Wisdom//

How This Yogi Copes with Travel Anxiety

How planning, essential oils, and breathing get me from A to B.

ThomasVogel/Getty Images
ThomasVogel/Getty Images

Yoga and anxiety—you’d think they would be mutually exclusive. But not all yogis are Instagram-perfect. I can’t put my legs behind my head. I can barely hold a handstand. And when it comes to anxiety, I need to proactively practice self-care to maintain a daily sense of calm.

Travel heightens my sense of anxiety. I’m sure many people can relate. Travel is an adventure into the unknown, so it’s normal to feel anxious or nervous during the weeks before a trip.

From planning to traveling and venturing through my destination, these are my go-to tactics for alleviating travel anxiety.

Planning

Ironically, my anxiety is usually highest when I’m planning my trip.

To cope with pre-trip anxiety, it helps to plan things out as much as possible. Personally, I find it soothing and reassuring to build a (loose) schedule, make reservations, and gather price quotes for excursions. This promotes a sense of power and preparedness that makes it easier to feel confident, rather than anxious.

Below are my favorite websites for scouting different destinations:

· Lonely Planet: I was first introduced to this website in college. To this day, it is one of the first websites I visit to learn more about a specific destination.

· The Electric Soul: I follow a plant-based diet, and it isn’t always easy to find good dining options when I’m in a new city. More often than not, vegans who don’t plan ahead will get stuck eating salads at touristy cafes. This site is small, but it has delicious recommendations for vegan restaurants and trendy coffee shops in several major U.S. cities.

· Department of Homeland Security: In 2007, I volunteered at an elephant sanctuary north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was my first trip to such a faraway place, and my anxiety went through the roof as stories of political upheaval dominated the 2006 news cycle. Luckily, the trip was organized by International Student Volunteers (ISV), and they did a great job of updating us with accurate information. Since that time, I always check the Department of Homeland Security for travel alerts when I’m heading overseas.

After writing out a schedule with notes on what to do and where to eat, I turn my attention to my suitcase. If I’m traveling for less than 5 days, I try to take only what will fit in my backpack. It saves money, keeps me mobile, and reduces stress on the days where I actually need to travel.

In any event, I always pack my suitcase and lay out my travel clothes the night before departure. And yes—my travel clothes are always loose enough for an impromptu shadow box or yoga flow, because I never know when I’m going to need to blow off some steam.

Traveling

If I’ve planned correctly, I usually experience little anxiety while on the road. I grew up riding dirt bikes and flying airplanes with my grandfather, so I feel pretty comfortable while in transit.

However, anxiety is unpredictable. Over the years, I’ve developed a travel toolkit to keep myself level-headed when faced with flight delays, security stalemates, or just plain ole’ bad luck.

Pack light. I touched on this above, but I feel it needs reiterated. I find it much easier to deal with anxiety when I have all of my belongings securely strapped to my back. Try to pack everything into one easy-to-manage bag, whether it’s a backpack, shoulder bag, or fanny pack.

Box breathing. I learned this technique while studying for my yoga certification in 2016. Later, I learned therapists recommend this exact technique to patients who suffer with anxiety as a way to ward off panic attacks.

Sit up straight, relax your shoulders back, and inhale for a count of 4. Then, hold at the top of your inhale—lungs full—for another count of 4. Exhale slowly for a count of 4. Finally, hold at the bottom of your exhale—lungs empty—for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle for at least 2 minutes.

Essential Oils. I never travel without lavender, 5 thieves, and peppermint. Each of these oils can be immensely beneficial when traveling. Lavender helps me relax, 5 thieves bolsters immunity, and peppermint is a great pick-me-up for when I’m are jumping time zones. 

If you purchase from a website or local store, be sure that the oils are pure. As a rule of thumb, cheap oils are almost always synthetic and potentially dangerous. Just ask Wal-mart.

Venturing

Anxiety doesn’t care if I arrived at my destination safely. Even if I plan well and stay even keeled throughout my travel day, I still might feel anxious upon arrival. Nothing kills an adventure faster than an overactive mind, so I follow 5 simple rules to balance my mind and emotions while traveling.

1. Do something active upon arrival. I picked this up from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. As a comedian, Rogan has made a career out of traveling, and this his #1 recommendation for feeling good while on the road. There are also studies that suggest exercise can help to reset your circadian rhythm, which is vital if you are traveling across time zones and want to minimize jetlag.

2. Eliminate coffee, or switch to green tea. If you’re a coffee drinker, you probably know that caffeine can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Away from the responsibilities of work and family life, I find it easy (and relaxing) to turn off my coffee switch. When I really need a wake-up call, I’ll drink green tea instead. It’s lower in caffeine and contains a compound called theanine that helps to smooth the sensation over time.

3. Write Morning Pages. This technique was introduced to me by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. It’s very simple: First thing in the morning, put a pen to paper and write 3 pages of whatever comes to mind. The only goal is to keep going, nonstop and without judgement, until you hit the very last line on page 3. In addition to emptying my mind, it helps me resonate with my surroundings and cultivate gratitude for the day ahead.

4. Turn off the phone. I have a simple rule for phone use while I’m traveling. Unless I need to find a destination or take a picture, I do not use my phone. If that seems impossible, delete your social media, news, and entertainment apps. I promise they will be waiting for you in the App Store when you get home.

5. Stick to your evening routine. Sleeplessness can dramatically increase feelings of anxiety and discontent, so I stick to my evening routine while I travel to make sure I’m well rested. This includes using lavender essential oil and Box Breathing at least 30 minutes before I want to fall asleep.

Travel is one of the greatest things anyone can do. From weekend road trips to month long excursions overseas, it has the ability to open your senses to the world beyond your everyday routine. I remind myself of that every time I begin to feel anxious about an upcoming trip. Then, I begin my Planning, Traveling, and Venturing routines.

With just a little work, my anxiety slowly gives way to excitement. Only then can I grab my passport with a smile.

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