The Anxiety Escape: 3 Ways That Travelling Transformed my Mindset

This week commencing Monday 15th May 2023 kickstarts Mental Health Awareness Week, a week and initiative dedicated to spreading awareness of mental illness and highlighting the support available for those struggling. The theme of the week this year will be ‘anxiety’, something I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with in various forms.

As promised, both to you at home and myself, I will be writing a blog a day around the topics of mental health and travelling the world which helped me face my struggles head on and in turn, helped me enormously.

So welcome readers to Day 1, Blog 1: The Anxiety Escape: 3 Ways That Travelling Transformed My Mindset

Panic attacks, social anxiety, OCD.. you name it, I’ve probably experienced it, and you may have experienced it too, seeing as the most recent stats show that in the U.K, ‘over 8 million are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any given time’. Symptoms are emotionally exhausting, can leave you paralysed in fear and if you’ve got any other type of mental illness on top of that, can sometimes leave you feeling hopeless. I’ve now experienced having to watch loved ones – be it friends or family – suffer from different forms of anxiety, and have noticed how each individual seems to cope in different ways, from medication and therapy to challenging anxieties and placing themselves in situations that might terrify them but in fact do the opposite and help them get over their fears. There are also those who don’t do anything and hope the anxiety just goes away by themselves, and for some it does, and for some it doesn’t – each to their own.

I’m the token mental health advocate for someone who successfully did and continues to do all that – avoidance and crumble? Check. Medication and therapy? Check. Throwing myself into scary situations – aka being alone scary, not petting a crocodile scary – and coming out stronger and more resilient than before? Check, check, CHECKMATE. What I realised time and time again is that being on the road – compared to living in London it seems – offered me me the physical and mental space to do things that I otherwise would have doubted myself to do and in turn showed me how these scenarios I created, were figments of my imagination and imagined judgement that I don’t really need to give a toss about. There were really three prevalent things I took away from my travel experience which helped me enormously with my anxiety – tell me if you can relate.

I thought I couldn’t be alone until I travelled the world solo

I think it’s quite normal when all you’ve ever experienced are people you depend on surrounding you, to feel like you wouldn’t be able to cope in situations by yourself. For many years, I had never had the space, confidence or opportunity to be alone, let alone to backpack alone, until the fateful year where I realised I needed to see if I could.

The thought of being alone is a very scary feeling, and it’s interesting to see just how so many of us struggle with the anxiety of that and sometimes, I still do. For example, despite being able to travel across the entire world alone for a year and a half, the thought of an impending solo holiday gives me a slight niggle of ‘you can’t do it’ alongside the obvious feelings of excitement. Perhaps it’s because being alone can feel liberating but incredibly empty at times. However, it’s important to recognise that during the times I felt both those emotions, I felt the most powerful. The feelings of loneliness when I was by myself travelling I overcame by slowly evolving to relying on myself more, becoming more independent and less like I needed someone to support me if things got difficult. I was and always have been capable of making decisions myself – although apparently not when it comes to snacks when watching Netflix – but more importantly, I can decide what I want to do with my life and who I want in it. None of the things that cause me anxiety I want to stop me from living my life to the fullest – just like how I didn’t let my fear of travelling from Laos to Cambodia on a double bed night bus and not have a clue who I’d be sharing with or hiking Machu Picchu in next level altitude stop me from doing those things. My anxiety told me I couldn’t and I did it, despite my insecurities. So why can’t I apply that mindset to my current life? Do I want to become a top marketing executive and be the one everyone comes to for advice? Yeah! Why not? Do I want to run a marathon in France, hike Snowdon and buy a caravan to travel around Spain in? YEAH, WHY NOT? Just because things can cause me anxiety does not mean I am not capable of achieving them.

Situations are temporary, even the worst ones

I don’t know what the main difference is between daily, weekly, monthly and yearly life in your hometown vs the above when you’re travelling in another country, but for some reason, I always found the complexities and struggles of daily life more difficult than if I had the same struggles abroad. Maybe it’s the weather? Maybe it’s seeing first hand around you people that just simply aren’t as fortunate, and are so grateful for what they have and no first world problem really matters that much. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s just easier to moan and groan when you’re in your familiar surroundings and you’ve got family to pat you on the back and be like ‘there, there’ instead of, I don’t know, having no one to pat you on the back but there IS some incredible temple to explore on your doorstep to take your mind off it. I haven’t a clue. I just know that even the worst situations abroad – be it getting stuck in hospital for ages being told I had MS when I had nothing but tonsillitis – getting my clothes stolen from my bunk bed or having my eye blow up from sunburn felt like nothing in comparison to the depressive daily feelings I could experience here in the UK. Lots of people that I met had things stolen or other bad experiences – mobiles being taken out of your hand was a classic – but the people I met realised it could be worse like their passport rather than be in a mood for hours back home, and just got on with it. If it happened in your home town I’m not sure it would be the same who knows?

The point being is that it’s very possible for anxiety to change depending on where you are and who you’re with. It’s fluid, it moves and it doesn’t need to always feel so stuck. If I had my phone stolen abroad I’d be anxious and angry but I probably wouldn’t stay in a hostel bed for three days worried other bad things would happen to me, I’d have to get over it. The same can apply in daily life – situations are ever-changing, and so are your moods. Nothing, absolutely nothing is permanent, easier said than done but isn’t everything?

Don’t go for the easy option?

In London, if I have the choice of a 20-minute gym class and the choice of a 45-minute one, I’d probably choose the easier option, and that would be out of pure laziness. If I have the choice of cooking a Thai curry for an hour or shoving a 2-min Thai ready meal in the microwave, I’d probably do the latter. Why? Because it’s easy and I have to really feel like I am in the mood to cook. That’s fine, there’s no judgement on anyone who’s like me in that regard, but it’s very obvious for me to notice that when I was away travelling, I was the complete opposite. What does this look like? Well, I didn’t want the easier hike, I wanted the one that was going to make me push more and see what I was mentally and physically more capable of. I wanted to walk miles on end and not bother stopping for a Big Mac in the middle of the journey just because the skies looked a little grey. In London, if there’s something that I feel anxious about, I might avoid it, and yet when I was away, I would go for the thing that made me feel anxious because it always turned into the better option for me. I’ve tried to change my habits here a little more, for example, participating in gym classes when I’ve not exercised in ages, because I want to show my anxiety that I’m capable of doing endless squats for 45 minutes- and in doing so, I feel a lot better. I also think it’s good for me to start surrounding myself with those that have a similar mindset to me, otherwise, it’ll just get me down and that I fully intend to do.

To summarise, I’ve noticed how anxiety can present itself differently in myself and others. For some, anxiety can crush you, tear you up inside and make you want to disappear, for others it encourages dependence on family, friends to help you get through the storm and for many, it can be a real game changer. I’m not promoting the ‘just change your mindset and all will be well’ advice I’ve read so often because I know precisely how for a lot of people, that is absolutely impossible and not very helpful. I simply want to reiterate that Anxiety might seem like the devil, but it can teach you a lot about yourself. It can shape you, push you and encourage you to step out of your comfort zone which in turn can teach you life lessons and skills. I wouldn’t have learnt that without travelling and surrounding myself with those types of people in the first place and I’ll continue to try and take that into my life, wherever possible.

What do you do when you’ve experienced anxiety?

3 Replies to “The Anxiety Escape: 3 Ways That Travelling Transformed my Mindset”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s