I couldn’t believe the size of the waves.
Recently, I went on what I thought would be a calm, fun-for-the-whole-family dolphin-watching cruise.
The feeble-minded captain made a wrong turn, however, and we ended up in the Gulf of Mexico in the choppiest water I had ever seen (or felt). And it was about to get worse.
I could feel it starting. My throat closed up and my heart started to pound itself out of my chest.
The sweating, the nausea, the tears forming behind my eyes: I was having a panic attack.
The next 20 minutes were a blurry mix of fear and repeatedly thinking, "Get me off this f*cking boat!" I also realized I made a mistake.
I had left my “anxiety kit” in my purse, which was in the car. The car that was safely on shore.
Although I love to visit new and exciting places, I’m definitely one of them.
Throughout the years, I’ve developed several methods of dealing with my anxiety, which tends to get revved up when I’m in unfamiliar places.
Traveling can create a perfect storm of panic for me so, much like a Boy Scout, I’m always prepared for the unexpected.
Here are five techniques I use to combat my anxiety that allows me to actually enjoy my vacations:
1. Have An Attack Plan
Review the full itinerary of your trip long before you take off. You know your anxiety best, so locate the potential triggers lurking amongst the fun activities.
For example, if you’re planning to shop at a Paris flea market, let your brain go to a slightly paranoid place and think about anything that could give you the jitters. Crowds? Feeling unsafe? Getting lost?
Then think about the things you can control. Read a Paris flea market guide and come up with solutions that work for you. Remember, you can always take a break at a café, a quiet corner or a restroom to slowly breathe in and out.
2. Pack An “Anxiety Kit”
An anxiety kit can contain anything that helps you to feel cool and calm, and it should always be with you.
Include small items like a sachet of lavender, a cute picture of a pet, aromatherapy oil, a quote that makes you feel amazing and, if you need it, medication that controls your anxiety.
Always bring along any items that remind you of home or simply make you feel happy, like a favorite sweater, a neck pillow that will help you sleep on the plane or a book you can’t put down.
3. Share Your Concerns
If you’re traveling with someone — a spouse, a friend, a family member — share your worries with him or her. That way, this person can also spot potential triggers and help you avoid them.
If you feel a panic attack coming on, think of a “secret signal” to share with your travel companion, like a hand squeeze or a code word.
Studies confirm anxiety tends to lose a lot of its power when you incorporate outside support.
4. Rationalize The Risk
In an anxious mind, a practical thought can be tough to find. Even in the midst of your nervousness, try your best to look at a situation and weigh the pros and cons.
If an activity on your trip scares you, like zip lining through the rainforest, think, "Will I regret not doing this?"
If you know something is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, rely on your coping mechanisms to get through it. Slather on that lavender oil and go for it!
5. Live In The Moment
Studies prove mindfulness greatly reduces anxiety. Although you won’t be able to roll out your meditation mat and zen it out in the middle of a busy London sidewalk, you can focus fully on what’s going on around you and tap into your senses to experience the smells, the sights and the people.
Concentrating on your surroundings will help you feel less nervous, and you’ll soak in your travel destination to the fullest.
After I was back on dry land, I told my family I had fun. They looked at me in disbelief, but I was able to separate the panic attack from the awesomeness of seeing beautiful dolphins in the wild. Even if you do have a panic attack on your vacation, it’s okay.
When you’re looking through your Instagram pictures, I guarantee all you’ll remember is the good stuff.