Hi, welcome back to what I’m tempted to start calling the ‘Charlotte is a human disaster’ series. Today, we deal with how my body tries to convince itself its dying of stress basically all the time – especially when travelling. I love a holiday, I like weekend getaways to the seaside and swimming in a nice, clean, child-free pool. If I could just snap my fingers and be somewhere else, I’d literally never stop travelling.
But the journey, oh boy the journey.
Here is a list of things that go through my mind almost every time I leave the house for more than a day:
- Will my train be late?
- Will my plane (if applicable) crash into the ocean?
- Do I definitely have the right tickets?
- It is today right? I haven’t missed it
- Is this even my passport?
- What if I start to feel ill away from home?
- What if I get food poisoning?
- Do I have my purse?
- I have checked my tickets right? What if it’s a scam?
- What if I don’t like the food?
- What if the bed is gross?
- What if there are awful people next to me on the trip and I can’t move?
- What if I lose Lauren?
I think you get the picture here. This culminates in me being so stressed I can’t actually have fun until I’m settled into wherever we are staying. It also means I pack as many medicines as physically possible into my luggage. Aside from my daily tablets where would I be without medicine for upset stomachs, painkillers, heartburn medicine, anxiety relieving spray (which I’m not sure actually works but hey, better to have it than not), enough sun cream to shield us all from the sun forever and of course an entire pack of sanitary products even if I’m nowhere near needing them. Just in case.
You see, anxiety can manifest itself in a myriad of ways and for me it has always been physical. I get pain, exhaustion, cramping, nausea, heartburn…essentially my body does everything it can to convince me that it is not safe to leave the house and that I would be much safer and happier staying at home within reach of my comforts and medicines. I hate this. A while ago, I came off my medication for a while – the doctor did suggest this and it was gradual, not cold turkey – and for a period of about two weeks I felt very, very sick and lost quite a bit of weight because I was afraid to eat anything in case it made me feel worse. Lauren was terrified, I was terrified and my doctor eventually looked me in the eye and suggested I go back on my medication at a low dose, because my anxiety had spiked so much I was barely a functioning person. This is why when people think anxiety is just feeling nervous I want to shake them and tell them the truth. Anxiety controls my daily life. I’ve learned my little ways to cope, but it will never be gone. Some days I can’t eat certain things because I’m convinced they will make me sick, some days I’m convinced that everybody is secretly mad at me. If I say something stupid it will literally haunt my sleepless night for the rest of my days.
We recently went to Greece, as you may have seen on instagram (@sapphisticationblog) where I took the obligatory picture of myself reading by the pool with as few sunbathing strangers in the shot as possible. It was a wonderful trip, we went to the Lindos acropolis and tried Greek Coffee and a food called Cheese Pie which must be served at every great occasion in my life until I die (please see photo above). And for the week before we went I was rehearsing in my head everything that could possibly go wrong.
An example: Somebody mentioned there might be mosquitoes.
My brain convinced me that: A mosquito would bite me, I would get sick and I might die.
My coping method: I ordered mosquito repellent bands, insect repellent and aromatherapy necklaces into which I put small woolen pads soaked in citronella to ward off mosquitos.
Reality: We did not see a single mosquito, although that might have been because you could probably smell Citronella on me from nearby Turkey and I was often carrying a large book.
(Please note the TOTAL LACK OF MOSQUITOS)
Here are some of the ways I plan ahead before travelling to ease my anxiety and actually enjoy my trip:
1. I make sure I have printed every confirmation of everything we have booked. Trains, planes, hotels, transfers…everything goes in the plastic wallet. Which I usually ask Lauren to carry because I’m worried I’ll lose it. This way, if I panic on the plane there that I can’t remember something, I can literally just open the folder and check it there in writing. We had a nifty little travel-folder to store passes, passports and lists in.
2. Make lists. Lists are amazing, you can use them to make sure you don’t forget anything, and that you pack everything you came with and don’t leave anything in another country. You can also use them to obsess over train times that will be late anyway because trains are always late.
3. Research the area. If you have dietary requirements, there might be local restaurants that cater to them! We went to an all-inclusive hotel and the food pretty much catered for everyone and took some of that ‘oh god will I like the food’ stress out of travel. But don’t let anxiety rule out new experiences for you! We went to Greece, that’s rad, and you can bet I wanted to try some Greek food. We asked our rep (who lived there) what a good place might be to try the famous Greek Coffee and she suggested a lovely little cafe away from the main path to town that did all sorts of little pastries and pies and BAKLAVA and it was amazing. If you ever go to Rhodes, it’s called Koykos. I try not to let my anxiety prevent me from experiencing the cultures of the places I visit, and it pays off! I’m learning how to make cheese pie and Greek style coffee because I loved them so much.
4. Breathe. Mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises can be so incredibly helpful when you feel your breathing begin to spike. When I feel like a taut spring of tension and worry, I try to slow my breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth – and try to work through that knot of tension. It can be a great way to dedicate some ‘me time’ to yourself, whether its listening to relaxing podcasts, taking time out for a nice bath or shower, or just controlling your breathing in a crowded place. There are so many resources out there, try a few and see if any of them might be right for you!
5. Remember that medication can help with the management of anxiety symptoms. I know it might sound like I’m constantly tooting on the tablet foghorn here, but I’m just speaking from my own experience. For me, I felt so physically unwell at my worst that I couldn’t eat, my sleep suffered and so did I. Sometimes mindfulness alone just won’t cut it. On the medication I am on, having discussed it with my doctor, I am able to curb the worst of my anxiety and live a normal, healthy life with a manageable amount of stress. Different people need different things, and no two people will experience mental illness the same way so don’t hold yourself up to others to see if you match.
6. Try not to let anxiety ruin your holiday for you. If you figure out which methods of coping work for you, you can still go out there and have amazing adventures! Anxiety doesn’t have to mean you don’t go places, or see things. In our week in Greece we threw ourselves headfirst into exploring the island and the culture around us, it just took us a little more prep time than it might have done otherwise.
To those travelling with someone with anxiety:
We know it can be annoying, and we can’t help it. We’re literally terrified that something could go wrong and yes, we know it probably won’t but repeating that will just make us feel isolated. Please try to be patient with us, we hate this, and we are trying.
I hope you’re all having a great day, and I hope maybe this was helpful! Let me know in the comments how you/those you know deal with anxiety, there may be tricks I have yet to learn!