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Do you have Travel Anxiety? 3 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety When Traveling

Do you have Travel Anxiety? 3 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety When Traveling

Traveling can be an exhilarating experience filled with the promise of new adventures, cultures, and memories. However, for many people, the thought of stepping out of their comfort zone and into the unknown can trigger a deep sense of anxiety. As an anxiety counselor in Woodland Hills, I often hear about the frustration of travel anxiety getting in the way of a genuine desire to explore or complicating necessary travel, such as for family events.

Some folks who have generalized anxiety experience an increase in their symptoms when it comes to travel; others experience this situational anxiety and seek to manage the acute symptoms as they make their way through their journey. Taming travel anxiety can take trial and error and practice, but it can be managed with support and guidance.

Portrait beautiful woman with paper map on urban street. Young worried female traveler lost in the city using map. Vacation concept by exploring new places to travel.

What is Travel Anxiety?

Travel anxiety arises from the thought of traveling, the process of getting to your destination, and/or the unfamiliarity of the new environment. It can manifest in various ways, including physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or nausea, as well as emotional symptoms such as overwhelming fear, panic attacks, or a sense of dread. 

This anxiety can stem from several factors, including fear of flying, concern about travel logistics, anxiety about leaving home, or apprehension about interacting with new people and environments. Because our brains and bodies crave predictability, being in an unfamiliar environment can bring with it stress about navigation and a sense of orientation. It can also disrupt your normal eating and sleeping patterns, among other rituals you might not even notice you partake in daily.

3 Ways to Manage Travel Anxiety

1) Plan and Prepare Imperfectly: 

Anxious worried woman looking disorganized while preparing her clothes and suitcase before going on a trip alone

You may have spent years managing your travel anxiety by planning and preparing meticulously. Many people utilize this level of attempted control to feel like they can enjoy themselves. However, detailed planning may seem to provide a sense of control and reduce uncertainty, but it can continue to fuel anxiety. Seeking perfectionism to manage anxiety always has its negative consequences. Instead, we want you to plan and prepare within limits and know that you do not have to do it perfectly.

When you are packing (or making your packing list), consider where you are going. What items can you absolutely not travel without, and which could you replace on your trip? A toothbrush, some sunscreen, and a towel are all items that can likely be purchased or borrowed where you’re staying if need be. No, it’s not ideal to spend money on an item you already own. But it’s also not ideal to stress about forgetting something that isn’t mandatory for your trip. Determine a way to pack what you definitely need and to feel assured that you have that item/those items. Let go of your attachment to other things and be flexible with yourself about obtaining items on your travels.

Summer vacation might sound like an easygoing time of fun and relaxation, but can actually bring on a set of anxieties around where to go, dressing for the hot weather, and maintaining enough structure in order to still get things accomplished, especially if you are a parent or children are included in your vacation plans in some way. When there is too much pressure to create core memories, or experience everything on the list, or look a certain way, it is almost a guarantee that at least one of the people on the trip will not be having as good a time as they could. Do not try to curate a “social media” experience – even the people whose feeds look ideal have hard days, setbacks, and mishaps in their travels.

When you are planning imperfectly, the number one place to start is with your highest priorities and values. Everyone will have different priorities; if you are traveling on your own, then you get to make all the calls about how to order that list. If you’re collaborating with others, it’s important that everyone’s top needs are met. Your priority might be to see a certain attraction, while another person’s priority might be not to have to rush in the mornings. These values might work well together, or they might not. Communicating and compromising so that both of you can have a good time instead of one of you having a great time and the other having a horrible time is what is most beneficial. If you can’t imagine seeing an attraction on your own, then you have to decide if you value the company more than an early start. This is where letting go of perfection leaves room for happiness, even though it might seem like a small issue. When you try to control something, it is all too easy to fixate on it and let it overtake every other memory you make on a trip.

Plan to be uncomfortable. Part of letting go of perfection is about letting go of the idea that if you manage to execute “the perfect trip”, you won’t experience any anxiety whatsoever. That is simply not the case. Ask yourself how you will speak to yourself when things go wrong, and prepare for them to go wrong. Will you be kind and patient with yourself; will you pause to count to ten or do some deep breathing before you begin thinking through whatever has just occurred?

2) Practice Relaxation Techniques

Beautiful redhair woman listening music in London with Big Ben and Westminster palace on background. She wear fashion white headphones.

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can help manage anxiety symptoms before and during your trip. These practices that we teach in our Woodland Hills Anxiety therapy sessions can be used individually and/or together, depending on the situation. You might find that some work well in certain situations, when you feel a certain way in your body, and others are more effective at other times.

Relaxation techniques that connect you to your body can help you stay present and keep your thoughts from running away with you. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can be particularly beneficial. It is always helpful to make this practice a part of your routine regardless of when you might travel, as it is easier to maintain a habit on vacation than it is to try to implement a relaxation strategy. When you have a daily practice, you become familiar with it in a way that means you don’t have to think as hard about what you’re doing. You will also have a lower baseline stress level going into your trip, making it easier to navigate any triggering events you may encounter.

To connect with your body, make sure you are as physically comfortable as you can be. If you are seated on a plane or bus, for example, you may not be as relaxed as you would be if you were lying down on a yoga mat at home. However, you can still relax your body and close your eyes, focusing on the sensations in your body and tuning in to your breathing and your senses. This can be used in a pinch if you are experiencing stress while on a commute. Utilize your senses by focusing on what you can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. This helps to ground you in your body in the present moment, calling focus back to what is tangible and away from intrusive thoughts. This can be a great way to circumvent rumination about past travel woes or worries about what you may encounter.

You can also set aside time in whatever your travel accommodations are, such as a hotel room or rental home. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible, whether through noise-canceling headphones, closing the door for privacy, or any other method of setting aside time and space for your practice. Consider downloading relaxation or meditation apps that you can use while traveling to maintain a sense of calm. No matter what your ritual is, there is never any harm in having a little extra support. Self-guided relaxation techniques are great, but it can also be a relief to be guided externally, taking any extra thought or effort out of the process.

If you are traveling with a loved one, you may want to recruit them to help you with your relaxation practice and techniques. Having someone to hold onto (literally or metaphorically) can help with emotional regulation and recovery. Consider how you can make the best use of the people who will be around you. They might want to join you for meditation, yoga, or going for relaxing walks, or to burn off extra energy with some heartier exercise. Someone you’re traveling with may also appreciate taking time to journal, having a consistent sleep and waking routine for physical stabilization, and other tactics you might want to employ on your trip.

3) Use of Exposure Therapy: 

Woman Japanese ethnicity, sharing her thoughts and emotion at the therapy, led by the female psychotherapist

If your travel anxiety is severe, gradual exposure to travel-related situations can help desensitize your anxiety response. Sometimes, these exposure activities can be in-vivo, where you can drive to the airport or take short trips weeks ahead of your big trip. Some people even utilize flight simulators or to confront their fear of flying through virtual reality exposure. Other times, exposure therapy needs to be imagined or scripted, where you can watch videos or read articles about your specific fear and anxiety surrounding travel. 

A lot of our anxiety therapy in Woodland Hills includes exposure therapy, wherein some worries about possible imagined scenarios can be eliminated, and actual issues can be confronted and regulated. Exposure therapy can help you to become accustomed to scenarios and also help you to learn how to re-regulate your nervous system when you are confronted with anxiety following a trigger. Through this process, you identify the fear you need to confront, as well as the feelings associated. You are exposed to a trigger for that feeling for a certain amount of time, after which you can discuss your experience and what you learned about yourself while you were being exposed. From there, the exposure is repeated again. This cycle continues until you have addressed the fear enough to either put it behind you or feel confident in walking yourself through the experience when you encounter the trigger in real life. Not every fear or trigger can be completely eliminated; it is about establishing the behavior that will help you navigate the situation when necessary.

If you worry about being in an unfamiliar place, small trips near to where you live might be good practice. More than likely, if you live in a big city, there are areas you haven’t visited before. If you live in a smaller town, perhaps you need to do a little day trip somewhere in the region. Going somewhere new and interacting with the local community is good practice for the typical structure of travel without the high-stakes investment of having gotten on a plane or having to wait for a mode of transportation to get you home if you have to tap out.

Some aspects of anxiety, such as going through customs, aren’t able to be simulated in advance of travel. These are good situations to bring to your in-person or online anxiety therapy sessions to discuss with your mental health professional. You may recount previous interactions that were upsetting or unsettling in some way and re-imagine them. You may discuss your fears of the situation. If you are a person who is more likely to be profiled by travel authorities, this process may also connect to your interactions with local institutions, such as the police. Bringing your fears and frustrations about that into therapy is a good way to obtain support and reassurance, as well as to prepare for how you will take care of yourself in that moment.

When you are undergoing exposure and response therapy, it is essential that you feel that you are safe with your therapist and able to communicate your experience honestly. This is how you will be able to explore, reflect, and take action to move forward in the way that works best for you.

woman traveler in europa- Alhambra in Spain

Managing anxiety while traveling can seem daunting beforehand, but ultimately, it turns out to be similar to managing anxiety when at home. The same tactics for regulation can be employed when you are on your trip; similarly, unexpected situations can arise when you’re going about your daily life just as easily as when you are exploring a new place. Remind yourself that you can navigate those surprises and setbacks regularly, so there is no reason why you can’t do the same while traveling. Also, be sure to remind yourself that you are still worthy of a positive experience if you become overwhelmed by a trigger or event. There is no “right” or “perfect” way to navigate anxiety; there is only consistent effort and continued practice. If you have travel anxiety but are willing to take steps to see more of the world, you are already doing an amazing job! You deserve to take credit for being brave and moving forward. Give yourself that credit; be kind to yourself.

Anxiety Therapy at Embracing You Therapy

Anxiety signs and symptoms can worsen during the summertime due to changes in social engagements and daily routines, personally and professionally. You may find yourself losing sleep more, engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking, or feeling anxious more days of the week. When you seek Anxiety Therapy in Woodland Hills, CA, you will learn CBT and mindfulness techniques to regulate your anxiety and stress better, address the anxious thinking, and have better stress management tools.

Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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