Traveling with Anxiety: How to Cope on the Road

There I was, sitting on an itchy train seat in Romania dripping sweat and thinking, I am having a panic attack. I will be okay.

No, nothing crazy or out of the ordinary happened to spark this attack. Well, the attack on the Istanbul airport happened a few days prior, so although that wasn’t the main catalyst, that and all the recent attacks and craziness going on in the world were definitely feeding a small sense of fear in the back of my mind.

So why was I freaking out on this train?

Here’s some background. It was June 30th, 2016, and we were leaving Bucharest, Romania to Brașov. Our day did not have a great start. We walked 45 minutes to the train station from our luxurious hotel (JW Marriott, booked on points) in the 90 degree heat. When we showed up to the train station, we were literally dripping sweat. Absolutely nothing was in English; we stood in a ticket line that looked promising, swatted flies, averted stares, and hoped for the best.

When we finally purchased the tickets, we had a few minutes to spare. We purchased a $5 bottle of water from a hut and the lady gave us our change…minus $55. Astounded when we counted our change, we walked back to the booth; she handed us a 50 and apologized. Grateful for catching our mistake, we walked away and recounted our cash…still $5 under. Yep, she had shorted us again! We were not in the mood to be messed with.

After finally getting the correct change, frustrated and a bit humiliated, we found our train and boarded. It looked like a ghetto version of the Harry Potter train cars. And, to our horror, it was somehow even hotter on the train. The hallways were so small that my backpack touched both sides of the aisle as I walked through the train car.

A man who we thought worked on the train showed us to our car and our seats. We were disappointed to find we had two middle seats across from one another. Once seated, the man who helped us to our car started asking us for money. We were shocked that someone was trying to rip us off again and refused to pay any money.

I spent the entire 2.5 hour train ride on the verge of a full-fledged panic attack. Heat, small spaces and foreign cities are a perfect recipe for my anxiety to flare up. And what do you know, these things tend to be common throughout our travels. But I always get through it, I’m always getting better, and I’d like to share how.

Living with Anxiety

Unfortunately, this was not my first experience with anxiety; not even close. Like so many others, I’ve struggled with anxiety for years now, since I was 16 years old. While I’ve gotten so much better with dealing with my anxiety and preventing attacks, I knew that I’d encounter many situations while traveling that are completely out of my control and will test my limits in new ways. I’d like to share some of the methods I’ve found most effective for coping with anxiety, both on and off the road.

How to Cope: Some Advice

Understand your triggers

Become aware of your triggers. For me, these can include: lack of sleep, moving around too much, checking social media obsessively, reading the news, overheating, and being around crowds.

Example: heat is a huge trigger for me. My symptoms of a panic attack are very closely related with overheating, so it makes sense that when I overheat, it makes me feel like I’m becoming panicked, which in itself causes panic (lovely cycle, am I right?!).

If you’re cognizant of your triggers, it will help you be prepared for an onset of anxiety. It won’t take you by surprise when you start noticing the warning signs, and it will help you prevent an attack.

Be prepared for an attack

If you realize you’re starting to feel anxious, having some ways to fight it off in your back pocket can be immensely helpful. Here are some methods I use to “fight off” panic attacks, or to keep myself as calm as possible when they rear their ugly selves.

Breathe

I use the following 2 methods:

  • 4-7-8 method. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, breathe out for 8.
  • For every breath, count up to 10. It goes like this; breathe in – 1. breathe out – 2. Breathe in – 3, breathe out 4. Breathe until you exhale on 10, then repeat. I learned this method from the app Headspace, which is great for meditation beginners like me!

Learn to Meditate

Seriously, try it. I realized I had a problem a few years ago when I took an amazing yoga class and we did a group meditation at the end. I ended up having a panic attack instead of being in a relaxed zen state – pretty much the opposite of what’s supposed to happen. I’m still pretty bad at it, but I’m improving with practice (and if I can do it, you can too!). Like I mentioned above, Headspace is a great app to practice and get comfortable with meditation.

Third eye

My first boss taught me this trick and it works like a charm. I find this to be the most consistently effective method for averting a full-on attack, and it’s the most simple. First, you reach for your objective “third-eye,” which I like to imagine in the middle of my forehead. You can do this either physically or mentally. (I prefer mentally when I’m in public, since I don’t want extra attention, but do whatever works for you.) Then, you take a look around with that objective third-eye. Usually, I see a situation where it makes sense that I’m anxious, like a claustrophobic Romanian train car. It takes you out of your own head, from where the anxiety stems. Sometimes I even have a quick giggle to myself after I do this exercise; don’t be too hard on yourself!

Music

Research supports the notion that music can physically and mentally relax you. When possible, I’ll plug in my noise-canceling headphones and let myself get carried away in the music.

Write

As I’m writing about having anxiety on this smelly, itchy, hot train, I’m finding that it’s extremely therapeutic. Try journaling when anxiety grabs you. Another tip: keep a notepad next to your bed so when your mind stars to race and keep you awake, you can jot down your to dos and ideas without turning on your phone.

Reach out to those you trust and/or love

This may not always be possible on the road, but if you can, send a family member or trusted friend a text or give them a call. Talking with my mom always helps put my anxiety at bay.

Remind yourself that you’ve done this before, and you’ll be okay

At the beginning of my story, I told you about how I was thinking: I am having a panic attack. I will be okay. Mentally repeating these phrases really calms me down when nothing else will. It reminds me that this is a familiar feeling, I’m not going to die, and I will get through this like I have many times before.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a medical professional. I’ve just had plenty of personal experience with anxiety, and I wanted to share the tactics that are most effective for me.

Is anxiety holding you back? Do you have any other methods that work for you?

11 Comment

  1. Janice says: Reply

    So proud of you for sharing both your challenges and ongoing efforts and tips! So happy we are both on the journey of meditation and being present. I also love the headspace app as well as Oprah & Deepak’s 21 day challenge series. Being conscious of my breathe and the third eye work for me as well. I also am very influenced by music. And call ANYTIME! ???? Namaste????

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Thank you! We try to give the full picture 🙂 I’m happy too! And yes, music is so wonderful and can whisk you out of pretty much any situation.

  2. Carrie Mc says: Reply

    Wow . Not only am I in awe of you taking this adventure because I could never do this it is so out of my comfort zone. Really I’m having troubles planning a weekend to Sonoma . I find it very time consuming and I’m always unsure of what I’m doing . You write very eloquently and sharing your experience with anxiety and how to deal about with it is inspiring to anyone who deals with anything from a disability to claustrophobia. It tells us all not to be paralyzed by our challenges but to embrace them and learn how to deal with it so we can live life to the fullest. Talking to Your mom also calms me down my husband says she is one of the most down to earth people we have ever had the privilege to know. Your lucky to have such a great family and it has definitely shown . Remember there are no mistakes in life .

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      This trip has definitely taken me far out of my comfort zone, but because of that, I’ve learned so much! Let me know if you need any help planning your weekend 🙂 It’s definitely time consuming, and can sometimes be overwhelming and even frustrating.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this post; that’s exactly what I wanted to convey. Living life in comfort may be the easiest, but is certainly not the most exciting or fulfilling way to live!
      That’s such a sweet thing for you both to say 🙂 I am so grateful for my family and my support system. Thank you for all your kind words!

  3. lori4413@gmail.com says: Reply

    Wow Brittany, you should be so proud of yourself. It takes a lot of courage just to plan a trip like this, knowing it could take you way out of your comfort zone and lead to panic attacks. Good for you to be proactive and try to make the best of them. And to be so open and honest in sharing your experiences. I bet you will help a lot of people. It’s amazing how beneficial a positive attitude can be. I am so proud of you and love you lots!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Thanks Auntie Caren! I hope I can help some people, and it’s so true – a positive attitude makes all the difference 🙂 Thank you so much. Love you lots!

  4. lori4413@gmail.com says: Reply

    Sorry, I forgot to sign my name. That previous post was from Auntie Caren!

  5. Ben says: Reply

    Britt hey it’s Ben from Aus abroad! Hope all’s well. Occasionally I read your blog posts when they pop up in my news feed, and this one caught my eye. First, thanks for sharing. Very brave of you to do so. Second I wanted to share a breathing technique I learned recently that’s helped me and a few people very close to me deal with anxiety-inducing situations. Start by putting one hand across your stomach and one across the top of your chest. The key is to take deep breaths without your top hand moving or rising – you’ll feel the knot inside you start to loosen as soon as you get it right. Recommend 10 big breaths to relax, 20 to get into a near-meditative state. Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Hey Ben! Great to hear from you, and I’m so glad you popped over to check out our blog 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your technique! I’m excited to try it out.

  6. Aunt jo says: Reply

    Hi Brit!!
    Great writing! As you know I suffer from panic attacks too and I found something that works for me as well. It’s counting!! Try concentrating on numbers and counting out of sequence, do it out loud. It causes your brain to refocus on the math and not the panic. It works every time. So try saying 1, 4, 7, 13, 18, 23 or any random numbers out of sequence. ????So proud of you!! Love and miss you! Xoxo
    Aunt Jo

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      That’s a great idea – I’ve used math before when trying not to cry (hah), so it makes sense to use it for anxiety as well. Thank you! Love you!

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