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Travelling With Anxiety

Travelling with anxiety can be extremely difficult. Most people probably get a little bit nervous to experience a new place or go through the bustle of an airport, but with an anxiety disorder this nervousness is fifty-fold.

If we start at the beginning, generally speaking there’s the whole organisation of the thing. Have I booked the right accommodation? Have I chosen a good area? What if we arrive and the hotel just doesn’t exist? There are plenty of things that go around in your head months before you even start thinking about packing your suitcase.


There’s the transport to the airport to book, at both ends! It’s so easy to catastrophise, which is an occurrence by which we believe the worst possible scenario is going to happen. In reality, no single thing has actually happened to make you think this. Maybe you heard a story from a friend of a friend about missing a transfer - that has not, and likely will not happen to you. You will be able to handle it if it does.

The airport itself is stressful for most people. It’s bright, it’s noisy, there are loud adverts everywhere, tables and charts which are constantly changing and flickering, and salespeople coming up to you trying to sell you Dior's Sauvage. You make beelines to where you’re needed, then sit jiggling your leg for three hours, scared to leave the seat you’ve found in case you can’t get it back. When will you eat? What’s the cheapest restaurant? Where’s the smallest queue? Should you sack off food and just go browse the book section in WHSmith? There’a a lot going on. Sensory overload is common with those who suffer from anxiety, and you’d be surprised by how much finding a quiet spot and closing your eyes will help your headspace. 

Then there’s the plane. It’s time-consuming, it’s cramped, it’s expensive, it’s even sometimes smelly. Of course, you’re going to be the one with the 8-year-old kicking the back of your chair. You want to sleep and pass the time but your mind is going over and over what to do when you get to the other side, and you just spent £4.50 on a mini can of Coke. Browse the in-flight magazine… should you get some fancy toiletries? Do you actually want them or is it the novelty of the situation? Auntie Kathy might like some for Christmas. Come to think of it, what was it that Kath asked you to get for her? Did you pack shampoo? Do they even sell shampoo in New York?? And don’t forget all this is happening alongside trying to fall asleep, do some last-minute budgeting, hoping your hotel hasn’t vanished, your transfer shows up, and that kid is still kicking your chair. It might seem like too much for a single person to think - surely you’d explode if you worried so much, right? For those who suffer with any level of anxiety, this is an everyday reality, and when things get truly overwhelming they may find themselves spiralling into an anxiety attack, panic attack, crying, hysteria, or even non-epileptic fits.

Anxiety is difficult, and it’s hard to channel that nervous energy into something helpful, but it’s worth a try!

Many believe that the issue isn’t with the thoughts you’re having, it’s how you’re reacting to them. To start with, of course you’re worried about booking the right place! You’ve spent a good chunk of your hard-earned cash to take a week off in the sun, so you should make sure everything is all tip-top, properly organised, and ATOL-protected. So make a little list. What would make you feel safer about what you’re doing? Ask a friend to sit with you while you book so you can get their opinion. Check the reviews until you’re satisfied. Give the area you’re staying in a quick Google or Facebook search, and find up-to-date blogs, articles, or forums to get more info. Do as much of this as you need to until you’re ready - then make the reservation and close that book.

With regards to the airport, it’s going to be tough. It just is, for most people. Pack things in your hand luggage which make you comfortable, and will make your life easier. If that means a nose plug for the guy next to you eating a tuna sandwich, then so be it! Too noisy? Earplugs or headphones. Too bright? Sunglasses or a cap. Too many people? Distance yourself, go around the crowd, and take your time. Work out whether it’s in your best interest to arrive with hours to spare, or whether you’d rather just do things fairly quickly and get on the plane - again, whatever makes your experience more comfortable.

And it’s the same for the plane. Put a bit of money aside for the plane so you’re not worried about expenses. Get out the headphones, eye mask, and nose plug. If you know an aisle seat will make you feel better, then do it! That additional £20 will be worth it when you have the toilet in your eyeline and somewhere to stretch a leg. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, you can always let a nice-looking air hostess know - especially if you’re travelling alone or at risk of physical symptoms or reactions.

Some pointers, then:

- Channel your nervous energy into getting the job done, and leaving it behind once it is.
- Make your life easier by checking in with yourself - how do you want things to go?
- Do what's best for you and do what you need to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
- Take it easy. We know it's easier said than done, and the last thing you want is someone telling you to 'just chill out'. What we mean is: take things slow, give yourself space, and go at your own pace.

26th February 2024