I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, with realising the way I feel isn’t ‘normal.’ I am only just starting to come to grips with what it means, how it affects me and what I can do to cope. So, naturally, I gravitated toward the wonderful Paloma Lowe, of Anxious Traveler. Paloma is incredibly open about her struggles with anxiety, how it impacts her as a travel-lover and how she doesn’t let it control her. If you have anxiety and love travel, you’ll know just how hard it can be to manage the two. So, I asked Paloma to share her story and a little bit about what it’s like traveling with anxiety. Here’s what she had to share… over to you, Paloma!
Traveling can cause anxiety even for the most experienced globetrotters, but for those like myself who already have an anxiety and panic disorder, it can feel impossible. It’s not. I feel like that’s important to say right off the bat. It’s hard as fuck traveling with an anxiety disorder, but it’s not impossible by any means.
But before we get to that, a little about me, so you know who I am and where I’m coming from since this is a guest post and you’re probably wondering “who the hell is this chic?”
My name is Paloma, I’m 28, and I’ve had anxiety ever since I could remember. As I got older though my anxiety grew and manifested differently at different stages of my life.
- Childhood, obviously. Who doesn’t get their ass kicked growing up? Parents fight, grandparents pass away, it’s basically a minefield of emotional “oh shit, I can’t handle this, I’m alone and the only person experiencing this, who will ever experience this, ahh!”
- The next stage for me was University. I spent those years in undergrad and grad school feeling sick to my stomach and insane. It took me so long to ask for help.
- The biggest one for me was when my best friend took her own life on my twenty-first birthday. I won’t go into this one in great detail, but it changed who I was completely as a person. If you’re so inclined you can read the posts I’ve written about her death and how it affected my mental health here and here.
- And then the last big one for me was when I was on the verge of 26, after calling off my engagement to a guy I’d been with since I’d been 19 years old. Again, I won’t go into that one, but you can read about it here.
So, enough about me, onto the important things, like: What is it like traveling with an anxiety and panic disorder?
Like I said above, it can be hard. Some days are really rough, for example, I’ve found myself having panic attacks and anxiety all over the world, from my airplane seat on my way to India, to the middle of a hotel lobby in Amman Jordan, to everywhere else.
Sometimes the anxiety is quick. Other times it’s like waves in an ocean. The panic rises and falls, it crashes and pulls me under, and it takes a lot to get through. Anxiety and panic attacks are not for the weak-willed, even though they make you feel incredibly weak while you’re going through them.
In case you’ve never had an panic attack, it’s like, and trust me I know that this sounds incredibly melodramatic, but it honestly feels like a never ending death. Your brain goes into fight or flight mode, only there’s not giant rhino about to run you over, or lion about to eat you alive, it’s just… there.
And it comes along with a myriad of physical symptoms: Rapid, pounding heart rate, shaking, shortness of breath or tightness in the throat, chills and hot flashes, headaches (I started getting those when I was only eight years old), dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness, numbness (once my entire mouth went numb!), and then the most common one for me, NAUSEA.
But then there are also amazing days, like hot air ballooning for the first time at sunrise over Jaipur or seeing The Great Pyramids in Egypt and swimming in the Nile or exploring White Sands National Monument in New Mexico or hanging out on Bondi Beach with my s.o!
Traveling with an anxiety disorder basically comes down to practice. It’s taken me some time, but at this point in my life I feel like I’ve gotten it down to a science! Well, as much of a science as I (a person who considers herself much more on the artistic side) can manage.
Here is a little check list of things that I go through before I travel:
- I see my therapist. The week before I leave on a trip I make sure to go at least twice because I know I won’t have that as a tool while I am traveling, so I try to get everything I can out of those sessions to help get me through the time I will be gone.
- I prep HARDCORE! I know where I’m going, where I’ll be staying, how long I’ll be staying there for. I know good restaurants to eat at, I know how to get from the airport/train station/bus station/etc to where I am staying. I know what the weather will be like, and I keep back ups. It’s easy to store everything on your phone, but sometimes phones get stolen, lost, broken, so I always make sure to have a folder full of hardcopies of all my reservations, notes, etc.
- I bring things with me that comfort me.
- I bring my childhood stuffed gorilla. No joke. I’m 28 and I still take that thing with me everywhere. Try and make me part with it, I dare you!
- I pack a “toolkit”: a coloring book, colored pencils, lavender oil, and really good book – I also try to stay in places that have bathtubs, it’s one of my fav ways to relax – and then last but what really comes first, my journal. I’ve kept one ever since I was eight years old, and there’s very little in the world that helps and comforts me more than being able to pour my thoughts and emotions out onto the page to keep for me when things become too heavy.
- I always have these grand ideas of how I want to dress, but ultimately it’s impractical especially with anxiety. So instead of tight dresses and heals I pack loose and/or stretchy clothing. When I’m having anxiety, tight clothes can enhance the feeling of not being able to breathe, which is pretty much the last thing I want when I’m having anxiety.
- I always give myself an out. If I get too overwhelmed, or if I don’t feel like I can handle it, I always tell myself that I can leave and go home any time I want. I’ve yet to actually do it, but just knowing that I’m not stuck makes me feel better when I am having anxiety or a panic attack and want nothing more than to run away back home and hid under the covers.
So there, you have it! That is how this Anxious Traveler wanders around the world with an anxiety and panic disorder!
Oh, one last note! When I first started traveling, the details of it all made me SO anxious that it almost stopped me from traveling completely, so instead I used travel tours. This took so much off my plate and really helped to ease me in. Then, after I started becoming more comfortable traveling on my own and taking on those planning responsibilities for myself I started using Airbnb, it really helps to be able to come back to a home at the end of a long day of exploring.
Paloma Lowe is the writer behind travel blog, Anxious Traveler, sharing her experiences traveling with anxiety. After many years battling anxiety, panic attacks and depression that kept her from doing what she really wanted with her life, she sought help. Now, four years later, she’s living her life the way she always dreamed and sharing her travel adventures through her blog.