If you follow me on social media, you probably saw that I took a road trip to NYC this past weekend. Every year for my husband’s birthday, we go to NYC to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. My husband loves NYC, and although I’m not a huge fan, I enjoy the time spent with family.
Let me share a few things with you before you go thinking that traveling is something that has always been easy for me. Getting to this point took LOTS of hard work and dedication! =)
I used to avoid going on road trips, or any trips, at all costs.
I used to experience anxiety and panic every time I stepped foot into a car or rode on public transportation, including driving to work, school, and just doing day-to-day things.
I didn’t fly on an airplane until I was 23-years-old.
I have always loved the idea of traveling, but the act of actually doing it used to be SO hard for me.
Any time I traveled I would feel anxious, scared, sick, and uncomfortable. And what makes traveling super unenjoyable? Feeling sick to your stomach and experiencing physical symptoms! In anticipation of the trip, I would work myself up so much so that I would feel nauseous and experience stomach cramping and diarrhea. I wouldn’t eat the day prior to trips in hopes of avoiding the physical symptoms.
Before and while traveling, I would have thoughts like:
- What if I get sick or have to go to the bathroom?
- I can’t be that far from home.
- I can’t do it.
- What if I get stuck in traffic and have a panic attack?
- I need to get home right now.
- I’m not in control.
- I’m trapped.
I can’t tell you how many times I cried, screamed, pulled over, turned around and went back home, and looked around to find people staring at me. Although that last part makes me laugh now, because I can only imagine what people were thinking, it was so awful and painful to experience in the moment.
So let me give you some tips on how you can start working through and overcoming your fear of driving in cars and traveling! A BIG part of undoing the fears that you have surrounding traveling/riding in cars starts with changing your thoughts.
1. Be realistic with yourself and your expectations. You will likely experience anxiety and panic. Before trips, I basically made it my mission to convince myself that I would be fine and wouldn’t experience anxiety and panic. I wasn’t being realistic with myself.
I love positive self-talk because it’s a powerful way to remind your brain of just how capable you are. Even if you experience anxiety, panic, and the symptoms, you will successfully work through it because you have ALWAYS worked through it. This is because you are strong and capable.
Giving yourself positive, productive, and healthy messages will help to eliminate the thoughts that trigger anxiety. Give yourself a positive message right now, I’m serious! You are incredibly strong, brave, powerful, and capable. Experiencing anxiety and panic doesn’t take any of these things away from you.
2. Don’t hide what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Believe me, I know how hard it is to share these things! I’m super introverted, and sharing has never been a super power of mine. I tend to hold things in, especially my thoughts and emotions, but I learned that doing this creates and heightens anxiety.
I think anxiety truly gets its power from being unspoken and reinforced with unhealthy thoughts. Whether you talk your thoughts and feelings through with a family member or loved one, or you write them down, you have to get this stuff out! If you don’t, these thoughts and feelings will go round and round until they ultimately lead to panic and the symptoms. Sharing these things will help to end the cycle of the unhealthy thoughts that lead to anxiety, panic, and the symptoms.
Feel your emotions! Share them! Cry if you need to. Yell if you need to (in a healthy way and not at people). It's okay to feel sad, frustrated, angry, and upset.
And it’s okay to reach out and ask for support! Asking for support makes you stronger, not dependent, weak, needy, or annoying.
3. Use mindfulness practices! Simple mindfulness practices like this breathing exercise will help to get you back into the present moment and out of the thinking that has led you to experience anxiety, panic, and the symptoms. This breathing exercise has saved me so many times!
I LOVE mindfulness practices because they work quickly to help you get out of the unproductive thinking and back into the present moment. And I encourage practicing mindfulness even when you aren’t anxious because it’s a practice that will help to teach your brain how to stay in the present moment rather than thinking about all of the what-ifs.
4. Challenge your thoughts! It's important to remind yourself of your realities. You have always successfully worked through every anxious moment and panic attack, regardless of where you were. You are never trapped. Sure, you might be sitting in traffic, but you are in control of the messages that you give to yourself. These messages will either lead to anxiety, panic, and the symptoms, or they will lead to peace and freedom.
5. Have a good book, podcast, or music on hand. Whether it's a long or short drive/trip, I love listening to podcasts and audio books because they keep my mind focused on something that I enjoy and have interest in. And if you like music, music can be extremely calming and therapeutic.
6. Keep taking small steps forward. Even if you only sit in your car, or drive 5 minutes away from your house, you got in your car and took a step that will help you to continue to push forward.
I used to think that I would never drive in cars and travel without experiencing anxiety, panic, and the symptoms, but here I am! I have traveled all over the U.S. and have even traveled to a handful of countries.
I know that I say this a lot but it’s because it’s true. YOU are in control, not anxiety. You will make your dreams your reality!