The fear of visiting a new, unfamiliar place and the stress of travel plans can lead to what’s sometimes called travel anxiety.
While not an officially diagnosed mental health condition, for certain people, anxiety about traveling can become serious, stopping them from going on a vacation or enjoying any aspect of traveling.
Learn some of the common symptoms and causes of anxiety about traveling, as well as tips and treatments to help you overcome it.
While anxiety symptoms are different for everyone, if your anxiety relates to travel, when you travel or think about traveling you may experience:
- rapid heart rate, chest pain, or difficulty breathing
- nausea or diarrhea
- restlessness and agitation
- decreased concentration or trouble focusing
- trouble sleeping or insomnia
If these symptoms become overwhelming enough, they can trigger a panic attack.
During a panic attack, it’s common to experience a racing heart, sweating, and shaking. You may feel disoriented, dizzy, and weak. Some people also feel disconnected from their body or surroundings, or a sense of impending doom.
What causes anxiety about travel?
Negative associations with traveling can develop from a variety of experiences. In one study, 65 percent of people who had been in a major car accident developed travel anxiety.
Having a panic attack while in an unfamiliar area can also lead to anxiety over traveling. Simply hearing about negative travel experiences, such as plane crashes or foreign illnesses, can spike anxiety in some people.
Anxiety disorders can also be caused by biological risk factors. Some researchers have found strong genetic links for developing anxiety in young adulthood and beyond. They also found that neuroimaging can detect changes in certain areas of the brain for people with anxiety disorders.
Tips to help overcome anxiety about traveling
If travel anxiety is negatively affecting your life, these tips that can help you cope.
Working with a therapist or counselor can help you learn remedies to help deal with anxiety and discover what works best for you.
Identify your triggers
Anxiety triggers are things that lead to an increase in your anxiety symptoms.
These triggers can be specific to traveling, such as planning for a trip or boarding a plane. They may also include outside influences such as low blood sugar, caffeine, or stress.
Psychotherapy, a treatment option for anxiety, can help you can identify your triggers and work through them before traveling.
Plan for certain scenarios
Pre-travel anxiety most often stems from the “what if” aspect of traveling. While no one can plan for every possible worst-case scenario, it’s possible to have a battle plan for some of the more common ones, such as:
- What if I run out of money? I can always contact a relative or friend. I can bring a credit card for emergencies.
- What if I get lost? I can keep a paper map or guide book and my phone with me.
- What if I get sick while on the trip? I can purchase travel health insurance before I leave or be sure my insurance will cover me. Most insurance policies include access to a list of healthcare providers in different areas of the country or the world.
By preparing for scenarios like these ahead of time, you’ll see that most problems have a solution, even while traveling.
Plan for responsibilities at home while you’re away
For some people, the thought of leaving home causes anxiety. Leaving the house, kids, or pets alone can cause extreme anxiety. However, like planning ahead for your trip, planning for being away from home can help ease that worry.
Hire a house sitter or ask a friend you trust to stay at your place to help take care of your affairs while you’re away. A good sitter will provide you with regular updates and communication while you’re away from your house, children, or pets.
Bring plenty of distractions
What’s your favorite activity that helps reduce your anxiety? For some people, video games and movies offer a visual distraction to pass the time. Others find comfort in quiet activities, such as books and puzzles.
Whatever your distraction is, consider bringing it along for the ride. Enjoyable distractions can help keep stave off negative thoughts and give you something positive to focus on instead.
Breathing deeply, relaxing your muscles, and grounding yourself can all help you relax and deal with anxiety.
Travel with friends
If you have anxiety about traveling alone, bring a travel buddy. If you choose to travel with someone else, there are plenty of partner or group activities to enjoy.
You might find yourself being more open and adventurous around someone comfortable. By the end of the trip, you may have even made a few new friends to travel with.
If therapy, preplanning, and distractions aren’t enough to help, medication is an option. There are two types of medications that are commonly prescribed for anxiety: benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
Research compiled from a 2017 studyTrusted Source found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most effective for long-term anxiety treatment.
In the case of a panic attack while traveling, a benzodiazepine such as lorazepam can provide short-term, immediate relief.
Find the positives in traveling
Traveling is a popular activity — so popular that U.S. residents made over 1.8 billion leisure trips in 2018. Exploring new experiences, cultures, and cuisines is a great way to widen your worldview.
Before your trip, it may be helpful to write down all the positive experiences you hope to get from traveling. Keep this list with you as you travel and refer to it during moments of anxiety.
How is anxiety diagnosed?
Anxiety becomes a serious issue when it negatively affects your quality of daily life.
One of the most common diagnostic tools used to diagnose anxiety disorders is the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Under the DSM-5 criteria, you may have an anxiety disorder if:
- you experience excessive anxiety on most days, for longer than 6 months
- you have at least 3 or more common anxiety symptoms on most days, for longer than 6 months
- you have trouble controlling your anxiety
- your anxiety causes significant stress and impedes your daily life
- you don’t have any other mental illnesses that could cause the anxiety symptoms
If you meet a certain number of these criteria, your doctor may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder or phobia, depending on the severity.
WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
If travel anxiety is negatively affecting your daily life, it’s time to see a doctor. Through therapy, medication, or a combination of both, you can learn to get through your travel anxiety. SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator can help you find a professional near you.
If you have travel anxiety, you may find yourself unable to participate in or enjoy traveling. Before a trip, mindful preparation can help reduce your negative emotions about traveling.
During the trip, mindfulness, distractions, and even medication are all options for reducing travel anxiety.
Both psychotherapy and medication are effective at managing most anxiety disorders and anxiety about travel. Reach out to a mental health professional to learn how to overcome your travel anxiety.
Originally published on Healthline.
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