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Why travel anxiety happens and how to cope

Photo by Palu Malerba: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-standing-near-glass-wall-2426551/

Travel is finally back in full swing.

It’s an exciting and fulfilling experience, but for many it can be peppered with anxiety.

From airport crowds to delays to finally getting on a plane, there are various touch points where anxious feelings can make an appearance.

Very often it can take the fun out of a holiday altogether.

And now, travelling can be even more difficult. We are only feeling our way back into it after two years and with delays becoming more frequent due to everything from security staff shortages to IT failures, panic is rife.

So what exactly causes travel anxiety?

Well, it’s a mixture of things.

Why travel anxiety happens

Senior therapist Sally Baker says it is an accumulation of elements.

‘Travel is a break from routine,’ she notes. ‘Travel demands having the right paperwork and timings, all of which can increase anxiety.

‘It feels like an event and most people don’t travel enough to feel relaxed and calm about the process. Travel comes with high expectations which again increases anxiety as you are so emotionally invested in a trip.

‘Add into the mix a two year break due to Covid, when even seasoned travellers didn’t go anywhere, and you are bound to add to travel anxiety.

‘Also, bad childhood memories can be triggered by the thought of travelling as a adult. This can come from recalling car sickness, fear of flying or even remembering family tensions before a journey.’

If going away with others, Sally says a good move is to inform your companions of your fears. This allows them to have a prior understanding.

‘Acknowledging to others that you find going on holiday triggers your anxiety can help people understand this is not an easy process for you,’ she explains.

‘Have a conversation with any travelling companions to explore the trigger points so that you can all minimise them.

‘If your anxiety is increased by fear of missing planes or trains you can make sure everyone knows you’ll need to be at the airport or station extra early for instance. Other people are not psychic and may well have different behaviours around travelling.

‘Someone with travel anxiety is going to feel more anxious travelling with someone who has a Machiavellian approach to going on holiday. Make sure your on the same page. Tell them what you need to feel calmer.’

How to cope with travel anxiety

While it may be difficult to think about anything other than the worries in your mind, Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic has a number of practical tips which can ease your travel distress.

‘Plan ahead and also doing a grounding exercise is a great idea,’ she advises.

‘Grounding exercises are brilliant because you can practice them anywhere. There is an exercise known as the 54321 Game, and you can use it whenever you feel anxious.

‘In it, you describe five things you can see and four things you can feel, for example, your back against the chair. Then you name three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one good thing about yourself.

She continues: ‘Practice slow, deep breathing. It may seem simple, but slow, deep breathing can be a really powerful way of giving your parasympathetic nervous system a jump-start. This will promote a sense of calm in the mind and body.

‘Notice and call out any catastrophic thinking. If you find that you’re engaging in any, remind yourself it’s just a thought and something your mind does when you feel a certain way. Our thoughts are very often not reflective of reality.’

However, both Dr Touroni and Sally agree that if your anxiety is preventing you from travelling or feels utterly overwhelming, seeking professional help is a good idea.

‘Travel anxiety responds well to brief therapy interventions, so it’s well worth seeking professional help,’ Sally notes.

‘Everyone has natural amounts of anxiety about travelling as it’s usually outside of someone’s comfort zone. But if the anxiety becomes formidable, stops you from travelling or makes the whole experience deeply unpleasant, then it’s time to get help.

‘Skills can be learnt to help travellers manage and reduce their anxiety while in transit and memories of past challenging travel experiences can be resolved so that they’re no longer triggering.’

 


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