Whether you’re traveling for work, going on a two-week poolside vacation, or backpacking around Europe for six months, planning a trip can be stressful and even scary.
Most people deal with a certain amount of fear or worry about traveling. In the wake of the global pandemic, many people are understandably a little more nervous about traveling than they used to be. If your anxiety is getting in the way of your daily life and significantly impacting your well-being, it may be worth seeking advice from a mental health professional.
What is Travel Anxiety?
Travel anxiety (also referred to as vacation anxiety) is not an official mental health disorder, but it can be a common issue, particularly for those who already suffer from another anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common types of mental health disorders. In fact, anxiety disorders affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. If you suffer from mental health conditions or a type of anxiety such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic disorder, you may be more likely to experience feelings of anxiety while planning your trip or during your travels.
Symptoms of anxiety vary depending on the person and type of anxiety in question. However, common anxiety symptoms can include:
- Negative thoughts
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Headaches, muscle aches, and stomach problems
- Irrational or excessive worry
Some types of anxiety disorders can also lead to panic attacks. Symptoms of this can include:
- Chest pain (please note chest pains could be a more serious issue – see below)
- Pounding or racing heart
- Feeling out of control
Some of the symptoms described above are also associated with other medical issues. If you are encountering any persistent symptoms, you should get a full evaluation by your doctor to make sure there are no serious medical issues.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, the 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress. By calling or texting 988, you'll connect to mental health professionals with the Lifeline network.
What causes travel anxiety?
As we already mentioned, travel anxiety is not an official diagnosis and, as such, there is no specific trigger for it. Regardless of whether or not you suffer from an anxiety disorder, there are certain aspects of travel that can cause feelings of anxiety and fear.
These aspects can include:
- Being out of your comfort zone
- Fear of flying (flight anxiety)
- Being in an unfamiliar place
- Not being able to control everything
- Meeting new people (particularly if you suffer from social anxiety)
- Being away from your home
- Being away from loved ones
- Not being in your usual routine
It’s normal to be a little bit anxious about these things but if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it’s worth speaking to a healthcare professional.
Top Tips for Managing Travel Anxiety
Although it can often feel a bit overwhelming, travel anxiety doesn’t have to stop you from traveling or enjoying your trip. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do to better manage your travel anxiety.
Control what you can
Chances are, you won’t be able to micro-manage every single aspect of your travel experiences. Certain things will inevitably be beyond your control. However, you can—and should—organize certain travel plans ahead of your trip to give yourself some peace of mind.
Rather than worrying about the things you can’t control, focus instead on the things you can control. Getting these things done before you leave will allow you more time to think, research and plan. This will make you feel a lot more reassured and calm than if you have to book things quickly while on the road.
Things to do before your next trip include:
- Buying travel insurance and health insurance
- Booking all flights, trains, and airport transfers ahead of time
- Researching and booking hotels in plenty of time
- Having a backup plan for lost documents
- Plan and book some major activities ahead of time
- Buying a guidebook for the local area
- Make sure all vaccinations are up to date
Some people also find it helpful to have a list of things they need to do, have, or think about. That way, if they start to worry that they’ve forgotten something, they can just refer to the list and feel reassured.
Manage your usual anxiety symptoms
If you already suffer from an anxiety disorder, chances are you will experience some level of anxiety about traveling. Give yourself a bit of a head start by making sure you are properly managing your existing anxieties.
If you’re taking antidepressants or anxiety medication, keep taking them as per medical advice. Make sure you have plenty of medication to last for your whole trip. For longer backpacking trips, make sure you know how and where you can get prescription refills.
It’s also worth checking in with your healthcare provider ahead of your trip for a general wellness check and to make sure you have any required vaccinations and are stocked up on your medications.
Try breathing exercises
The great thing about breathing techniques is they can be done almost anywhere. You can try preventative relaxation techniques such as meditation or reactive breathing techniques if you feel a wave of panic or anxiety coming on while you’re on your trip.
Some breathing and relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety include:
- Box breathing (breathe in through the nose for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4 and hold for 4)
- Guided imagery
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
Downloading some guided meditation or guided breathing sessions on your phone can be a great way to access helpful resources on the road. If you find yourself feeling particularly stressed and anxious to the point where you can’t even think about these techniques, then just focus on taking slow, deep breaths.
Talk to your loved ones
Whether it’s a family member, friend, or partner, having someone to talk to when you’re feeling anxious can make all the difference. If you’re experiencing anxiety about your trip, let your loved ones know how you are feeling. That way, they will know to check in with you regularly.
If you are traveling with others, let them know that you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. This will allow them to be more sensitive to your needs in general. In the event that you have a panic attack or similar kind of episode, they will understand what’s happening and be able to assist you better.
Struggling with Anxiety? Get the Help You Need Today
Anxiety can be scary and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how to deal with it. If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms discussed above, it’s worth reaching out to a qualified psychiatry expert (PSYD) or your healthcare provider for professional health advice.
Don’t suffer in silence. Make an appointment with the Babylon online healthcare team today.
- Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
- American Psychiatric Association https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
- National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513238/