Interview: How to Travel with Anxiety

Interview: How to Travel with Anxiety

Today I talk to Alysha from Adventurous Alysha who is another Australian blogger that writes about the intersection of mental illness and travel. Her mission is to help other anxiety sufferers travel in spite of their condition. In this interview she reveals her background of living with her condition and her tips or how to travel with anxiety.

Hey Alysha! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a 22-year-old lover of travel from a beach town on the east coast of Australia, who can’t stop watching the movie Wayne’s World, and snacking on mangoes and hot chip sandwiches in the summer. I’m currently travelling Europe and the UK for the third time in three years, and was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety and Panic Disorder in 2014, at the age of 19.

What does anxiety look like in your life?

Anxiety for me, for a long time, is what I thought normality looked like. Which is probably one of the biggest struggles I dealt with after being officially diagnosed in 2014. I am in a constant limbo between being myself, and being what anxiety tells me to be. There are times; days, weeks, and more recently a month or so, where every day my anxiety is peaked, often with no real trigger. So it can be incredibly debilitating at times to do the most simple of tasks; going to work, getting out of the house, hanging out my washing, or seeing a friend.

How does anxiety affect the way that you travel?

I often find myself avoiding certain countries or cities, or getting really worked up over visiting a new place when I’ve heard one or two bad stories. I feel anxiety rising up in my throat when I’m worried about money, or travelling alone, which a lot of people experience. But having anxiety over a situation like that can keep me up for almost 24 hours, or greet me with a panic attack at 4am alone in a hostel, or bring on physical pain in my body for days. Anxiety always makes me think of the worst possible scenario, which means I find myself being completely distrusting of new people, which is super unhealthy among backpackers.

woman alone in a crowd

What strategies do you use to travel with anxiety?

This is a difficult one, because I am always learning, and really appreciate listening to others about what works for them. Because what works best for some people doesn’t work best for others.

But I use a few breathing and visualisation techniques, and of late have started to use calming scents like lavender, and the 5,4,3,2,1 method. I also use music to set the mood and tone of an activity that makes me anxious before it begins, like flying, and try to focus on the legitimacy of my panic; is the situation really that bad? Is there anything I can do or change? If not, I need to accept that it is out of my control, which is much easier said than done.

I’ve spoken more in depth on how to cope with anxiety when flying, and when on the road on my website.

Does travel help to overcome your anxiety?

I know this sounds super cliché, but honestly, travel is the greatest thing I’ve ever done for my mental health. You are forced to depend on yourself, challenge your thoughts and opinions, meet new people and change scenery very often. And I appreciate that this all sounds terrifying for a lot of people struggling with mental health issues, but it is just such an incredible way to realise that you’re so much more capable than what you give yourself credit. It’s not all fun and easy going all the time, but I encourage anyone to give it a go. It doesn’t have to be a huge trip to the furthest destination, but taking time for yourself is so important.

Where would you most like to visit in the world and why?

This is such a hard question to decide on because I love so many places I haven’t been to! But I am so interested in South America: the culture, the history, the colourful festivals, the languages, just all of it. I’d love to trek to Machu Picchu, but maybe when I get my fitness levels up a bit. I’m also learning Spanish and that’s been a challenge in itself. But I’m hoping to be a little more fluent by the time I head to South America, so you could say I’m already planning!

Colonial buildings in the Colombian city of Cartagena. Street vendors sit outside the largest building.

What prompted you to start blogging about how to travel with anxiety?

For the past three years I’ve been taking off on a new adventure at least every six months. This means that I quit whatever job I’m working at the time, book a flight, and head off for a while. But this also means that when I come home I have to start from square one again; finding a job, learning new skills. And that in itself can bring a lot of anxiety; wondering when I’d be able to gain employment again. So I decided I needed to be able to blend my love for travel, and my love for writing, but in a way that actually meant something to me. I tried for a while to think of what I was an expert in, what I could do that not many others could. And to be honest, I don’t have any real expertise or talents (other than being able to stand on my head for about 10 seconds).

I realised that my struggle with anxiety, the most prominent mental health disorder in Australia, combined with my ability to speak about issues that aren’t mainstream, without feeling embarrassment or shame, was really important. Not only to myself and my loved ones, but to those experiencing the same things I have been for my whole life, who think that they’re alone.

I’m in no way a mental health professional, but by sharing my story, and admitting that I’m still learning, others have come to me to tell me that they needed to hear what I have been saying. And it sounds selfish, but that is so important to me. To know that, even on my hardest day, I’m making a difference, and that I’m doing something significant. Not only for me, but for others in a position where I once was, hoping for someone to relate to.

Writer's desk

What’s the one thing that you wish people understood about living with anxiety?

That it is real, and it is terrifying to feel like a prisoner in your own mind. I wish others understood that there is a very distinct difference between feeling nervous and living with an anxiety disorder. As human beings we all experience anxiety at some point in our lives; it’s in our nature and certain levels of it help us to survive and avoid risky or dangerous situations. But for those of us living with an anxiety disorder it is a completely different story. If someone you love is living with anxiety, it is so important to them that you recognise the struggle, that it is valid, even if you don’t fully understand it.

On the other side, I also wish those living with anxiety would understand that they’re not crazy, or broken, or unloved. And that seeking help is the most important thing. We support each other, and utilising the help of others makes you stronger, not weaker.

Do you live and travel with anxiety? What are your tips for best managing your anxiety disorder?

 

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By | 2018-01-11T22:50:56+00:00 December 17th, 2017|mental health|16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. byronicone December 19, 2017 at 1:32 am - Reply

    Just visited Alysha’s blog, love it! Thanks for sharing her story and look forward to hearing more from both of you. You’re a formidable tag team

    \m/(>_<)\m/

    • Her Travel Therapy December 19, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

      I’m glad you enjoy her writing! I like that I can help to showcase tips on living and travelling with a different mental condition to mine and help even more people.

  2. Danik January 7, 2018 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    Fantastic read this and never really thought about people who travel with anxiety despite coming across who suffer with this over the years. This has made me sit up and think about this in a lot more different way than I usually would.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 8, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      I’m really glad!

  3. Anuradha Goyal January 8, 2018 at 12:57 am - Reply

    Travel can be relaxing as it takes you away from your everyday worries. It makes you feel free of the stress that comes from your own system.It may not help you deal with the anxiety but helps you relax a bit.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 8, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      I agree that some travel is relaxing. I find a lot of the logistics quite stressful though.

  4. Nisha January 9, 2018 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    Hatsoff to Alysha.. She is very brave . Till the time the flight takes off I am on my toes running here and there. While I am not afflicted, I am much encouraged by her thought process and her interview. Thanks you.

  5. travellingslacker January 10, 2018 at 4:18 am - Reply

    Really glad to see you discussing something like this. It is a difficult topic and most people just present a happy, sunny picture of travelling. But stories like this show the true purpose of travelling… to overcome your issues and fears.

  6. Sam Sparrow January 10, 2018 at 5:35 am - Reply

    This is such a good interview – I too have anxiety and travel really has completely transformed my mental health. I do have to manage it all carefully though – as if I go too fast it comes back. I’ll definitely try this breathing technique.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Living with mental illness is such a balancing act of wanting to challenge yourself but not wanting to push yourself too far.

  7. Siddhartha Joshi January 10, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Kudos to Alysha for not only traveling the world despite anxiety, but also sharing details about her condition – it would be both helpful and inspiring for many others. It’s so nice to read that travel actually helps her cope better with it 🙂

    We also have a common dream – a trek to Machu Pichu 🙂

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      She’s definitely an inspiration.

  8. Suruchi Mittal January 10, 2018 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Talking about your own fears is really a big thing and through your talks you are really motivating people to overcome those. Travel can actually help them in overcoming. The breathing and visualization techniques really helps in calming down. You are so right living with anxiety disorder is different than feeling nervous

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:19 pm - Reply

      Alysha definitely has some good techniques for coping with anxiety while travelling.

  9. Anita Hendrieka January 11, 2018 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Really great post. I can relate as I do suffer from anxiety but over the years of travelling solo and putting myself out there more my anxiety is just about non-existent. I learned that there is always a solution to every problem and you just have to ride the wave and trust the universe.

  10. Medha Verma January 11, 2018 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    I really admire Alysha for being so brave and facing her disorder rather than letting it stop her for living her dreams. She’s got some good ideas and methods in place and that’s really inspirational. She is right that it is very difficult for us who are not going through something like this, to understand what anxiety really is and how it works and how it is different for a person feeling nervous and those living with anxiety.

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