Travel for the anxious and anxiety prone: How travel changed my life

I regularly get emails from people who are worried about travelling, but many of these people are just nervous because of their lack of experience. But travel for the anxious – the more clinically anxious, I mean – can be a battle of nerves in a whole different way. And I’ve got a story to tell about that. Here goes!

Travel for the anxious

My anxious days – when travel felt out of the question

Back in my late teens, I was quite the anxious gal. At the age of 18 I started to have panic attacks, the kind where you you can’t breathe and you think you’re going to faint or even die. They got worse and as an 19-year-old I dropped out of university and basically was stuck at home for a half a year – there were days when I was too terrified to even walk down the driveway to the letterbox. It sounds crazy now but I still remember it clearly. Gradually, I figured out how to get better and then for the next few years I was able to lead a more or less normal life, but avoided stuff that was likely to trigger a panic attack, like driving on a busy road (or especially over a bridge), going in elevators, or being in crowded places. Oh, and flying. Especially flying.

By my mid-20s I was able to be pretty normal all the time, and even began to push myself to do a few things that usually scared me, and the panic attacks that resulted weren’t as bad as before. I remember flying from Perth to Sydney, the first flight I’d taken since my anxiety had overtaken things, and although I was fairly sure for most of the flight that we were going to crash and I was going to die, we obviously didn’t, and little by little, I felt that even travel was something I could do again.

Anxious but moving abroad anyway

I was finally feeling brave enough to finally try to leave Perth for a while – something I’d always wanted to do. I got a job teaching English in Japan, and despite my pre-trip nightmares about getting crushed in an overcrowded Japanese train, I actually felt less anxious immediately.

Life in Germany and Japan - travel for the anxious

Life in Germany and Japan

It was weird, because there were all these new and strange things around me, but a lot of my anxieties back home had manifested from habit – for example, I once had a panic attack while driving over a bridge on the freeway, and so then I always got anxious driving over that bridge, and eventually any bridge. In Japan, everything was so utterly different that the triggers had all but disappeared.

Not entirely, of course – I still knew I wouldn’t travel solo (I was living in Japan with a boyfriend from Perth), and I don’t think there’s any way you could have convinced me to drive a car in Japan. But the confidence I gained from feeling generally less anxious, combined with the confidence I was gaining from having a job that I loved and was good at, but was relatively low-stress, meant I felt better than I had in years. Yay Japan!

Less anxious and moving on to bigger challenges

After Japan, I spent a year in Slovakia, and a year in Germany, still reasonably anxiety-free apart from a few triggers that I didn’t quite manage to overcome. Getting in a lift or elevator had long been a fear and although I managed quite well to take the lift at my Slovak apartment (living on the ninth floor meant I was really disinclined to take the stairs!), there was the weirdest scary lift at one of the buildings I taught at, so my anxiety stuck around there. I also didn’t need to drive a car in Slovakia; finally in Germany I needed to, but I was quite nervous on the one occasion a week I had to drive out on the country roads to teach at a company nearly an hour away. I certainly wasn’t going to drive on the crazy Autobahn!

But then: I decided I would become a single gal, and stay in Germany. This meant finding myself at Zagreb train station at midnight with no ticket to anywhere. It meant having to overcome that fear of driving on the Autobahn, because not only did I need to drive, but because I’d stayed so long in Germany, I needed to get my German driver’s licence, which involved passing the practical test including a stint on the Autobahn. It meant flying on my own regularly, to meet up with friends or to return to Australia for my sister’s wedding. In short, it meant that I had to deal with the rest of my anxieties – or go home. And I wasn’t yet ready to go home!

Travel for the anxious, with kids

Eventually, I did go home, but with a completely fresh perspective on life. (Yay, travel.) Anxiety seemed completely a thing of the past. And then I had my son, and oh my goodness, don’t children give you just about a billion reasons to be anxious?

He’s nearly five now, and I have travelled alone with him quite a few times. The first time, I was an absolute bundle of nerves, wondering how on earth I had thought I could be responsible for both him and me in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. We survived (happily). The first time I took him to Asia, rather than the “safety” (or familiarity) of Europe, I was crazily tense as well. But never did this anxiety well up in the form of a panic attack, or anywhere close to as bad as it had been in my teens or early twenties.

So that’s how travel changed my life

I would love to say that for all anxiety sufferers out there, travel is the solution. Of course it’s not, even though it ended up having that effect for me. But what I would like to say, if you’re anxious or suffer from panic attacks or anything similar, then don’t immediately discount the idea of travelling. You might be rather surprised at just how your brain can deal with travel and you never know, it might be just the thing you need to disconnect from an anxious life and reconnect with a happy one.

Comments

  1. Wow this sounds so familiar. My middle name is anxious and have suffered years of debilitating anxiety where I’ve been rendered incapable of even leaving my room for fear of, well, everything. But mostly fear of the anxiety that was always waiting around the corner. Now I focus on worrying to much about my kids but I too still struggle in small space, especially lifts, and am terrified of flying (ironic given that I am a travel writer) but I wont let it stop me from seeing the world.

    • Oh, snap! Somehow we are both lucky that our strong need to see the world is enough to get us over this. I’m glad I’m not the only travel addict who is terrified of flying. (We could get away with it perhaps if we lived in Europe or somewhere … but here in Oz we just have to fly, hey!). Thanks for sharing lovely xxx

  2. Good on you. Anxiety is something I do not suffer from but travelling can be one of the most anxious experiences for people. So for you to put yourself (and then with your child) out there to travel, I congratulate you.

    • Thanks Natalie, I appreciate that! Somehow it’s important enough to me that I manage to get past it. (Other things not: for example, you’ll never get me scuba diving or bungee jumping or anything, anxiety is way too high and desire to do it is too low!)

  3. Sounds like you threw yourself in the deep end, and survived. Go you! So awesome that something like travel was able to help you overcome so much.

  4. I have always been a fairly shy person around strangers and in large groups. However when I travel this shyness just dissipates. I’m not sure what it is when I leave home my confidence grows and I feel that I thrive.

  5. Yes, I have seen people who are traveling for the first time and are so nervous. But they are excited too for their trips. This is sometime happens with the people who are going to a new place and don’t know about the environment and state of living.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this! Something we’ll be sharing with our readers at Igloo. I think so often the anticipation of travel seems much more intimidating than the actual experience when you’re out there. The more we can share positive experiences, hopefully the more people will feel confident to try their own adventures!

    • You’re welcome Anna and thanks for sharing it. It breaks my heart when people don’t travel just because they don’t have the confidence to do it so I’m always trying to encourage people to get out there! It’s *always* worth it!

  7. Hi Amanda,
    You’ve definitely come a long way from panic attacks just walking out to get the mail! That’s amazing that you have the courage to commit to something like moving to Japan, people *without* anxiety find that too much to handle.
    I’m definitely with you on the anxious driver stuff, I don’t like driving in *any* country let alone those with “flexible” traffic rules, and a highway with no speed limit. 😛
    Thank you for this wonderful post about overcoming your fear!

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.