Travelling with anxiety
By Jennifer Morash
Travel can be a stressful endeavor for the average person. So much to organise, so much to keep straight, so many little things to worry about.
Adding anxiety difficulties on top of that can make any trip seem like a Herculean effort.
Meanwhile, we see friends and family heading off on fabulous, exciting, fun vacations, and we want that for ourselves. If you throw a love of themeparks into the mix, though, it may seem like some insurmountable enterprise.
But it's not. We can do this. You, you right there, reading these words, can do this.
There are things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Some of these, you will have to figure out for yourself as you are the one best equipped to determine what your coping tools are, but I will outline what works for me. I have bad social and general anxiety, worse in the winter months.
Crowded spots in particular are bad for me. What I'm describing below worked very well for me. Not all of it may work for you, but if something resonates, give it a try.
The first step is entirely mental, and I think pretty universal. First, you have to change the language of your inner voice. When you start to think "I want to do this, but..." stop. Delete the but. Focus on "I want to do this." Remind yourself why you want to do this. It may be a desire for quality time with your family. Or perhaps you want a great solo trip to spoil yourself. Are you an enormous Harry Potter fan and dream of stroling through Diagon Alley? Have you always loved Disney movies? Trot out those reasons. They are important. You deserve to see those dreams come true.
Great. So you've gotten past the first hurdle. That is a big one. Now what? For me, it is research. Find out just what you're signing up for. At first glance, this tactic may seem like a bad idea. After all, if crowds make you anxious and your research is showing you that you're going to a super-crowded place, that might make you second guess your decision. But it's not, because of the next step.
See, the next step is to identify what might trigger your anxiety. It may be crowds. It may be heat. It may be worrying over other medical issues cropping up or being made worse by your vacation. Once you've identified these, though, you can start to make plans on how to deal with them.
Say it's crowds, and you're going to a theme park. If you head in knowing that you're going to be around many other people, you can figure out how to manage that. Perhaps you might want to head into those parks earlier, before the crowds get super thick. Perhaps you can work out when the less crowded times of year are. Perhaps the park has some quiet spots you can retreat to if you need a chance to collect yourself. If it's medical issues cropping up, you can work out what might set those off, and take steps to either avoid the trigger, or have what you need with you to address it if it happens.
One of my favourite resources for this is actually youtube videos. Not only are there plenty of tips on things you can do, but you can also see and hear what you're going to experience. This is particularly helpful if you're worried about rides. You can also check maps of the parks ahead of time, which can help you plan out a reasonable route, know where washrooms are and the like.
You can also find out if the place you are going to has any mechanisms in place to help you. Perhaps you qualify for some sort of disability pass. Perhaps they have a method of storing a medication on site that should be kept cold. Perhaps they have alternative menus if you are worrying about food allergies.
Next, set reasonable expectations. This is not the same thing as lowering your expectations. This is not a negative thing, nor is it conceding defeat. But it is important. For instance, if flying is going to badly trigger your anxiety, be aware of that, and perhaps find a different way to arrive at your destination. If being in a small, confined space is not a fun experience for you, expect that you may have to avoid some rides. If your anxiety gets worse with fatigue, accept that you may have to spend shorter days at the parks. All of these things are okay. None of these things are failures. You are not a failure for accepting them.
Communicate with those you are travelling with, be they family or friends or your partner. Let them know your areas of concern, let them know what you need to make this a fun vacation for you. Ask them if these are things they can handle. Then ask them if they have anything that might be making them anxious. For all you know, your openness may encourage them to open up with concerns they were keeping to themselves, and both of you will have a better time for it.
Lastly? Be kind to yourself. If you have a bad day, don't berate yourself over it, and don't let it impact the rest of your trip. If you're getting more overwhelmed than you thought, let yourself step back, rest, perhaps even skip some of what you had planned. It is not the end of the world, and may mean that the rest of the trip is better. Practice self-care.
Remember that you deserve to have a good time just as much as anyone else does. And that you can do this.