Raise your hand if you have any fun plans this summer. Maybe you’re planning some cookouts with your friends and family. Maybe you’re going to make your own ice cream. Maybe you plan on taking your dream vacation, wherever that might be.
For most people, summer is a welcome break from the busyness of life. It’s a chance to take a break, engage in summer traditions, and see the world.
When you have an anxiety disorder, however, summers can be difficult. Summers can mean long breaks from your routine, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and having limited access to your support system. If you have severe anxiety, even small things (like going out for ice cream) can feel like climbing Mt. Everest.
Traveling can be especially difficult. Depending on where you’re going, you might have to keep track of things such as plane tickets, layovers, gate changes, going through security, and money exchange rates (if you’re traveling internationally). And that’s all before you get on the plane!
It’s easy to think that you can’t travel. It’s easy to think that it’s overwhelming or more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, what if you have therapy or you take medications to control your anxiety? Is it possible to manage your mental health and see the world at the same time?
Fortunately, you can. In May, after I completed my semester, my mom and I traveled to Israel. It was my first time traveling internationally, and I did so while managing my mental health needs. Along the way, I discovered some crucial tips for a successful trip.
The best way to have a successful trip is to plan ahead. With that in mind, here are my tips to set you up for success:
- Talk to your treatment team before you make any plans. They can help you determine if you’re ready to travel, and they can also give you some strategies that are tailored to your situation. For example, I was apprehensive about flying internationally for the first time, so my therapist had me take an over-the-counter sleep aid on the flight. I did so, and it made the trip there and back a lot more bearable. Plus, by the time we landed, I was (reasonably) well-rested, which led to a successful start to my trip.
- Think about your preferences when deciding on where to go. For example, if you hate crowds, then a bustling city might not be a great idea. You might enjoy a trip to the countryside instead. There’s a time and place to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but a trip isn’t necessarily the best time to do so. Taking your preferences into account can help set you up for success.
- Also, consider what language the local people speak, and consider your own language abilities. For example, if you only speak English, it might not be a good idea to go somewhere where the people speak Spanish and/or limited English. I know travel gurus say that the point of traveling is to experience how other people live. However, when you have a mental health condition, you need to make sure that someone can help you get the care you need if you have any complications, such as a panic attack. Even if you’re bilingual, it might be difficult to advocate for yourself if your anxiety acts up.
- If you really want to go somewhere where your primary language isn’t widely spoken, either travel with a friend/relative who is fluent the local language or hire a tour guide who is bilingual in both languages. That way, you’ll have someone who can translate for you.
- If you’re flying, pack all of your medicine into your carry on. Airlines sometimes lose luggage, and you don’t want to be stranded somewhere with no way to access your medicine.
- If you get flustered easily, consider going with someone you know. Good candidates would be a spouse, a parent, or a close friend. Even just one familiar face can help you if things get overwhelming or difficult. Besides, traveling is more fun when you share the journey with someone!
- Center your trip around your interests. If you enjoy history, choose a destination with plenty of museums and historical sites. Centering a trip around your interests will help you to enjoy yourself. It will also help you to get excited for the trip.
- Think carefully about the length of your trip. If it’s hard to deviate from your routine, don’t feel obligated to go on a long trip. For example, if your anxiety worsens if you skip a therapy appointment, consider planning a weekend getaway instead. It’s better to have a short trip that ends well than a long trip that ends poorly.
- If your disorder isn’t stable enough to travel, or if you’re short on time or money, consider going on a staycation. Take a few days off of work and sightsee in your own city. You can visit museums, go out to eat, go to a play, or do some shopping. The best part is that you can still sleep in your own bed! At the very least, engage in some self-care. There are ways to make a staycation fun and relaxing.
If you long to take a trip, don’t let your anxiety stand in your way. Your vacation can be whatever you need it to be. Don’t let your vacation set you back in your recovery, and don’t feel pressured to make your vacation look like anyone else’s. You can have a fun summer without sacrificing your mental health.