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.
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.
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!
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.
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?