Should you Travel with Anxiety? And if so, how?!

Suffering with anxiety is hard enough when you have a stable, permanent environment; if you choose to travel, you then face a ton of obstacles that the ‘regular’ traveler may not encounter, or even consider. However, many people nowadays are recognizing the importance of not letting their mental illness control their decisions, opting to take the difficult path and venture on out into the world…with a few trusted tips, of course.

Whilst I’m no medical expert, I’ve suffered enough with anxiety, depression, and other related issues, whilst on the road and at home, to form an understanding of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. However, this is purely down to my own experiences, and it is important to discover for yourselves how best to integrate your own love of traveling with your anxiety, making sure you are safe and well.

Sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is to admit that I can’t do something. I just can’t go on this trip, can’t do that activity, etc. Whilst everyone else around you encourages you not to let it ‘beat’ you, sometimes it is just safer and more beneficial to your health to take it easy, and say no. There have been a couple of times where I have listened to this advice and been better for it, but there have also been times when I have succumbed to peer pressure and ending up feeling so much worse. Only you know your own state of mind and well-being. Deep down, you will now exactly when it is time to sit something out, take some time to focus on yourself, and save yourself the stress that often comes with planning a trip, being away, and undertaking a new experience.

Hopefully though, there will be many more times when you feel you are well enough to say ‘screw you anxiety!’ and take the plunge. Nerves hit everyone before they go off on an adventure, whether it be in the form of excitement or genuine worry, so you’re definitely not alone in those feelings anyway.

Deciding what type of travel style is best for you really helps if you have decided to go away. There are pros and cons to both, it really is just a case of personal taste. Myself, I prefer to travel slowly, focusing on a country or area for a longer period of time and settling into some sort of routine, getting to know the area/people around me. I feel that it puts me at ease, allows me to calm down, and I feel secure knowing I have a bed or place to go back to, if my anxiety or depression does get the better of me one day.

However, lots of people prefer to travel much quicker, often due to lack of money and/or time. Besides these two reasons, spending just a few days in each place may also have mental health and anxiety benefits; you are always active, keeping your mind and body occupied. This type of traveling is usually seen on group tours too, which can also help with the planning side of trip, or if you’re a first time traveler. I’ve been on a couple of organised tours, and whilst they are fast-paced and you are often exhausted at the end, the ease of undertaking the trip largely outweighs this. On the other hand, they are not great if you just need a day to yourself to relax, or if you do begin to feel anxious/down and need some time to recover, as there usually isn’t any.

No matter what type of travel style you opt for, anxiety attacks and low moods can strike at any time, as fellow sufferers will know. Having a plan of action in place if this does happen is therefore a great thing to organize before you embark. Again, what you do will vary person to person, but if you really are stuck for ideas and can’t pinpoint what makes your anxiety/depression better, a friend recently told me about her use of a ‘mental health first aid kit’. She takes this on every trip she goes on, carrying it in her rucksack in case of emergencies. In it, she has pictures and letters from home, coloring books and pens, and calming herbal teas. Something like this is a great idea, and again can be personalized and altered to you. I usually carry a sketchpad and pencils in my bag, as I find drawing distracts me and calms me down, if I do need to take a minute for myself during a trip.

The main thing to take from this is to listen to your mind and body. If you don’t feel ready for a trip, don’t do it, or scale it back somehow. Decide on a traveling style that is right for you, not just what your friends are into. And finally, have in a place some sort of back-up if you do begin to feel yourself getting anxious. Anxiety and travel can actually go hand-in-hand quite harmoniously, if you are careful, kind to yourself, and (most importantly) remember to enjoy it!

Later this year, I will be moving to Vietnam to teach English, something that this time last year I could not have imagined myself doing. However, I’ve taken some time recovering and focusing on myself getting better, and am pleased to say that I’m looking forward to the trip with (mostly!) minimal worry. Of course I am aware that I’ll most likely get anxious or sad or at least something during the move and transition (and will definitely make sure I am prepared for that!)…but it just goes to show, that you don’t need to let your anxiety stop you from traveling, taking new jobs, and doing something outrageous!

Keeping Calm and Chilling Out: Dealing with the ‘Winter Blues’

The days have gotten shorter, the nights have gotten longer. The work is piling up, and the dissertation deadline is fast approaching. All this alone is enough to make anyone get a bit stressed out and ‘down in the dumps’…however when you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), everything suddenly becomes a whole lot worse.

My journey with depression hasn’t been an easy one, and I’ve always known that it will always affect me in some way or another. However, I was definitely not prepared when the winter blues came along and smacked me in the face like an icy breeze. I was suddenly stuck in a strange limbo between wanting to feel sad and cry all the time, and my mind telling me ‘but you’re better now, what are you doing?!’

However, after doing some research, I soon realised that SAD was the culprit – and thankfully, I’m not alone. The long ‘nights’ have a huge impact on people who aren’t usually sufferers of depression too; it is actually believed that nearly everyone experiences some form of the ‘winter blues’ over this season.

When I looked back at when my depression was at its worse, I noticed that actually, it was usually during the autumn and winter months. This time however, I’m determined not to let it get the better of me and manifest into something beyond SAD.

That’s why I’ve decided to start taking it easy. I’m focusing on university work and my dissertation still, but if I have days when I just can’t hack it, I don’t beat myself up too badly. I’ve tried a few times to simply ignore it and ‘write through the sadness’, so to speak, but it’s usually ended with me hating everything I’ve written and doubting why I’m even at university in the first place…slightly dramatic you may say!

I’m also trying to get outside as much as I can, especially on the days when it is sunnier. I’ve noticed that this does make a HUGE difference, even if I am walking round town with seemingly no purpose. I have looked into getting a light-box , but finding it hard to part with the money – they’re so expensive! Although I’ve heard they work wonders for people with serious SAD, so perhaps this is something to consider investing in if it does get any worse.

Eating healthy and staying sociable has also been, of course, very important. Although my general anxiety does sometimes effect the latter, I always try to remember not to get too worried if I don’t feel like going out and seeing people. Quiet evenings in alone with just a book are never a bad thing anyway…

So right now, I’m coping. The tough week or so I had has cleared the way for a positive, more prepared version of myself. Now, if I feel myself getting low or agitated, I know to just take a breath, calm myself down, and blame it on the weather!

 

 

Why I Agree with Stopping the Male Birth Control Study

Why I Agree with Stopping the Male Birth Control Study

A piece I wrote recently concerning the news that the male birth control study was abandoned. A slightly different stance to the popular ones out there, but something that I really think needs to be considered before we label these men (and others) as ‘weak’. Take a read 🙂

Bookshop Day in Norwich

In honour of National Bookshop Day (Saturday 8th October), I’ve put a together a list of my favourite places in Norwich to purchase books from. Happy reading!

  1. City Bookshop
    Popular with students, City Bookshop has become something of an icon in Norwich. Here, you will not only find your favourite classics, but also an array of history, art, travel, and biographical books, to name just a few. A lot of the books are new, or in extremely good second-hand condition, but for a fraction of the price. Their stock is replenished and changes frequently too; I like to take a trip there every few weeks or so to seek out any new American fiction they have in.
  2. The Market
    The Norwich market is such a magical, inviting place, full of all sorts of treasures. However, situated at the very back of the rows of stalls, sits piles and piles of second hand books. You could spend hours looking through the collection, and still only be halfway through. Again, these are very cheap – roughly £3-£4 a book – and in good condition. What’s more, the owner of the stall is very welcoming, greeting you with a warm friendly smile!
  3. Charity Shops
    Norwich is certainly not short of charity shops, however some are better than others when it comes to books. Places like the British Heart Foundation and Oxfam ‘book specific’ stores, are often well-stocked, but pricier. These are great if you’re looking for something more specific, as chances are they will have it. However if you’re simply looking for inspiration, you may be better off going elsewhere. My personal favourite is the British Red Cross shop on St. Benedict’s (conveniently a few minutes’ walk from my house). They have yet to fail me on their choice of books, and whilst it may not have the biggest selection, they are certainly are the cheapest I’ve come across. I recently picked up a signed Margaret Atwood novel for 95p, and a Lonely Planet ‘The Travel Book’ for just £2!
  4. The Library
    OK, so you may not be able to purchase books from the library per se, but you can definitely keep them for a very long time if you take advantage of the renewals process! The Millennium Library in The Forum is quick and easy to sign up to, offering a huge selection of classic and more modern fiction/non-fiction. As for students in Norwich – go to the UEA library! I get that you may be bogged down with work, essays, projects, etc. but if you’re a true book lover, you should definitely have at least one non-module related book under your belt. A significant chunk of your £9K a year tuition fees are most likely for maintaining the fabulous library selection – use it!

Books are an excellent way of relaxing, learning something new, or just plain enjoying yourself. Head on into town and support your local bookshop facilities, wherever you are this Bookshop Day! 🙂

Why I’m Choosing to Teach Abroad

If you had told me 6 months ago that I’d have secured my place on a teaching internship in South East Asia, I would have laughed in your face. Literally. I had no self-confidence, and doing something like  this was pretty much out of the question.Yet last week, I took the plunge and booked a 4.5 month teaching placement in the beautiful country of Vietnam! Starting August next year, I’ll be starting my post-uni plans by teaching English to Vietnamese children, and I must admit, I’ve never been more excited!

However, teaching English abroad hasn’t always been on my to-do list. Prior to this summer, I’d actually never really looked into it that much. Although, when that initial ‘what the hell am I going to do after university’ mindset kicked in, my frantic Google searches led me me to a number of TEFL internships. My first choice was actually South Korea (and perhaps this is something I’ll pursue in the future, who knows!), but after some deliberation – and a tempting price – I opted for a paid Vietnam internship next summer.

Programs like these seem to be a great jumping-off point for those just coming out of university. To obtain the appealing monthly salary in Vietnam, you need to have a degree for starters, and having just completed my year abroad also helps when it comes to the whole transitioning overseas. You also get pretty much set up before you get out there, in terms of accommodation, which definitely appealed to me and my new stress-free way of thinking…well, that I’m trying to achieve anyway!

So what do I hope to get out of my time in Vietnam next year? After being so wrapped in how I’m feeling, getting better, and moving forward, it will be rewarding and refreshing to make a difference to other peoples lives by teaching them a valuable new skill. Continuing in education and pursuing my passion of literature is possibly the best decision that I have made – how exciting will it be to share that?! Apart from this, it will be amazing to experience another culture and immerse myself in their way of living. I’m not really into the whole ‘country hopping’ idea of travelling; after my year abroad I’ve learnt the value in settling down and getting to know a place before moving on, which is why I opted for a lengthy placement in Vietnam. Surrounding myself with Vietnamese food, people, buildings, and of course beautiful scenery for 4.5 months is my ideal version of really experiencing a country. Saying this, it will be great to explore the surrounding countries of South East Asia after my internship ends, though that’s a while away yet!

If anybody has ever undertaken anything similar to what I’m doing, do let know! It would be great to get tips on living/working in Vietnam, and the whole TEFL internship scheme in general. 🙂

 

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Rediscovering Norwich: The Belgian Monk

I’ve been back in the ‘fine city’ just over two months now, and I’m beginning to wonder why I even left in the first place. OK, so maybe spending a year in America/Australia are perfectly good excuses, but still…Norwich will always have my heart.

Our house this year is much closer to the city (hurrah!) so there have been plenty more opportunities for me to rediscover the lesser known parts of Norwich, and places that I have always been meaning to visit but haven’t got round to yet. Norwich is especially full of excellent eateries, and now my love for food has thankfully returned, I decided to check out one this week – The Belgian Monk.

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Famed for it’s mussels (they have over 30 different flavour varieties!) The Belgian Monk also offers an extensive menu suitable for meat-lovers and vegans alike. All this whilst enjoying a classic Belgian beer or cider besides some beautiful English architecture.

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Sadly when I visited, I decided not to opt for the mussels – I’m not that brave unfortunately – and instead decided to share some tapas plates with my boyfriend. We agreed on fried halloumi, a spicy Belgian sausage with curry sauce, sautéed potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and a flatbread with pulled pork, Monterey jack cheese, and chipotle. Not entirely Belgian as such, but certainly delicious!

My favourite of the tapas had to be the Belgian sausage – the curry sauce really was to die for, and I’m not usually lover of spicy food. Instead of being overwhelming hot, it was sweet, with a subtle smoky flavour that complimented the meat really well. I’m no expert, but that really was a good sausage!

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However, what I am an ‘expert’ on is savvy student dining, and The Belgian Monk fits nicely within those brackets. The tapas are relatively cheap, and four plates between two of us was more than enough food – we paid about £10 each, which included the price of a soft drink. They also have something called a Dubble Deal menu, where you can get two meals for £12.50, or one for £6.50 – ideal if you’re looking to spend even less.

Overall, I really enjoyed my short lunch at The Belgian Monk, and would certainly love to visit again. The menu is so big that I think you definitely need to visit a few times to grasp what the pub is really about. That, and I’d love to stuff my face with some more fried cheese of course!

 

P.S: hoping to make a little mini-series out of ‘Rediscovering Norwich’, and aiming to visit the famous Grosvenor’s next week (cue fish taco’s!), watch this space. 🙂

When Life Gives You Lemons…You Read About Them

With summer well and truly underway, I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading…in between working five days a week of course! Being a literature student means I have to read a lot, very fast; and you can’t always fully enjoy these books knowing that a 2,500 word essay worth 50% of your grade is attached to it. Therefore, whenever I get the chance, I like to read something a little different. A bit more fun, more relaxed, and certainly not related to any sort of meta essay question.

Whilst browsing the library the other week, I came across a book in the travel literature section titled ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’, by Helena Attlee. It has good reviews from reputable sources, so I decided to give it a chance. Oh, and it’s about the lemon gardens of Italy, a country with which I have a slight obsession with.

I’ve been reading the book for a little over a week now, and I can genuinely say I’m really enjoying it. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, and each chapter jumps around in different parts of Italy where lemons are the root of their culture. Attlee explores the history, and in a way the future of these special citrus gardens and their importance to Italian heritage. However, she does it in a way that isn’t ‘articly’ or long-winded; an entire book about Italian citrus fruit may sound boring, but Attlee surprises you with connections to the Mafia, WW2, even important scientific discoveries. After just a few chapters, you’ll have a strange new-found respect…for lemons!

Each page transports to the lemon scented gardens of Italy, basking in the beautiful sunshine and supplying endless amounts of Limoncello. The book works well in those days where summer seems to be over here in England, and also for the days where the heat comes blazing back. To all in need of a refreshing, relaxing summer read, I’d definitely recommend. However, be warned – you may find yourself frantically loading up SkyScanner to find the next flight out to Italy!