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Adventures with Anxiety

I’m gripping on tightly to my water bottle and staring fixedly ahead at the blur of headlights and streetlamps. The air inside the taxi is stifling and I can feel my scalp prickling with heat. There is a deep, burning knot in my chest that as I begin to panic, only tightens. A cold, tingling sensation floods my limbs and rushes through my veins, as my heart pounds loudly in my ears. My muscles feel heavy, yet primed to run a marathon. I’m on the edge of tears, but also paralysed by an overwhelming sense of fear.

The taxi driver turns cheerfully to me and asks where I’m going. I turn to look at him and smile broadly, replying that I’m going to Greece, before telling him in detail about my plans for the trip and how much I’m looking forward to it.

Except, I’m not. I’m having a panic attack and I want to go home.

This situation isn’t unusual. From standing, frozen, in the middle of Central Park, feeling the sky above me spinning; to shutting myself in an airplane toilet, as I tried to subdue the panic overwhelming me. I’ve cried on the top of the French Alps, trembling from an unshakeable fear of avalanches; and I’ve gripped tablecloths in restaurants in Budapest, as a sickening feeling of doom has hit me. I’ve been to Paris and barely eaten for three days, sitting down at every opportunity to rest my shaking legs. I’ve lay in bed in the Maldives, unable to relax due to an irrational fear of a tsunami; imagining waking up to scenes of towering, deadly waves and screaming crowds. I’ve experienced paradise, whilst also experiencing real fear.

Anxiety, you see, doesn’t care if you’re taking a holiday. It’s not something you can leave at home; like your hairbrush or that second bottle of after-sun lotion. Anxiety wouldn’t want to miss out. With new countries, new towns and cities, and of course, air travel, comes a wealth of new dangers, threats and uncertainties. Anxiety is in its element.

Perhaps then, given my close relationship with anxiety, it’s strange that I decided to start a travel blog. As is obvious, travel isn’t something that comes that naturally to me. I excitedly book a trip, only to be stood over my suitcase the day before I travel, feeling sick and wondering what I’ve done. I’ve doubted myself on numerous occasions, worried that I am a fraud. How can I be a ‘real’ travel blogger, if it fills me with so much anxiety and unease? Maybe I should throw in the towel and blog about cats and recipes for cupcakes, instead?

Yet the answer is always, ‘no’. However bad I have felt, however anxious I have become, I’ve never let it stop me from travelling. I may be gritting my teeth, practicing my deep breathing exercises in a public toilet, or contemplating crawling through a crowded airport (it seems safer, somehow?), I will, nonetheless, always get on that plane and go.

Why? Because whilst travel can induce my anxiety, it is also its cure: the one thing that will most certainly quash it.

As anyone who has experienced anxiety will tell you (and that’s 1 in 4 of us Brits), it’s a liar. It’ll convince you that the world is out to get you and the safest place to be is in your house, or wherever is familiar. Your life shrinks and the walls close in. The result? You become more anxious, as the world outside becomes more threatening. You’ll become less confident in your ability to look after yourself (which, I promise, you can) and increasingly fearful. I understand this; I went though a stage of being unable to step inside John Lewis (for non-UK readers, this is a very lovely department store). It was simultaneously both ridiculous and terrifying. Yet the only solution was to tackle the fear head on. I visited every day for a week, walking around and around that store until my panic began to subside and I was no longer stood in the corner, gripping the hand of a mannequin (yes, that happened).

The idea behind my travels is much the same. If I feel scared of going away, the worst thing I can do is to listen to that feeling (it’s a liar, too). Instead, I’ll run madly, albeit a little nervously, towards it, waving my arms around and yelling. Yes, it might feel horrible at times (see above!) but that is one short moment, that will always pass. Keep running, through all the smoke and mirrors, and you’ll find yourself on the other side, realising there was nothing to be scared of. This has always been my experience of travel. Once I let my moment of anxiety pass, I realise that I’m not only fine, but in an incredible new country, with so much to enjoy and experience.

Another thing that has truly helped is my travel photography. Mindfulness is the buzzword within mental health at the moment. If you can stay mindful, you can stay sane, apparently. Whilst I’m not sure it is the cure-all formula that it’s been labelled as, it’s certainly important. Photography is my form of mindfulness. As I look through my viewfinder, taking in all the new sights and scenes in front of me, I’m completely absorbed. Thinking only of framing, exposure and focus, I completely forget to think about anxiety. I’m being mindful, people. And it works.

Over the years, I’ve got much better at managing my anxiety. Once an alien condition that seemed to hit me from nowhere, I understand it much more now for what it really is: a false alarm. Just like when you’re cooking a yummy meal in your kitchen and your fire alarm goes off – warning you of a raging fire that doesn’t exist – so it’s the same for anxiety. It’s just an alarm that’s being a little over-eager.

So, as I am walking through the streets of a new city and feel that little alarm bell begin to ring, I let it. It’ll soon quieten down and the smoke will clear. I promise there is nothing waiting for you on the other side and certainly no terrible fire. Travel has genuinely helped me with this realisation, forcing me out of my comfort zone and into new places and experiences that have proven I’m capable, confident and independent. In short, everything anxiety made me feel that I wasn’t.

If you do suffer from anxiety and feel that you can’t travel because of it, then don’t listen to it. You can. The more you prove to yourself that the world out there is a place that you can enjoy and engage with, the quieter your anxiety will become. And so what if you panic a little? I’ve told an air stewardess, very seriously, that the airplane needed to land so I could get off (over the Atlantic ocean) and I’ve walked through the bursting medinas of Morocco counting loudly up to 10 to calm myself down. Yet, who cares! Your panic will pass quickly and you’ll have only one option left: to enjoy yourself and explore the brilliant world around us.

So long, anxiety. You were a rubbish friend anyway.

Related content:

  1. Top Tips for Managing Travel Anxiety
  2. 5 Ways to Deal with an Anxiety Relapse
  3. The Representation of Anxiety and Depression in Social Media
  4. Imposter Syndrome: the tale of the fraudulent blogger

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30 comments so far.

30 responses to “Adventures with Anxiety”

  1. Clayton Goodwin says:

    Loved this post. I have panic attacks once in a while but they used to be worse and more common. Traffic, crowds and long lines were killer. Travelling definitely helped ease a lot of it as well. Thank you for writing this and for its honesty.

    • The Twins says:

      Thank you, Clayton! Sorry to hear you’ve experienced it too, but it sounds like you’re doing great now. And if travel helps, well I guess we should just go away more often. Any excuse!

  2. Anna Landsdown says:

    Your blog is so refreshing and truly an inspiration. You’re relatable and travelling in such a real and genuine way! Plus, you give such helpful advice. Thanks ladies, love y’all!

  3. Cara says:

    I already loved you ladies, but now knowing you’ve also suffered from anxiety, it means so much. Thanks for being so honest.

    • The Twins says:

      Thank you! Hearing other people being honest about their anxiety was always really helpful for me, so I thought it might help others to hear about it 🙂

  4. Alex F says:

    Yes! This is just the sort of post I needed to read. I love travel but sometimes get too nervous to go away. It’s so nice to know you girls manage anxiety and still travel the world. It has definitely inspired me to try and see the world

  5. Jenna Jones says:

    I had no idea. Wow! You guys are amazing. And I love how you guys write, it’s super personal and friendly.

  6. Casey says:

    Love the honesty. Traveling solo can be an experience… Sometimes ill feel like ive taken on more than i bargained for. Tough to be far from home when you have anxiety. Keep up the good work

  7. Lisa says:

    Such a great post! Very inspiring! That feeling of regret and a deep desire to cancel the day before you fly out somewhere new and exciting…I get it too. Every single time, and packing only makes it so much worse, especially if a plane is involved! The adventures always more than make up for the anxiety though!!

  8. Sammy says:

    This is AWESOME! Your honesty is so refreshing! xx

  9. Heather Griffiths says:

    This post is exactly what I feel like! I love to travel and took eight months off work recently to tour the world. However, every stop gave me a new (supposed) reason to be scared: earthquakes, crocodiles, tsunamis, bears, avalanches – it’s so easy for fear to take over. I also hate flying! But, you know what, it was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done. Don’t let it beat you – because there’s way more things to enjoy and inspire you when you travel than there is to make you afraid. The scariest thing is doing nothing at all. X

  10. Sam says:

    Such a great post. I suffer with anxiety that is gradually getting worse, it has especially become a really big deal with scuba diving. However reading other people go through the same really helps and can help you feel like you not going crazy which it sometimes feels like! Xx

    • The Twins says:

      Keep going, don’t let it stop you doing scuba diving – the more you keep going the less it will become an issue, promise! xx

  11. Lo says:

    This is such an inspirational blog. I’m a twin and whereas my twin sister (also my best friend) is travel mad and has had lots of fab travel experiences, I can’t help but feel like I miss out on the funner things in life as I constantly talk myself out of things. This blog has really helped and made me feel much more confident before my ski trip in the new year! I know my sis would be proud of me even posting this comment!

    • The Twins says:

      Ahh, Lo, we know how you feel! Both of us have been either side of that with one twin doing better than the other. Don’t let yourself talk yourself out of it, once you’re there, you’ll feel so proud! x

  12. Ana Gabriela says:

    Oh my goodness i go throw this too. I just gut piked up for an amazing job that recuires quiet and adventures but im about to decline it because of the overwelming fear. Feels like my body was going to colapse just by anticipating haw im might feel!!!

    • The Twins says:

      Hi Ana! Poor you, but don’t just decline because you feel a little anxious. I bet as soon as you take the job and go for it, you’ll be amazing! Promise! x

  13. Shal says:

    Stumbled upon your blog thanks to a ‘Hogwarts experience’ web search, lol, but am so glad that I found this post! I’ve struggled with anxiety off and on since childhood (before I knew what it was, of course) and also love to travel. It’s very encouraging to hear someone describe exactly what it can feel like…and that we travel anyways : ) Another helpful management tool is to carry some kind of essential oil roll-on or spray…I have a lavender one in my purse, and when I first realize I’m getting triggered, a sniff or two (along with those deep breaths) really helps : )

    • The Twins says:

      Hi Shal. Sorry for the late reply. Yes! Oils are always in our bags – especially ones that are quite grounding like rosemary 🙂

  14. Angie says:

    I remember reading this in November last year. It’s come up on my FB newsfeed today so I read it again. I actually also have it saved on my computer because it’s one of the best posts I’ve ever read about travel and anxiety. This post is incredibly well written. It’s clear, it’s brave and it really hits the nail on the head. I can relate to almost everything that’s written and I understand the feelings all too well – the fear and the panic. A post like this is extremely helpful for travellers with anxiety, like myself. It makes me feel less alone in my struggle with anxiety. I started a blog this year and I hope one day I will find the courage to write a post like this one, share my own experiences with anxiety, and somehow reach people and help them the way you helped me with your post. Thank you.

  15. Lindsey says:

    Thank you for sharing! Anxiety is “new” to me since having children and I’m constantly battling the fear and giving them all the experiences in life! It’s such a tug of war but I’m always glad in the end. Paris was especially hard for me. It has ALWAYS been my dream but I was terrified that my dream would kill my babies (sounds crazy writing it). But we all survived and are all head over heals in love. I hate that people who insight violence have added a new element of concern to travels. But we won’t stop ❤️?

    • The Twins says:

      Hi Lindsey,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. It doesn’t sound crazy at all – it sounds like logical thinking to us, and it’s something we battle all the time too. We have friends, just like you, who have struggled with anxiety since becoming a mum but you’re doing the best thing possible by getting them out into the world. We hope Paris was a dream come true xxx

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