Travel: A Cure for Anxiety.

Meditating in Africa

Travel: A Cure for Anxiety.

Two weeks ago, on the train to Washington DC, I couldn’t help but think about what had been keeping me up almost every night that week. It was a mixture of thoughts about almost anything imaginable that kept me tossing and turning to almost no end. Exhausted each and every day from lack of sleep, I was excited to get away; I knew it would be my cure for anxiety. Travel always was.

Once I got to DC, my mind would be free from worry, and sleep would finally come. For some, the road can be hectic, but for me, it’s a complete vacation for my mind. I can live in the moment, enjoying life as it comes, day by day, without worry.

One may think that travel would cause more anxiety than being home, but for me that’s simply not the case. It doesn’t even matter if I am alone, with family or friends, for me, travel eliminates anxiety.

Relaxed on the Nile

For almost my entire life, I have been plagued with anxiety. It all started when I was around three or four years old. My Mom and I were in Manhattan headed to an audition for a commercial when suddenly the elevator jerked and stopped. I don’t remember much, but I was traumatized from the experience. I had this sudden fear of any doors that closed behind me and refused to take elevators, or walk into shops that had doors that opened and shut automatically.

Eventually, my parents took me to talk to a psychologist about my fears. I remember playing with Legos in her office and suddenly being cured, but later, looking back at paperwork, I discovered that the discussion had been mainly with my parents about strategies they could use to help with my anxiety.

Little wanderer

Whatever they did worked, and eventually, my fear of elevators and closing doors disappeared completely. I was a carefree kid, but occasionally, I would worry about things I had no control over. It was relatively normal, and I never feared anything enough to let it limit me.

Still, in high school, my anxiety came back when all of my friends, including a boyfriend of three years, were heading off to college, leaving me behind. I had friends my age, but sending these friends off to college was sure to change my life significantly. Again, my mom suggested talking to someone, and after a session or two, the psychologist informed me that the feelings I was experiencing were anxiety, specifically separation anxiety.

Again, anxiety crept its way back into my life. I don’t think that at this point, I had learned any strategies of dealing with it, except through a whole bunch of tears and boxes of tissues. But, from that moment on, identifying my anxiety became easier. I began to realize that big life changes would trigger anxiety for me. So I tried to tackle these issues ahead of time when I could.

Controlling my imagination also became a big factor, so was realizing that most of what I imagine will never actually happen. I had to find ways to quiet my mind.

Quieting the mind

In my early twenties, I was again plagued with anxiety, but this kind was the greatest I had experienced. It included panic attacks, and my doctor put me on Xanax. It helped for a while, but I felt lethargic and numb, so I looked for other strategies to help me deal.

Eventually, what I realized was that this anxiety happens most when I remain stagnant. When I am in motion, living life day by day, and seeing the beauty in the world, my anxiety subsides completely, even in situations where most people may have anxiety. I began to travel, or even to explore life in my own country, state, and city. Staying in the present moment, helped eliminate fears and worries. I stopped taking medication and began to live my life.

When I travel, I feel free, far from my worries and troubles. Being on a train or plane magically makes my anxiety disappear, and I feel carefree and content. The world eventually begins to make sense, and those worries I had at home no longer matter. They dissipate completely, along with my anxiety.

Thailand

You can argue that the cure for anxiety that I’ve discovered isn’t a realistic one, maybe it’s not. But in a world that pushes mind-altering medications, I’m okay finding a cure that improves my life and takes away my worries by making me realize what a small place I actually hold in the world, and that the worries I have are smaller than I think.

The more often I am on the road, the less anxiety I seem to have. These trips aren’t always big, sometimes it’s just getting away from where I live, visiting family and friends around the States and world to get back to where I need to be.

Occasionally, at home, I still develop anxious feelings, and when travel isn’t an option, I have also developed strategies to keep my mind at ease and tackle my anxiety.

Meditating in Africa

Meditation

I have discovered that meditation really works for my anxiety. It isn’t easy to calm and quiet the brain, and I continue to struggle with it. But, if I can shut it down for even just a few minutes, it tends to relax me. I sit cross-legged, palms open and resting on my knees, sit straight up, and close my eyes.

Focusing on my breathing helps, as does slowly saying, Om Namah Shivaya, a popular Hindu mantra. It means, “I bow to Shiva,” which is essentially saying you are honoring the divinity that resides within you. I have found that even when I am not meditating, repeating this five-syllable Sanskirt mantra, helps eliminate any anxiety I have been experiencing.

Yoga

Yoga is another chance for the mind and body to relax. Focusing on breathing and stretching the body, eliminates any stress or anxiety I am usually feeling. For an hour, I think of nothing but yoga, and at the end of the session, I come out with a clear mind and a body that feels equally as good.

Occasionally, I will start the session unable to rid my mind of what’s bothering me, but as I go on and begin to really pay attention to my breathing and movement, everything else just washes away, and I am free from worry.

Chanting

I do not remember exactly where I discovered Krishna Das, but his chanting has been instrumental in reducing my anxiety. Krishna Das was born in New York, but after a trip to India, studying ancient Indian meditation practices under a guru, he took what he learned and put his own spin on it. He performs Indian kirtan-style devotional music, but his style is distinctively Western.

I few years ago, I attended one of his kirtans, and being in a room full of people chanting while he played was truly special. To this day, whenever I am feeling anxious, I play Krishna Das, and eventually, that anxiety just slips away.

Relaxing in Namibia

I am no expert, and yes, many forms of anxiety do require forms of medication, especially when the anxiety is attached to trauma, but for anyone who may experience times of anxiety, I have found these strategies work. It took me years to discover what worked for me, and each person’s experience may be different. However, between traveling, and the strategies above, I have been able to make my life one free of anxiety.

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Comments (13)

  1. lola

    ohhhh anxiety! i know you well, too. i should definitely try some of your methods, i think.

  2. Lance | Trips By Lance

    I don’t deal with anxiety at all, but my wife does and I’m afraid our son does too. Her anxiety can actually be really bad leading into a trip and then it’s gone on the trip.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I feel like anxiety is so common in our society, and the pressure to get everything done before traveling doesn’t help. Funny though that while we travel it seems to slip away. Thank goodness for that!

  3. the lazy travelers

    can totally relate to this–the insomnia, especially. it’s also an excellent fight for why vacation time needs to be increased in the us, i think. people need to escape every once in awhile!

    1. The World Wanderer

      I absolutely agree with you on the vacation time. I’m lucky as a teacher, though I think there could be a few more in between breaks. At this point in the year, we haven’t had a real break since Christmas, and even the kids need it. They are overtired, not as productive, and all of them are getting sick. It’s a set up for failure.

  4. Charlie

    It’s great that you found ways to keep anxiety at bay.. It’s funny that I find that travelling can both ease and cause feelings of anxiety for me! I always have to remind myself just to keep things in perspective.

  5. Lanie

    I have anxiety too. I get anxious WHEN I travel to an extent because I’m terrified of missing flights, trains, buses, etc.

    I’ve never traveled out of the country, but will this September. We’ll see what it does for my anxiety!

    Great suggestions for everyday. Since I’m a writer, writing calms me. HOWEVER, many of my non-writer friends find journal-ing to be calming. I didn’t do it until THEY suggested it and I highly recommend it.

  6. Carmen

    I get anxiety too when I’m not travelling. The thought of staying in one play for two long makes me very anxious. At least it’s not the other way round though, otherwise I’d never see the world!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, this made me laugh, Carmen, because I feel the EXACT same way! I’d rather get anxious at home and feel the need to escape. Even crossing state lines helps. 🙂

  7. Wandering Mind

    Was searching online for curing anxiety through travel and mostly came up with results about travel anxiety. Then came across this gem of a post.

    I’ve had constant anxiety for a while now. There’s no rhythm or rhyme to it, just a generalized feeling of unease with a slight constant tugging at the heart. I’ve tried to logically make sense of it – career, social life, etc. Traveling is usually my cure for it – feel completely zen in an airplane. In fact once flew from DC to Tokyo to Delhi (both long ass flights!) and was kinda sad when the flight ended. Just want to be a blur, where there’s no expectations, plans, project status meetings.

    Gotten a bit crazy recently. Have a job that allows me a lot of free time (but not to leave the country!), so I took two 1500 mile long trips in a week in the last month. Just visiting relatives. They weren’t satisfying though. Didn’t gain any insight from these travels. Keep thinking should quit my job and travel full time for a while – without leash. Wonder if that would calm the brain, resolve the tugging at the heart. There’s something about seeing kids from another country and seeing a sunset in a place where you’re just passing through.

    You’re lucky to get breaks being a teacher, and even more so, to be passionate about what you do. Keep traveling and sharing your experiences.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I’m so glad you stumbled upon this. I’ve talked to several people and they also feel like travel alleviates anxiety for them. I, too, hate when a plane ride ends. I am so happy up in the sky, as you said with no expectations, plans, or project status e-mails. It’s the feeling of freedom that comes along with it, especially when there’s no wifi…paradise.

      My anxiety seems similar to yours. There’s no real sense or meaning behind it. Sometimes I can sense the cause, but other times, it’s just the overall heaviness of life. A lot of times I feel like I’m not doing enough, and that causes it. Other times, I just worry about anything and everything. Travel always helps, and when I can’t travel, I find yoga and hiking useful. Maybe those can help you too.

      I couldn’t agree more with you. There’s something wonderful about experiencing another side of the world, it’s refreshing. The long breaks are great, except I can’t escape as much during the year when I really get antsy! I try my best to try new things at home at that helps. 🙂

  8. How Travel Has Changed Me | The World Wanderer

    […] I understand that travel tends to make people anxious, I have found quite the opposite affect. In my early-twenties, I was riddled with fear and anxiety. When life put a few bumps in my […]

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