January 30th is mental health awareness day - at least in Canada, which is awesome, because up until recently, anything to do with mental health was considered a stigma or dismissed completely. The majority of the population suffers from some form of anxiety - stress related, fear related etc. From the time I was a small child and went on my very first flight I have been TERRIFIED of flying. Today, people are surprised to learn that I'm afraid of flying. As I've grown older, I've even developed a mild case of agoraphobia (fear of crowds). In any crowded situation, you can either find me quietly panicking or contemplating my escape. I will go into a zone and look around - scanning the amount of people that are around me and how many exit routes there are. Then I make sure to have a carefully planned escaped route. I've never been in a situation for me to feel this way, it's just something that happened. I think a lot of it has to do with our society and what we see on the news - mass shootings, disasters, etc. Sometimes it keeps me from hanging out with friends, but I've gotten good at ignoring it and reasoning with myself.
My life revolves around my next adventure, and usually people question HOW I can travel so much IF I have travel anxiety. Especially from those who have bad anxiety. I thought this would be a great topic for a post, for anyone else who gets nervous about traveling. I'll go through my own coping mechanisms and what I do to keep myself.
First things first, let me walk you through the process of my travel anxiety: About a week or two before take off I freak out a few times. This still happens, which is why I put quotation marks around overcame in the title of this post. At night or when I have downtime I consider horrible things that could go wrong on my flight and it sends me into a full blown anxiety attack. Increased heart rate, the feeling that my chest is caving in or someone is sitting on it (not having a heart attack lol), my face will sometimes go numb or tingle (during really bad attacks) and I do this odd twitch with my foot - the foot twitch usually signals Bryon that I'm having anxiety. You can't miss it and often times I don't realize I'm doing it. He usually places his foot on top of mine which makes me aware. I get this empty pit feeling in my stomach - sort of like when you feel like you're falling and things just go out of control from there. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I don't say anything at all...and during good times, I completely ignore it and walk my brain out of the situation as quickly as possible.
What I Used To Do:
At first, I would use a drug called Ativan to manage to my anxiety. About a week before any trip (again, this is from when I was young until probably about 28-29 years old) I would manage my anxiety with Ativan. Ativan didn't prevent my panic attacks or wandering thoughts, but it certainly put me to sleep and made me feel super groggy and not myself. I could miss the flight entirely by taking it at exactly the right time so I would be knocked out for the takeoff. It wasn't until a trip to Vegas with my girlfriends, where I had been drinking heavily the night before when I came face to face with the smallest plane I was ever about to board. When I realized I would be on this tiny plane for an hour I seriously panicked and took an Ativan. Which was stupid - alcohol and Ativan...no no no no no. I slept that entire flight. But I also woke up for our layover, bolted off the plane ahead of my friends and found a quiet place in the airport to nap without really being conscious of what I was doing. It took my friends a solid 30 minutes to find me. Even worse, Ativan would take a day off my trip because I would be so groggy and out of it for several hours after taking the medication, the only thing I would want to do was sleep. BORING. So I put an end to the medication. My problem then was, if I wasn't going to be able to medicate myself, how was I going to be able to get on the flight?
What I Do Now:
If I'm really nervous about a flight, I'll get a prescription of Ativan - but end up not using it. Instead, i adjusted my mindset. I think it's important to talk about anxiety to normalize it, but I don't think it's a good idea to talk about it - or rather boast about it in terms of how it burdens your life. I'm a firm believer that the more you boast about something, the stronger it manifests. Telling everyone and their best friend you suffer from anxiety just gives your mind more affirmation that you have it and it's controlling you. So I stopped telling people I have travel anxiety like it was a badge. I stopped saying things like, "I hate flying. If I could take another form of travel to get there I would." Or, "I don't want to go if I have to fly." Doing this wasn't meant to dismiss anxiety, but I did it for me, so I could put myself in a better mindset. If it happened to come up in conversation, I tried to be more casual about it. Like, "Yea, traveling causes me some anxiety, but I've learned to control it and not let it control me." BOOM. People take it less seriously when I put it in this context, which works in my favour. Because the more people ask about it, the more I tell myself it's a huge problem. I didn't want anxiety to take over my life, so I made the necessary changes in my lifestyle, which meant how I talk about it to help my mental health. And it worked.
Next, when I started freaking out, I firmly asked myself, "What is the worst that can happen and if you can't control it, why are you so worried?" I also reminded myself that traveling and seeing the world was important to me, and if something were to affect my life because of something that happened on the plane, what would be more important to me: A life lived in fear? Or a life lived to the fullest? Travel ALWAYS overruled my reasoning. And so, I got on the plane.
(I mean, why would you ever want to miss this view!?)
Because Bryon is a doctor, I sometimes hear about difficult patients. Patients who are so adamant on getting a specific diagnosis, getting a specific surgery they think they need, or having a problem identified that they think they have. And when things don't go their way, or the doctor tells them they need to do something else to fix the problem the doctor is wrong, and the difficult patient may follow the doctor's orders for a short period of time before deciding that THEIR own diagnosis is what's wrong. I'm def. not saying people who have anxiety WANT to have anxiety (hello, I get anxiety!!) but I did take this example as way to adjust the way I think about my anxieties. It took a little training and a little bit of telling myself to deal with it, but I'm so happy I have. If I hadn't adjusted the way I was feeling I would never be able to go to the places I have/do.
I do still panic and I do still get anxiety, but I don't let it control me. I don't take medication. I will also say that living a healthier lifestyle like eating well and going to the gym has helped. If I know I may get an on-set of anxiety I avoid stimulants such as coffee and sugar, which can also cause my panic attacks to worsen.
And that's it!!
I hope this post helps someone who is afraid to travel <3