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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?