How To Manage Travel Anxiety
by Cathleen Henning
If you have an anxiety disorder, an upcoming trip may be filled with any number of activities that trigger some or all of your fears and anxieties. Is it possible to travel if you have anxiety about it? Find out how to assess your situation and figure out a plan for making travel possible -- and even enjoyable! (Note: I recommend that you write down your thoughts as you go through these steps and talk to your therapist about what you are doing.)
1. Assess the situation and your fears. Step by step, go through the entire trip, including how you'll travel, your accomodations (such as hotel vs. staying with friends/family), whom you'll see, what activities you will do, etc. Then, for each step, evaluate your anxiety about it, and try to rate the level of that anxiety.
2. Be honestly realistic about what is possible. Please - work with a therapist on this one. Nothing is impossible, of course, but you need to decide if you have an appropriate amount of time to prepare for the trip and related activities/events. Put pressure from other people aside for now. If you decide you cannot take this particular trip, you then owe it to yourself to make a concerted effort to work on those fears that kept you from going.
3. Create a plan to work on your fears. Once you have decided to take your trip, you should now have a list of each step on the trip along with any related fears. Now it's time to decide what you can reasonably do about each fear in the time you have before the trip.
4. Decide which fears you might work on eliminating. For example, if you have 6 months to prepare and you have a fear of flying. Consider working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist particularly on this fear. A trip actually is a good time to work on many anxieties that may affect your day-to-day life. Talk with your therapist about which fears you have time to work on in a systematic way.
5. Decide which fears you will need to manage. Perhaps you have been working on your flying fear and it isn't going away. A possibility might be that you talk to your doctor about an anti-anxiety medication just for the flight. Or maybe you need to drive a distance alone but could do it with far less anxiety if you have a companion -- maybe a friend can go. In the long run, of course, the goal is to get well, but, along the way, there may be times you need to work around the anxiety.
6. Decide which fears you will need to remove. Sometimes it's just not possible to get over or manage a fear in a particular amount of time. See if you have an alternative. Afraid to fly? Is a train possible? Can't give a speech at your sister's wedding? See if there's something else you can do, but handle it in a loving way. Sometimes people understand and sometimes they don't. All you can do is try your best and offer alternatives as much as possible. Show you are making an effort.
7. Be comfortable. Do whatever you can to make the trip comfortable and don't feel silly about it! If staying at your crowded parents' home full of relatives is too much, stay at a hotel but visit them every day. Take relaxation tapes, comfy pajamas, a stuffed animal in your carry-on -- whatever works!
8. Be organized. Be organized about planning your trip -- both with your anxiety plan as well as the details about the trip. Don't add to your anxiety by mis-placing tickets or waiting until the last minute to make reservations. Make lists -- don't be afraid to write it all down. Do all that you can to feel as safe as you can.
9. Work with a professional. I know it's already been said, but, please work with a therapist on this. Be sure your therapist understands that you want to set goals along with what specifically you want to address. Create a plan together and decide what you reasonably can accomplish before the trip.
10. Talk to other people with anxiety, too. If you're not in a local support group (and even if you are), try forums like this one for tips, support, and advice about your trip and anything else related to anxiety and getting well.
1. After assessing your fears and creating a management plan, write a list of everything about the trip you will enjoy. Keep a list of these (or put them on index cards) to remind yourself of the positive reasons why you are taking this trip.
2. Don't be afraid to tell your travel companions about your anxiety. Be clear that you don't expect them to take care of you, but consider giving them a task or two that will help you with a specific problem (such as giving you the aisle seat on the plane). People want to help, but they don't want to be overwhelmed and they like to have specific ideas of what they can do to help.