendly...and that's coming from someone who can hardly ever sleep anywhere but a bed!
2. Download a meditation podcast or app before take-off
If you are not in the mood to listen to music, I've also found that using a guided meditation app or listening to a meditation podcast can help regulate my breathing and slow down my anxious thoughts. One of my favorite apps is called "Calm," which offers a variety of different type of self-guided meditations and audiobooks. And if you don't want to download an entire app, you can also download a playlist from Spotify before you take-off. In fact, there's an entire Meditation Genre readily available on Spotify; all you have to do is pick the one that you think is right for you!
3. Keep a journal
Typically when I'm going on a long trip, I like to keep a journal to document my memories and experiences. The longest I have ever journaled was this past semester when I studied abroad in London. I tried to keep weekly journal entries and paste other mementos from my travels, whether they were metro tickets or Polaroids of my weekend excursions. I typically kept my journal in my carry-on whenever I traveled, so I could easily access it during train or plane rides. I also found that writing in my journal and expressing my thoughts on paper was cathartic when I became anxious while traveling. By the end of the trip, I filled virtually an entire notebook; now, it's fun to look back and see how much I grew over those past few months.
4. Arrive early
This tip might be pretty obvious, but if you get easily stressed over last-minute flight changes or cancelled uber rides, try to build additional time into your schedule. Yes, this might mean showing up to the airport two hours early like your parents always do, or actually getting up after your first alarm goes off, but it never hurts to be early while traveling. Although there is always the potential of your plans turning awry somewhere along the way, at least you will have time on your side...so you don't end up like this guy!
5. Bring something to fidget with
Sometimes, I feel like I am "trapped" on a plane, with little space to move around. Even though I occasionally get up to walk up and down the aisle of the plane, sometimes my anxiety is so bad that I'm afraid to even get up out of my seat. That's why I'd recommend bringing something to fidget with while you are stuck in your seat, whether that be a literal fidget spinner or a stress ball. If you are too worried that other people might look at you funny, you can even use a common object like a neck pillow, or even one of the cheap pillows they offer you on longer flights. Just being able to keep your hands busy while doing something "active" can do wonders for your mind! Another pro tip: sometimes, I rest my feet on my carry-on bag after I tuck it in under the seat in front of me; that way, I feel less turbulence on the plane and can fake my sense of being "grounded." This tip may not work for everyone, but I found that it definitely helps me, especially during take-off.
6. Talk to a friend
Sometimes, doing something as easy as talking your travel buddy can help with anxiety. If you are worried about turbulence and you are traveling with a friend, family member or significant other, tell them how you are feeling; 9 times out of 10, they will be willing to distract you and keep your mind occupied, or at the very least, let you squeeze their hand if you really need to. I've definitely been there before. In fact, I've even bonded with strangers before about our mutual fear of flying/turbulence! It's more common than you think, and talking about it makes that anxious voice inside your head less pervasive.
Shout-out to Grace, an incredibly kind soul I met during my semester abroad in London. We went on multiple trips together, from going to Scotland for the weekend to spending our Spring Break together in Spain! This girlie was always calm, collected and organized. I am forever grateful for her gracefulness during our adventures-see what I did there??
7. Keep a sense of humor
Last but not least, keep a sense of humor while traveling! Misery loves company, as the saying goes. Haha, just kidding. Kind of. What I mean to say is, there are so many opportunities for someone to become easily annoyed, specially while flying; whether it's people not knowing what to do in the TSA line to dealing with an inconsiderate traveler sitting on the plane seat next to you, you never know what surprise you might get! Even if things do go wrong, I've always faced challenges better while laughing with other passengers about whatever mishap we may end up being dealt. That being said, try to keep your sense of humor during the moments that test you. While this is definitely something I need to work on (truly, I'm such a pessimistic traveler when I fly), it never hurts to remind yourself that you embarking on an adventure at the end of the day! As cheesy as that sounds, it's a privilege in many ways to be able to afford to visit new places. Even if you run into a few issues along the way, you will eventually get to where you need to go. Remember to take deep breaths and stay positive whenever you can.
A great example of how we used humor after a multiple-hour delay on the Eurostar coming back from Paris! We managed to laugh it off after we safely got on a train back to London, but believe me, the pure exhaustion and anxiety that we endured before this photo was taken was not fun! Hence, the bags under my eyes.
I hope you found this article helpful. Like always, please comment below or reach out to me if you have any questions...or want to bond over our worst turbulence experiences! I have plenty of stories to share!