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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.