I’m happy to announce the second guest post on my blog, by the lovely Linda from Travel Lit. In return, I wrote a post about how I used the internet to find farm work and friends in Hawaii at age 18. If this captures your interest, head on over to Travel Lit to have a read. It includes tips on finding these opportunities across the world and an account of my personal experience as a young solo traveller. But for now, stick around to read Linda’s story of travelling with anxiety…
It is unbelievable how many people are suffering from anxiety nowadays. And it is crazy how many people do not know that the cause of their weird, unexplainable problems is actually anxiety. So many of us feel unsafe, worried and constantly anxious and it keeps us from even the most basic daily chores. When it comes to traveling, leaving the house and heading into the unknown, anxiety tends to pull together all its power and hit extra hard. Well, I am no exclusion and I deal with it every day while constantly on the road. And, if I can deal with it and enjoy my travels to the fullest – anyone can. Let’s see how it attacks and how to overcome it for good! And most importantly, acknowledge that anxiety should not stop you from traveling.
Who am I and what I do
I am the author of travel blog Travel Lit and a full time traveler. My husband and I have been traveling full time for the past 9 months and what initially was planned as 1 year of traveling has now become my lifestyle. We write blogs, film vlogs and movies, create photographs and build our Social Media channels. My husband and I live unpredictable lives, which most of the people would consider crazy. Really, which sane person would like to move accommodations every 2-5 days and live out of a back pack long term? We love it. Hands down packing our bags and leaving our 9-to-5 jobs has been the best decision we have ever made. However, for me, it comes with an extra luggage – continuous anxiety.
World traveler with an anxiety
Anxiety has many different faces. The one that seems to haunt me is quite a severe health anxiety with some aspects of general anxiety popping up every now and then. It is a mystery to me where the anxiety came from but ever since it arrived 2 years ago it has never left. We have had some ups and downs together and every day I am learning how to deal with it and how to not listen to the crazy thoughts Miss. Anxiety plants in my head.
I had my first panic attack in a minivan while traveling in Guatemala. It was a long 5 hour drive uphill and the minivan was packed. I had no particular worries in my mind but from nowhere my hands started to get numb and I started trembling. I felt like I am going to pass out and that there is not enough air in the whole world to fill my lungs. We stopped at the side of the road and I just sat there, crying, trembling, thinking I am having a stroke at the age of 22. People around me gave me some hydration pills and said “looks like a panic attack”, it was the first time I heard the word combination “panic attack”. Well, it was not the last one. However, after that one occasion I kept living peacefully and forgot about the incident.
A day after my graduation and my thesis defense I fell ill. Unexplainable headache, fevers, chills, dizzy spells, swollen lymph nodes, digestion issues and everything in between. For two weeks all the doctors said it’s a virus and it will clear up after a week or two. When my ears starter buzzing and eyesight blinding at random moments I knew it was not “just a cold”. All the bloodwork and physical examinations did not see anything worrisome. And it kept going like this for about 4 months until I had visited all the possible doctors and thrown away a ton of money. I visited a neurologist who simply stated “Are you happy? There is something bothering you, an inner fear of some kind. It is not a coincidence that it all started a day after your graduation. Do you know what you want to do with your life?” He told me to visit a professional and better get back on track otherwise I might ruin my life.
The only thing I knew at that time is that I want to travel and escape the routine, the negativity at work and be my own boss. We packed all our stuff, stored it at friend’s attic and left with no concrete return date. I thought anxiety will be left behind as was the routine and the always gray Holland sky, but I was wrong.
How anxiety hits while travelling
I hate flying, I am one of those people. But since the anxiety came into my life I am terrified of flying. Every single bump makes me thing we will fall off the sky and crash. Every “traveler’s belly” makes me thing I have a serious, incurable disease. Every time a bus is late I start trembling and get hot flashes because I am certain we missed it. Every single time I have a headache I think that’s the end. Every time I pet a puppy or a cat I have the voice at the back of my head saying “watch out for rabies”. Every mosquito bite is malaria. The list is endless. These are the things I would have never worried about when I was anxiety free. I would never even notice these small issues. No one would think about rabies when petting cutest stray puppies in the world. Well, I have been to hospitals in every single country we have visited because of my oversensitivity and overthinking. Usually it is just a cold, a mild infection or a food poisoning. The problem, however is that the more I think about the symptoms, the more they seem to persist and the more I seem to notice them. And, naturally, if you keep looking for something, you will find something, even if it is a minor issue you should not be worried about. A smart neurologist I visited said I have psychosomatic issues, which is a smart word for health anxiety to my understanding. You create physical symptoms in your head with such a power of thoughts and you believe to their realness so hard that they become real. I was amazed by the way human body works.
After 7 months of traveling and my anxiety slowly fading away I got sick once again while we were in Thailand. Doctor said it is tonsillitis from the strong air conditioning in our apartment. When nothing improved after antibiotics and 2 weeks of waiting and I still felt like my whole body is in pain and swollen lymph nodes are not going away I decided to do a full health check. They discovered I have an EBV virus infection and that having one as an adult is quite an exhausting thing. Usually everyone has it as a child, thus it passes unnoticed. It caused my anxiety to spike again. It took 3 months for the EBV to clear up and me getting back to normal. Traveling with anxiety has been like a roller coaster, especially because you never know what to expect. All the health issues that I have had, real and psychosomatic ones are related to my very weak immunity and constant elevated cortisol (stress levels). All of this because of negative mindset, constantly googling all the worst and planting it into my brain. The only thing I know for sure is that if I hadn’t escaped the routine I would have had way more time to pick my brain for symptoms and drive myself insane. I guess everything happens for a reason and traveling is, while still stressful for such a nerve ball as me, healing.
How to deal with anxiety
Well, probably now you are thinking that this is all quite terrible and I should most likely take anti-depressants or something. But NO! I got prescribed them once, but I also know what comes with them, and I decided to deal with anxiety on my own, no medication. Often it is great to have someone around that is completely sane and can calm you down at times you are about to go through the roof. My husband always calms me down and tells me that there is no reason why I should worry and if there really was a reason, everyone would be panicking. Whoever you have around to calm you down and let you know that all the symptoms are just in your head will do. It can be your mom, your siblings, your other half or best friend. However, if you do not have anyone around, I have found some great support on forum NoMorePanic. People share their struggles and support each other all the way. You can also search for all your symptoms there to be assured it is only anxiety and nothing else.
While I am on the road music helps. Working out also helps. I find myself tired more often so I just sleep it out, I give my body a break because it has wasted all its energy worrying. Work really helps to get thoughts away as well, especially writing and photo editing. And the best thing is being around new friends. Wherever we go we meet awesome people and hanging out with new friends takes the cares away like nothing else. I have even met people dealing with the same issues and found some great comfort in talking with them. It is really hard to understand anxiety if you have not experienced it and to take an advice from someone who does not have it. However, talking is the key. The more you talk the more you free up the space in your head for positive thoughts. You have to let the negativity go one way or another.
In the end I am in the same boat as everyone else dealing with anxiety and reading this is, so better take my advice! Just let the time go, try to focus on something else. Stop looking for symptoms and focus on more important things. This life is beautiful, and as soon as you start focusing on the good things, you will feel the sun some into your life!
Anxiety should not stop you from travelling, it can only help
Anxiety should not stop you from traveling, let alone doing anything else you enjoy. Just think about it, if you will give in to your thoughts and stop doing what you love, where will you end up? Our passions keep us alive and keep us motivated. Our friends and family uplifht us. Seeing new places is the best kick you could have. Believe me, there are many, many places in the world you still have to explore. No time should be wasted sitting around at home and googling to become the doctor of everything (I already hold a google degree, and it was a waste of time, lol). Whatever you love should be taken up tenfold, so much that you do not have time for the anxiety nonsense, right? It is hard to understand it, but at least that is how it works for me. Of course, I still get the occasional “google fever” and “our plane will crash” but it definitely is easier and better than if I was alone at home or surrounded by negativity at my workplace. Just think of the freedom traveling gives and the possibilities it opens.
Thank you to Linda for writing about her personal experience with anxiety whilst travelling for my blog, I feel very lucky to be able to share stories like these.
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And remember to go and check out my guest post about Hawaii 🙂