The neurotic's guide to traveling

How to vacation when you have anxiety

You're 3 hours early to the airport. You check your boarding pass for the 16th time. You close your eyes and try to calm down, but visions of your most definitely bothersome seatmate invade your mind.

To you, the word, "vacation" doesn't mean unwind, relax, and enjoy. Instead, it means: "stress." To you, the word "vacation" isn't associated with beaches or cocktails, but with long lines, delays, and unsanitary transportation conditions.

Face it: you have travel anxiety.

"Vacation mode" is not something that you can switch on, like "airplane mode." You're worried about all the emails that will flood your inbox when you return, or missing your connecting flight, or getting put in a smoking room. To you, the only extra baggage you carry is your anxiety. And that stuff can weigh you down. Here are a few tips on how to try to achieve vacation mode a little bit easier.

Before you go

If you're working, you know that you have to give notice before you take off and go. And especially as an anxious person, we know you'll be worrying about everything that's going to happen while you're trying (failing) to relax on a beach in Antigua. It is never too early to inform your boss that you would like to request time off. Once you get that off your chest and your vacation is approaching, make sure you remind your boss and let them know that you are taking care of everything now and that you will be unavailable on vacation (unless for emergencies, but still). Setting a vacation message is also a crucial step. No one should be bothering you on vacation. Make sure they understand that. This is you time, to the max.

Also, make sure you have a contingency plan. As anxious people, we're planners. But here's the problem. Vacation is not all about "having a plan." In order to have fun, there has to be some element of spontaneity. Your solution? Plan out "free" time during the day, in which you can go on an adventure. Having this planned out in an hourly way will make you still feel in control while also able to live in the moment.

While you're there

As anxious people, we spend the majority of our time thinking about how everything can turn into a disaster. But part of the fun of travel is letting these inconveniences go and seeing the bigger picture. If you go into the day thinking that things will not go as planned, but they will still turn out great, then you're already setting yourself up with a sensible expectation. Internalize the spirit of reacting to your surroundings and doing what you think is best, rather than having your itinerary dictate your every move.

If you need a little help, don't drink your worries away. Many people are tempted to start pounding the duty-free alcohol as soon as they get to the airport. But remember, once that buzz wears off, you'll be right back to square one, with probably, a massive headache. One of my favorite things to have on hand for an instant calm-down is a vial of roll-on lavender oil. (This also works if you're sitting next to someone smelly on the plane.)

Before you leave

Anxious people are known to sometimes skip out on the most adventurous aspects of their vacation. But make sure that you put yourself up to the challenge. Don't leave without having taken your fill, because I guarantee that you'll feel pings of regret when you're back at your desk, not able to take another vacation for at least another year. This time is sacred, and you need to get out of your comfort zone. The more you do it, the easier it will be. And remember, it's a privilege to travel, and you want to have stories to tell when you get back!

Anxiety can be heavy baggage when you're traveling, but it doesn't have to be a burden. With a little attitude check-in, we can start to enjoy our vacation a little bit more.


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