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!



To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

After a recent visit to the doctor to discuss my medication, I got to thinking about my views on medicating depression and anxiety, and whether my opinion has changed since taking them myself.

Initially, I was reluctant to take any form of medication for my moods. I’ve been properly suffering from depression for about three years, yet as I said have only started taking tablets in the past six months. Like many, I was scared. Scared not only of the side effects, but the stigma that came attached to them. I should be able to sort this myself, shouldn’t I? Why wasn’t counselling working as well as it should? Would I have to be on them forever?

Eventually, after crippling anxiety attacks earlier this year, a visit to the GP finally persuaded me that I needed something to help me along the road to recovery. I was put on a low dose of a common antidepressant, and one that is usually prescribed to sufferers with anxiety too. The doctor warned me straight away that I would have ‘an awful headache’ during the first week or so of taking the tablets, but apart from that ‘very few people get side effects’. After hearing from countless friends about their own awful side effects (which is partly what made me avoid antidepressants in the first place) I knew to take this piece of ‘advice’ with a pinch of salt.

The first week was by far the worst. Yes, the headaches came, but so did everything else. I had no energy, was completely knocked out, couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and was constantly dizzy. In short, I felt shit. ‘It will get better’, was all I kept telling myself to push through the first few weeks. After just a couple of weeks of being on them, I went to Australia for the second half of my year abroad – probably not the best timing, I must admit. The side effects let up a little, but instead the low moods and the anxiety returned. Instead, I found myself wishing for the days when I was zonked out and didn’t have to deal with it. Eventually, I got my dose doubled, and after a week or so with a constant headache, the silver lining seemed to come.

By no means did antidepressants cure me alone – it takes hard work, persistence and a whole lot of patience to get through the bleak days of a mental illness like depression. Thankfully, I can now say I’m in a much better place than I was back then. In fact, so much so that I actually went to the doctors recently to ask about cutting my dose down. OK…so I hadn’t told her this but I’d actually been cutting it down for about a week now due to not having enough tablets to last me until my appointment…my bad!

Despite me informing her of how much better I felt, she suggested that I stay on the higher dose, as it was ‘safer’ and meant that I could fully make sure I was recovering. I didn’t argue, I mean she knows best right?

So, for the past week or so I’ve been back on the higher dose, and honestly, I’m thinking of cutting down again. Going back to taking double has made into a lifeless shell of myself – I’m getting migraines, have no energy, and I feel completely numb. Not happy, not sad, just numb. And I’m convinced it’s because I’ve upped the dose again. ‘Numbing’ my feelings may have worked in the earlier days when I was really anxious and down, but right now it’s just masking all the happy thoughts I’ve had recently!

Anyway, it got me thinking about this strange relationship I’ve had with antidepressants, and how it’s overall viewed in society. I’ve gone from hating them, to loving them, to accepting them, to kind of disliking them again. Why are they something that is viewed with such caution today? Surely, if we are unwell, we should take something to sort it and it should be OK, not only with other people but with ourselves? And, if we tell a doctor we feel better, we should be able to make our own decision about whether or not we still need it, right? I don’t have any answers to be honest, as like I said my own views on medicating mental illness is so contradictory; antidepressants helped me back then, but now I’m worried that continued reliance will hold me back…

Nevertheless, I’d love to hear your own journeys with medication, opinionated or not! Leave a comment below 🙂

Travelling Abroad with Depression and Anxiety

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly due to the fact that this semester has been a difficult one. You may ask how this may be, having been living in the beautiful Australia (Sydney of all places) for the past five months. However, depression and anxiety do not care where you live, no matter how exotic it may be.

I was halfway through my year abroad when, whilst back home in the UK over Christmas, my anxiety spiralled out of control. Panic attacks were an everyday occurrence, I was unable to enter public places without feeling the immediate need to escape. Sometimes I’d try and ride this feeling out, stay in the same place and battle the intense sensations – however, the panic always won. I lost roughly a stone in weight (which if you know how petite I am anyway, is a lot to lose) due to the unexplainable fear I’d developed over eating. It was a tough Christmas, and I was glad when I finally got prescribed medication to help me manage it as I embarked on the second half of my year abroad, to Australia.

However, as I’ve previously said, a change of scenery doesn’t cure everything. It seemed that it was one step forward and two steps back. Yes, I could eat more and was putting on weight. Yes, I was managing my fear of public spaces a lot better than when back in the UK. But on the other hand, my social anxiety was getting increasingly difficult – I had made friends so easily in America, but I just felt I didn’t have the energy to go through it all again over here. I wanted a comfort blanket of friends that already knew and understood me…which, as fellow travellers are probably well aware, is something that can make you feel so alone despite being surrounded by people.

Eventually, I learned to accept that everything wasn’t going to come all at once. Just because I’d put on weight, started taking tablets, and improved some other aspects of anxiety, didn’t mean that I was going to become the most confident person out there. And it certainly didn’t mean that the depression would vanish too. Once I started to accept this, and take my counsellors advice of ‘being kind to myself’ (probably the most valuable thing I can pass on to fellow mental health recoverees), each day became a little easier. And the days that weren’t, well I tried not to look into them too much. After all, I was (and still am) on a journey to recovery and it wasn’t going to happen overnight – in other words, it was OK for me to fuck up sometimes. Luckily, those bad days have become less frequent as the semester has progressed, and I would class myself as a lot ‘better’ than when I arrived here in February.

Travelling and being in a new environment is often not an easy thing to do for someone who doesn’t suffer from depression and/or anxiety. Homesickness can hit hard and you can find yourself craving the comfort of your own bed. However, I admire anyone with a similar illness to my own that is defying themselves (and the awful stigma that surrounds mental illness) and taking the plunge. A year abroad was not something I could really choose to opt out of, and looking back if I was given the option back in January, I definitely would have stayed back in the UK for this semester. However, working through this turbulent few months or so has given me so much strength and admiration for anyone doing this on a day to day basis. It also gives me hope that it does get better – which I know is hard to hear if you are having a dark day, believe me the amount of times my boyfriend has said this to me and I’ve wanted to scream at him is too many to count – but seriously, it does.

Despite all this, I’ve still had an amazing time in this diverse country, having been lucky enough to spend a few weeks travelling down the east coast and seeing some incredible things. No, I’m not coming away with the buzzing social life I had in America, but I am leaving having learned a lot more about myself (however cliché that may be) and with a new found confidence.