Updated: Jul 15, 2019
Trigger warning: Depersonalisation, Anxiety
I’ve mentioned briefly on this blog that I suffer from a disorder called depersonalisation. For those of you who have never heard of this (which, let’s face it, is probably the majority of you!) it’s a coping mechanism that the brain might use when experiencing high levels of stress. As the AnxietyUK website describes it, it’s ‘an experience of feeling unreal, detached’ and is ‘a phenomenon characterised by a disruption in self-awareness’.
When I’m experiencing an episode, the only way I can describe it is that everything feels fake, and I’m basically a real-life version of Neo when he wakes up from the Matrix (without the element of absolute bad-ass portrayed in those films).
After 8 years I’ve learnt to somewhat control it and, on the whole, my day-to-day life is mostly unaffected (now). It definitely resides in the back of my mind, and I suspect it will probably stay there for the rest of my life (there’s really not that much treatment targeted to this particular disorder), but I've accepted that.
However, when it IS triggered (luckily for me I can go months before this happens) it’s terrifying. And one of the things that triggers it for me is going to new places.
It seems so ridiculous to type that out - travelling is one of my life’s passions, yet in the past it's been something that's caused me a fair amount of mental trauma.
Let me explain a bit more.
When I’m in an unfamiliar environment, it can be a little overwhelming, and when I’m letting my thoughts run on auto-pilot mode, I can go from being absolutely fine one second to questioning reality as we know it the next. Luckily, as I’ve said, I’ve learnt to control it and most of my recent trips have been ‘episode-free’, meaning I’ve been able to enjoy them without freaking out.
I’ve spoken to a few people recently who have mentioned that they get really anxious before going abroad or on holiday, which is something I definitely struggle with.
You may be surprised to hear that.
Most of the time, it’s just the anticipation before the trip, and once you get there, you can often be fine!
It’s a catch-22 really. You’ve booked to go on an incredible adventure that you can’t wait to go on, but as the departure date starts to creep up on you, you start to question why you even booked a holiday in the first place.
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I’ve seen a lot of people giving advice for how to cope with anxiety WHILST travelling, but dealing with pre-travel anxiety: the painful overthinking before hand of ‘what if this happens?’ or ‘what if I get anxious when I’m there and don’t enjoy it?’ is a whole other ball game.
I mean, that’s what anxiety is, isn’t it? Worrying about worrying. Or ‘The Loop’ as my mum likes to call it.
Suffering mentally whilst abroad can often exacerbate your feelings ten-fold because you’re thinking ‘I’ve spent all this money on this trip, and I’m taking a break from the stresses back home, so WHY am I not enjoying it?’
And worrying about that thought whilst preparing for your trip isn’t fun.
There are a few things that I’ve learnt over the years that have helped me to not let my initial feelings of excitement turn into utter dread.
1. Only book accommodation that you would be comfortable in.
If a hostel or hotel I’m booking doesn’t have a decent number of high-resolution images, I’ll click away almost instantly. Maybe I’m just fussy, I don’t know. But I like to be able to get the best impression of the place I’m going to be staying at so I can be sure that it’s a place I’ll feel 'at home' in.
If a place has a garden or a pool, I’m not a huge fan if it has high walls – open spaces are definitely less ‘panicky’.
I also like having some sort of view from my room. You want to make the most of staying in these beautiful locations, and it definitely feels a lot less claustrophobic when you can look out and see greenery, mountains or the ocean as opposed to a dull concrete wall.
2. If you’re going to be travelling with someone, make them aware that you may not always be on top-form.
This one is super important to reduce stress for both parties. Sometimes I might go a bit quiet if my brain is on overload, so it’s vital that I tell whoever I’m travelling with before-hand that it’s nothing personal if I do so. This way they’re prepared; (hopefully!) won’t get offended and you can also give them any tips on what you want them to do if you find yourself in that situation.
For example, I won’t tend to talk about what’s worrying me unless someone asks, so I can say before hand: “If I’m quiet, it’s not because of you, but feel free to ask what’s bothering me. It really helps if you do this and can hopefully prevent any frustration on your side if I'm not communicating very well.”
3. Download some media content so that you can access it offline on your travels.
Sometimes it’s easy for overwhelm to take over when travelling, especially during long journeys where your mind has time to wonder. Whether it’s an audiobook, an entire series of The Office, a podcast or just some music, having something that you’ve already downloaded at home that can distract you in those moments without Wifi can be so beneficial. (Trust me on this one!)
As stupid as it sounds, I’m pretty sure binging Netflix can be classed as a form of mindfulness, right?
4. Keep a list of the things you plan on doing when you get there.
I’m not saying that you need have a strict itinerary that's set in stone, but having a list of what you’re going to be doing and the sights you’re going to be seeing is a great way to help visualise yourself making all these amazing memories. Remember, you’ll be having fun!
Which brings me on to my next point…
5. Remember that you booked your trip for a reason!
A quote I often refer to when I’m struggling with any of my personal goals is ‘Remember the reason why you started’, and I think it’s perfectly applicable when travelling as well. You wouldn’t have booked this trip if you didn’t want to go, so reminding yourself of the reasons why you saved up to go on this new adventure can be really helpful.
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Will you be visiting somewhere that’s been on your bucket list for as long as you can remember?
Are you travelling with a loved one and excited to share new experiences together?
Is your Instagram feed going to be absolute ‘fire’ with photos from your trip? (This tends to be my go-to reminder, I can’t lie.)
Are you wanting to meet new people? Is it going to be a well-deserved, long-time-coming break?
All these points have helped me in some way or another to not feel so on-edge before my trips. Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of apprehension before travelling can definitely be a good thing. (You’re bound to forget something if you were absolutely care-free whilst packing!)
But hopefully these little tips can help some of you as you prep for all your adventures this summer.
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