Traveling with Anxiety: My Experience with Mental Health and Travel

I’ve battled anxiety and depression my whole life, it’s just something I deal with. I never get used to it and sometimes I feel as if it only gets worse the older I get. When Amanda and I decided to travel, I was excited and terrified at the same time. This was one of my biggest dreams since I was a kid and potentially a terrifying reenactment of my worst nightmares. The thought of dealing with anxiety and depression while on the road scared the shit out of me. What if I have an episode and there’s no place for me to go? What if I’m on a crowded metro and claustrophobia sets in? What if I get depressed and I can’t shake it? I think I feared mostly that dealing with all this would be a burden to Amanda. As excited as I was for the trip, part of me was dreading it.

I keep going back, thinking about how I felt before that first trip. I keep picturing myself sitting on a crowded metro. It’s extremely vivid, usually when we create these fears for ourselves they are. I’m sitting on this Metro, it’s red, kinda greasy, wet from the rain…of course it’s raining… I’m surrounded by people, squeezed into this tiny seat, they’re bumping me as they walk by or the car sways. The whole time my face is getting hotter with each bump, I feel my throat tightening more and more, my mouth is drying out, my palms are sweating, my heart is trying to jump out of my chest, my stomach is tying itself into knots and doing flips at the same time, if one more person touches me I am gonna freak out. A thousand thoughts are racing through my head as I get worse and worse. I’m thinking, there’s nowhere for me to go, just gotta grit my teeth and bear it, do I get off, where’s Amanda, how can people travel like this? I’m stuck and there’s nowhere to go in my little nightmare… I replayed this scenario over and over leading up to our trip, but then something completely unexpected and amazing happened…

New York City. We arrived early in the morning, the sun was just beginning to peek through the buildings and in that moment, swept up in the beautiful sunrise and the magnificent New York skyline…all of the anxiety, the fear, the worry, all of it just disappeared. I can’t even begin to explain how profound of an impact traveling the world has had on my mental health. There has been no better therapy, no better medicine, meditation, or anything that I have tried, that has even came close to matching the peace of mind I feel while traveling. My whole life I have been dealing with anxiety and depression, and it took one trip to New York City and Europe to put it to rest.

I did have a few issues while traveling, but no major anxiety attacks or anything, it was amazing. Most of those issues involved public transportation, for the most part claustrophobia, but only a few times, and we were on a lot of packed buses and metros. I’m afraid of heights so whenever we were on a lift, or a sky walk, or an observation deck with a lot of people crowded around, it freaked me out a little bit. Lastly, when we we’re staying at a hostel in Budapest for a month, my normal anxiety and depression was returning and I was starting to feel like how I was before the trip again. When we were not on the go, my mind wasn’t occupied, I quickly put two and two together and now when I start feeling down, I just go explore someplace new…or at least when I can.

So, what would someone with this life-long travel companion suggest? Stay on the move, keep your mind occupied with all the new sights and sounds. Immerse yourself in the culture wherever you go, if you’re learning and experiencing something new, you’re more likely to stay happy and in a positive state of mind. If you do need space, if you need to recharge your battery, center yourself, or regroup, that’s completely okay. While it may be hard sometimes when you’re traveling through touristy areas to find a spot to be alone, it’s not entirely impossible. Take a timeout if you can find that spot, get your head straight and come back stronger. If you can’t find anywhere to be alone use headphones, listen to music, get lost in your own little world. If you’re commuting somewhere, this is a great way to recharge your battery when there’s other people around. Most of all just enjoy the trip, enjoy the experience, and just enjoy life

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