Travel is returning to our lives—hurray! However, worrisome notes from a pandemic that is subsiding but hasn’t completely disappeared yet, are still a cause for concern when planning trips.
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Many travelers continue to experience anxiety that something could suddenly go wrong: a new strain of the virus could appear; a test might not be accepted at the border; or somebody might sneeze on you in the airplane. Today, we’ll talk about how you can overcome anxiety and start to enjoy trips again.
The pandemic has increased travel anxiety
Before the pandemic, we also worried when planning a trip. Is there anyone among us who has not checked their documents a hundred times, and nonetheless was afraid that they had forgot something? Just remember how you carefully calculated when exactly you must leave your home so you won’t get stuck in traffic and miss your airplane (but also not arrive too early!).
However, if your fear of missing a flight or losing your passport was unfounded, COVID-19, on the other hand, poses a real threat. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the more often people travel, the more likely they are to get infected.
However, over the years of the pandemic, vaccination rates around the world have increased significantly, electronic COVID-certificates allow you to monitor the situation, and existing entry requirements at some borders are still coping with the task of making travel safer.
If you have anxiety before trips, here are some tips on how to handle the stress on your own.
Getting ready for travel
Make sure you’re ready for your trip
If you’re feeling anxious and still afraid to travel far from home, the pressure from family and friends to join them on a summer vacation may only add to your stress. Psychotherapists say it’s important to respect your own boundaries and share your worries with others.
Everyone has their own comfort zone and state of preparedness when it comes to travel, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. If you ignore the warning signs and nevertheless go on a trip out of a sense of duty, it most likely will not be a pleasurable experience. You will worry about everything under the sun: someone sneezed nearby; people were swimming in the pool without masks; or someone has already used your fork at a restaurant. As a consequence, you will blame others for dragging you along with them on their trip and also blame yourself for not being forceful enough and staying home. In the end, everyone will be sad.
Therefore, even if friends and family members are inviting you, if you are not ready for a vacation or travel, you have every right to refuse without feeling guilty. Tell your loved ones about your concerns, and remember that your own comfort, peace, and psychological health come first.
Experts are certain that you will be able to start traveling again with more confidence if you simulate your upcoming trip in familiar surroundings.
According to Lily Brown, the Director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, you need to identify what your main fear is and then practice overcoming it.
Thus, Brown advises that you do activities that normally trigger anxiety in your familiar surroundings. Let’s take restaurants, as an example. If eating out is stressful for you, head to your favorite eating place in your hometown and pretend you’re on vacation and going out for dinner.
Life hack: an element of exposure therapy
Exposure therapy may help relieve anxiety. One of the techniques of exposure therapy is autosuggestion: you need to imagine in detail how well your journey will go, what you will see, what you will try, how soft the king-size bed will be, and so on. We suggest that you don’t just imagine these things, but also write a story about them.
This way, you tune into positive emotions and you can overcome your worrisome thoughts.
ADAA board member Ken Goodman, who has prepared several self-study courses about fighting anxiety, also suggests that you start small. If you have already dealt with stress by walking around your hometown, Goodman advises that you take a short trip.
You don’t need to fly to the other side of the world, it’s enough to just go to the suburbs, visit a nearby city, or (for the particularly daring) travel to a neighboring country.
If you feel comfortable on such a trip, then you are now ready for longer journeys!
Ebony Thyme, a nurse practitioner who maintains an Instagram account dedicated to solo travel, gave some tips for those going on their first big trip since the pandemic began:
- don’t be afraid of anxiety and uneasiness – accept these feelings and allow yourself to experience them;
- choose a shorter route, and, if possible, direct flights, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time at the airport and in the airplane;
- for your first flight, try to book seats with more space, such as those located beside an emergency exit in the middle of the airplane.
Make a “Control List”
Travel is essentially about letting go of some (but not all!) of your control. In order to reduce your anxiety, make a list of the things you can control.
For example, you can control what time you need to leave for the airport, which hotel you will stay in, how long your vacation will be, how many masks you can take, and how often you will use the hand sanitizer.
Having written everything down, you will see how much you have under control, which means that there are very few moments when something can actually go wrong. Whenever you feel stressed out, read the list aloud to remind yourself that you are in control of the situation and to strengthen your self-confidence.
You simulated anxiety-triggering situations and realized that you are in control, practiced traveling by taking short trips, made a list of everything that is under your control, and now you are ready for the big one.
Like all worries, anxiety about COVID-19 is often fueled by uncertainty. How safe is it to fly on an airplane? What is the epidemiological situation like at the destination? Will my test or certificate be accepted at the border? Which masks are best at preventing infection?
To alleviate these fears, study reliable information and scientific sources that will help you take the best measures before your trip.
For example, look at the information on the website of the World Health Organization or a local health department, open the interactive map (one of the best) from specialists at Johns Hopkins University, and speak with travelers who have just returned from your destination country. The main thing is not to rely on rumors and horror stories, read only trusted sources and listen to the opinions of those you really trust.
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Don’t overdo it
Too much preparations can have a negative effect on anxiety. You must draw a line between productive behavior and chaotic manic actions, which are only needed for the pseudo-regulation of anxiety.
For example, there is no reason why you should wash your hands within 10 minutes after you touch a surface. The skin is a good barrier for the majority of microbes, preventing their penetration.
Stock up with everything you need for the journey
In this article, written with advice from an infectious disease physician, we told you which antiseptic products you should take with you on a trip and how to use them correctly.
Buy everything you need, even more, if possible; even if a dozen masks remain unused, it’s better than not having enough. Anxious thoughts will overwhelm you less often when you know that you have everything you need at your fingertips.
Familiarize yourself with the rules of your destination country and local city rules: check to see if there is a requirement to wear masks in public places and on public transportation, and so on. You may need:
- wet antibacterial wipes
- hand sanitizers
- medical masks (remember that you should change ordinary masks regularly, approximately once every 2-3 hours; so calculate beforehand how much time you will spend on your journey and bring the right amount of masks with you)
- covers for packing things – you are unlikely to wash clothes while on a trip, so keep the clothes you wear outside separate from the clothes you wear in your hotel room, clothes you sleep in, and clothes that you have not worn yet
- an insurance policy that includes coverage for infection with COVID-19. When choosing insurance, the first thing you should do is study the requirements of your destination country and make sure that the insurance covers medical treatment. Some insurance companies also offer to pay for return airfare and hotel accommodation if you are not able to leave on time.
Ignore social networks
As soon as you made the decision to go on a trip, it’s best to avoid social networks. It’s not worth searching online for horror stories about trips – this will only make you more scared. However, as we wrote in another article, travelers in 2022 are already trying to unplug themselves from the online world during their trips.
If you have made the decision to go on a trip, weighed the pros and cons, carefully studied all the necessary information, and followed all advice when planning, feel free to take off.
Trust yourself – you have foreseen and thought everything over. If you wear a mask and use hand sanitizer, everything will be fine!
Follow simple rules while traveling
You’ve already taken a big step – you set off on a trip! In order to remain this determined, stick to simple rules.
Follow basic hygiene
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow (this is obvious, yet so necessary).
- Upon entering the airplane, use antibacterial wipes to clean your seat, armrests, the back of the seat in front of you, the TV screen, the tray table, and the window shade if you’re sitting at the window (this way, you won’t wake up in horror if you fall asleep resting your cheek on it).
- Change masks regularly.
- Clean your smartphones, headphones, and laptop with antibacterial wipes after you return home.
- Keep the clothes you wear outside separate from the clothes you wear in your hotel room or apartment.
Respect travel etiquette
Even before the pandemic, it was unpleasant when someone in a line-up for passport control or in a subway wagon sneezed or coughed loudly into the air without covering their mouth and nose with their hands. Now, this is unnerving and can cause particularly sensitive travelers to panic. The coronavirus situation has given rise to a special etiquette, that, if followed correctly, will help both you and those around you feel calmer.
- Try to keep a distance of 1.5-2 meters from others whenever possible. Yes, we know that social distancing has already been canceled in many countries, but you can continue to follow it if it makes you feel better. If it’s obvious that someone is sick, just move away from them. Don’t be afraid of appearing unfriendly or squeamish.
- Comply with the local regulations. This is not just a matter of fines, but it’s also about the fact that you must respect the safety of other people around you.
- Book your visits to public places in advance. The majority of establishments have already eliminated the restriction on the number of visitors, but some places are continuing to follow these regulations. In addition, the number of travelers is growing rapidly this year, so your plans for dinner in a trendy restaurant might be ruined if all the tables are booked. So make a list of places you want to go to and buy tickets or book a table in advance. Understand that it may not be possible to spontaneously go to all the places you want to, so don’t get angry or upset.
- Wear a mask if you feel safer, even if this is not required by the rules of a public place (shop, gallery, etc.). It’s not your problem if someone gives you a strange look.
- Dispose of used masks and gloves in the garbage; it’s best to wrap them in a napkin first. During the pandemic, many people complained about masks thrown onto the pavement or directly on the floor in supermarkets so don’t be like that.
Most of all, remember that the purpose of travel is to have fun and experience many positive emotions and receive lasting impressions. We are firmly convinced that the anticipation of exciting adventures and the joy of new discoveries will really help in the fight against anxiety.
What should I do if I have anxiety the day before my trip?
First, you need to understand whether it is anxiety or a panic attack. In order to determine this, pay attention to symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, shortness of breath, hot flashes, dizziness, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, chest pain, headache, numbness, or tingling—these signs accompany a panic attack.
We hope that your nervousness is just due to worry before your upcoming trip. We understand that, in such a situation, the first thing that comes to mind is to cancel everything and stay at home—but don’t get carried away!
Avoiding a trip only increases your anxiety. If you decide to cancel this trip, you might never go on a trip in the future. You will find yourself a vicious circle, and all your dreams and plans to see the world will come crashing down.
Ask yourself if your fear is caused by emotions or new relevant information about COVID-19? If it’s due to emotions, remember how you prepared for the trip, take out your list of all the things that are under your control, sit down, breathe, think about a wonderful adventure, and ask yourself once more—is it really worth giving all this up now?
What should I do if I have anxiety during the trip?
Let’s assume that you gathered your thoughts, arrived at the airport, went through all the check-in procedures, boarded the airplane, and, while relaxing in the soft chair, felt anxious. Here are a few ways to remain calm if you’re already en route:
- Just breathe: Accelerated breathing can be a natural result of stress. In order to reduce anxiety, you must slow down your breathing.
There’s a strategy for slowing down the breath called “box breathing”. It will help you quickly bring your breathing back to normal. You need to:
- inhale slowly for four seconds;
- hold your breath for four seconds;
- exhale slowly for four seconds;
- hold your breath again for a count of four; repeat this four times.
- Distract yourself: Read a book, play an exciting game on your smartphone, or continue watching your favorite TV series. If you are traveling as a group, play some game with your friends and ask them to take a look at your list of plans.
- Get rid of compulsive thoughts: We recommend that you install meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm before you travel. They will help you relax if you become anxious. Note that for a greater effect, it’s best to install the app in advance and try using it several times so you already understand all the details of using it.
- Get physically and mentally prepared for your trip: All of us deal with anxiety better when we are feeling good. Prior to your trip, make sure you get a good night’s sleep, eat well, and leave plenty of time for packing and getting to the airport.
It’s impossible to insure yourself against everything that might occur, just as it’s impossible to spend all your time in an apartment, refusing to travel anywhere. However, there are very specific things that you can do to make your trip as comfortable and safe as possible: prepare and study information about the destination, stock up on protective gear and disinfectant products, take precautions, and don’t succumb to chaotic emotions. Take care of yourself and your loved ones!
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