Are you planning a much-needed getaway? Whether you're riding or flying, travel and anxiety often go hand in hand. From tight, confined spaces to the hustle and bustle of highways and airports, it's normal to feel anxious any time you leave home.
Travel should be something you look forward to — not dread. The good news is there are steps you can take to reduce anxious thoughts, so you can truly enjoy your journey. If you're a nervous flyer, or you experience insomnia when you're on the road, a weighted blanket may help you sleep better and travel more comfortably. Here are 10 tips for easing travel anxiety.
Got Anxiety? You’re Not Alone
A vacation is supposed to be a happy, exciting time. Unfortunately for some, travel is a source of stress and anxiety. When everyone else on your trip seems at ease, dealing with sweaty palms and a stomach full of knots can make you feel isolated and embarrassed about your travel anxiety.
However, travel anxiety — and anxiety in general — is quite common. In fact, about 40 million Americans (that’s 18 percent of the entire population) have some form of anxiety, and things like travel can cause symptoms to rear their heads.
If you experience travel anxiety, there’s a chance you also contend with anxiety in other areas of life. One of the benefits of addressing your travel anxiety is the real likelihood of these tips and techniques helping you overcome other sources of anxiety or worry.
One of the first steps in tackling travel anxiety is determining why it happens in the first place. If you can identify the source of your travel-related stress, you can take proactive measures to conquer it.
Common Causes of Travel Anxiety
Everyone is different, which means not everyone will experience travel anxiety the same way. Likewise, travel anxiety can happen for a variety of reasons.
Fear of Flying
About 25 million people in the U.S. suffer from aviophobia, which is the official name for the fear of flying. While some people adopt a white-knuckle, grin and bear it approach, others are literally earthbound because of their fear. If your flying anxiety is stopping you from traveling, there’s a good chance you have missed out on things like family reunions, work trips and relaxing getaways.
There are many different reasons why people fear flying. For some, claustrophobia plays a big role — and shrinking airline seats certainly don’t help. Other people dislike handing over control to someone else. We all know that driving is statistically much more dangerous than flying, but being behind the wheel gives many people the illusion of control, which makes them feel safer.
Past Travel Woes
Was your childhood trip to Disney World ruined by a bad case of chickenpox? Did you spend your last flight recovering from the flu? Was your tropical honeymoon beset by hurricane weather or a bad hotel stay? Or maybe you just dislike the hassle of packing, planning and shouldering your way through crowds of tourists and sightseers.
Negative travel experiences can stick with you for a long time. There’s a reason why the National Lampoon travel movies starring the Griswolds are so popular. They remind us of all the potential perils you invite when you step outside your own front door.
For some people, travel means abandoning the comfort and security of home. You don’t necessarily need to suffer from an anxiety disorder to feel stressed out when you’re away from the nest. Travel means leaving your comfort zone, and this leave you feeling “off” and out of sorts.
Travel Horror Stories
Depending on where you’re traveling, you may worry about encountering dangerous or uncomfortable situations on your trip. Negative or hyperbolic media reports about crime or worst case scenarios definitely don’t help. When you hear these kinds of stories, it’s important to remember that horror stories tend to make the news because they happen relatively rarely.
Going on vacation means taking a break from the responsibilities of your everyday life — including work. Many people find it challenging to shut everything off and take a mental break from the daily grind. For others, going on vacation means worrying about all the work that is piling up back home. This type of travel anxiety can zap the fun right out of your trip, and for some people it’s enough to avoid traveling altogether.
10 Tips for Managing Travel Anxiety
Now that we’ve covered some of the most common sources of travel anxiety, we can turn to the best ways to manage them. While you may not be able to banish your anxious thoughts entirely, you can definitely reduce the severity of your symptoms.
When you travel, you usually depart from your normal routine. Humans are creatures of habit, and deviating from your usual schedule can make you cranky and anxious. Planning takes many of the what-ifs out of traveling, which can help you feel more grounded and in control.
Plan ahead by putting all of your hotel and itinerary information in a convenient place, such as a notebook, binder or mobile app. You can also include information about local restaurants, clothing shops, rental car options and emergency services.
Face Your Fears
One of the most common anxiety therapy techniques is exposure therapy. Like the name indicates, therapists encourage their patients to face their fears head-on. It’s normal to avoid things we’re afraid of. By avoiding them, however, we tend to magnify the perceived danger in our minds. This reinforces the fear and compounds it until it’s paralyzing. Exposure therapy forces us to confront our fears.
For example, if you’re afraid of flying, you can begin to overcome your fear by simply driving past the airport. After a few trips back and forth, go inside and walk around. Expose yourself to the sights and sounds of airline travel. Some people even feel less anxious by simply watching dozens of planes take off and land. When you see just how many flights come and go without a hitch, you realize how ordinary (and safe) airline travel is. Many major airports also offer fear-of-flying courses that use some form of exposure therapy to help people conquer their fear.
Meditation can be a great anxiety-busting tool in a wide range of situations, including travel. You don’t need to be a yoga master to benefit from meditation. Even basic deep breathing exercises can ease anxiety and make you feel calmer and more relaxed.
You can find a huge menu of meditation videos and guided meditation techniques on YouTube. You might have to search a bit to find a style that appeals to you. Best of all, they’re free!
If you suffer from intense travel anxiety, it’s probably best to dip a toe in the travel waters first rather than cannonball right in. In other words, you might want to start with a small day-trip rather than a huge Disney vacation or European tour with your whole family.
No matter where you live, there’s a chance you’re within a day’s drive from a tourist hotspot. Start by searching for top day trips by you. One of the benefits of sticking close to home is you’re likely to discover an off-the-beaten-path historical gem right in your own backyard.
As you take more trips, extend your travel distance little by little. Before you know it, you’ll be a seasoned vacation pro.
Use a Weighted Blanket
Traveling tends to involve a lot of down time. Getting from Point A to Point B often means driving, flying or taking a train. If you feel anxious on long trips, a weighted blanket could be your ticket to keeping anxious thoughts at bay.
Weighted blankets are made with about 10 percent of the user’s body weight, give or take a few pounds. Numerous studies have shown that weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety in children and adults.
In a study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, researchers found that 63 percent of study participants felt less anxious when using a weighted blanket. Among study participants, 78 percent “preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.”
Distract Your Mind
If you’re a nervous flyer, distractions can help take your mind off flying. According to Dr. Katharina Star at Very Well Mind, there are several activities you can do to help ease flying-related anxiety.
“When traveling, it is not uncommon to focus more on your symptoms. One way to manage your symptoms is to put your focus elsewhere. Instead of concentrating on the sensations in your body, try to bring your attention to other activities. For example, you can bring along a good book, favorite magazines or enjoyable games.”
Studies show that even mild dehydration can have a significant impact on your mood. When you’re on vacation, there’s a good chance you might not pay as much attention to your water intake. However, it’s important to make sure you drink enough water while you’re traveling. Most people should consume about half a gallon of water a day, which works out to about 8 eight-ounce glasses.
Vacation is a time to loosen your belt and eat all the foods you normally avoid. However, too much of a good thing could take a toll on your mood and even bring on an anxiety attack. Just as water intake can affect your mental health, an overabundance of junk food and sugary desserts can lead to depression and anxiety. As the folks at Harvard recommend, try to stick to a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. The body metabolizes complex carbs more slowly, which helps prevent sharp drops in blood sugar.
When you’re on vacation, working out may be the last thing you want to do. However, there is a strong link between exercise and mental health. Fortunately, you don’t have to hit the hotel gym every morning to get the benefits. According to health experts, even a 30-minute walk or taking the stairs instead of the escalator can work wonders. There are even short, easy exercises you can do in your hotel room or with nothing more than a wall or a set of stairs.
Take a Break
When you travel, you might feel pressure to cram everything into your trip. After all, you might not get a chance to vacation that often. Shouldn’t you soak it all up while you can?
The problem with this approach is that it can be overwhelming. Going at a breakneck pace your entire trip can make you feel stressed out and unhappy — and that’s not a very pleasant way to spend a vacation. Don’t be afraid to take time-outs when the demands of travel start to wear you down. Spend half the day in your hotel room watching television, or eat in a familiar fast food restaurant you enjoy back home. These little breaks can really help you recharge and avoid anxiety.
Pack a SensaCalm Weighted Blanket on Your Next Trip
At SensaCalm, we make weighted blankets, lap pads and wraps for both children and adults. Browse our custom order page for a wide range of weighted blanket fabric choices and options. Going on a trip soon, and need a blanket now? We also sell finished blankets that ship the next business day after your order.
We’re here to answer your questions. Get in touch by calling us at 855-736-7222, or use our online contact form to speak to a helpful member of our team.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.