Seven Steps to Minimize Anxiety When Traveling in Groups

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I’d like to think that I’m not the only one who goes through highs and lows in life. There are weeks when I feel great—tons of energy, motivated to exercise and eat healthy, calm of mind, and passionate about what I’m doing. Unfortunately, these are sometimes followed by weeks when I feel not so great—tired, burnt-out, anxious, depressed, and, if we’re being honest, just real shitty.

What do you do when the lows begin to overtake the highs? Especially when those lows come right before a weekend trip with a big group of friends (or family or boyfriend’s family or co-workers or strangers or whoever)?

Short answer – you deal.
Long answer – keep reading.

It had been an especially hard week. People at work were being mean, I was stressed about a job offer that was coming way too slowly, and I had the usual pre-vacation anxiety I get before traveling with others. It got so bad during the week that my anxiety manifested itself in physical symptoms. Symptoms that kept me home from work on Thursday, in bed or in the bathroom most of the day. (As my mom would say, “Yeah, that’s real life.”)

So when I woke up on Friday to pack and hit the road, it was with a stronger sense of uncertainty and anxiety than usual. I was heading to Richmond, Virginia for a college friend’s wedding. Eight of us had rented an Airbnb for the weekend right on the James River, and my previous excitement about seeing old friends was overshadowed by other encroaching worries:

“Will my stomach behave itself this weekend? What can I eat without getting sick again? Will I even be able to enjoy some cocktails at the wedding? Ugh, my anxiety’s been so high recently, and none of these friends struggle with that. How will they react if I have a panic attack or I need to leave the room all of a sudden to breath? My boyfriend, normally so supportive, gets wrapped up in the excitement of seeing old friends so I can’t necessarily count on that support to lean on. What if…what if…what if…?”

My mind continued to swim as I packed up my bags and prepared for the drive. Luckily, this isn’t my first rodeo. So I have a few tricks up my sleeve:

1. Prepare for the weekend with some hard-core self-care.
Sleep in before your drive. Eat a good breakfast with a cup of green tea to relax. Do some yoga or meditation to get you in a good mindset. (I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene – that girl is my Zen angel, I swear!) Take a hot shower and give yourself plenty of time to pack up the car. And always have a solid lineup of Podcasts to distract your mind during the journey.

2. Have a game plan.
As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Have at least a loose itinerary outlined so you aren’t thrown off by last-minute surprises. Uncertainty never helps with anxiety—if you know what’s going on, you’re less likely to fall into a spiral because there isn’t enough water or the keys are locked in the car or the event actually started at 2 p.m. not 3 p.m., etc. To avoid the extra stress, have a general schedule in your head (at the very least). Know when everyone is arriving, what the meal plans are, what time you need to leave for things, and what the sleeping situation is so you don’t feel helpless and overwhelmed. (More than you already do naturally.)

3. Pack the essentials.
Identify your “essentials” that you can’t be without when you’re away from home. Those things that keep you calm and set you up for success when it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone. For me, that includes a handful of Pepto Bismol chewable tabs and Gin Gin ginger candies for my stomach; all my daily medications for anxiety, depression, and acid reflux to last me through the trip plus a couple days; headphones and a phone charger so I can listen to podcasts or play a mindless phone game (Candy Crush Soda Saga anyone?) when everything becomes too much; my giant Starbucks water bottle to stay hydrated; and a book to read before bed to clear my mind.

4. Remember to breathe.
The power of the breath is straight magical. I don’t know why or how or what, but this stuff seriously works! If things start to go south, just breath. If you can get away for a few minutes, do it. Find a place to be alone for a few minutes, turn on a relaxation app like Breathe2Relax, and take time to really focus on taking deep breaths and nothing else. If you can’t get away, tune out your surroundings the best you can and focus everything completely on inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Honestly, it’s amazing how well this works.

5. Attempt to go with the flow.
When traveling with a group—be it friends, family, strangers, or coworkers—chances are you won’t be in control at all times. As scary as that is for someone with anxiety, it’s doesn’t mean that this lack of control has to ruin your vacation. Try your best to go with what’s thrown at you, remember that you can’t control everyone’s emotions, and pray heavily for “serenity to accept that the things you cannot change.” After all, you do have the ability to control your reaction to the situation, whatever it may be.

6. Give yourself a reality check.
When the anxiety starts to smother you, consciously check back into reality. Ask yourself, “What am I anxious about?” and “Why? What is the worst thing that can happen?” Once you imagine your worst-case scenario, you create a hypothetical game plan to combat it, and your mind will start to relax its anxious vice grip.

7. Practice forgiveness and gratitude.
You have anxiety. And that’s ok. Even when you do your best to combat it and you follow all the advice given above, there are times that it just doesn’t work. In those times, practice forgiveness. Forgive yourself for not being stronger than a disease that plagues 18 percent of the population. Focus on the things around you that are grateful for instead of the things that cause you stress. Look at the people who love you and the beautiful surroundings you traveled to see, and say thank you.

If these tips helped you during your group travel, follow my Facebook page to stay up-to-date with all things Anxious Abroad.

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