MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE KNOWN ME since college or earlier are shocked to find out that I travel the world alone. Having suffered through years of severe anxiety, I am the last person anyone thinks of when they hear the term “solo-traveler.” But travel has become a type of immersion therapy for me — I basically put myself in anxiety-inducing situations on purpose. These five techniques have allowed me to free myself of the crippling fear that was once preventing me from living a life of travel.
1. Stock up on herbal remedies.
For years I was prescribed Xanax for panic attacks and anxiety, but over time I found that my anxiety was actually made worse from it. I needed to take more and more –- and let’s be real –- nobody wants to feel that kind of dependence on a drug.
After years of trying every herbal remedy I could get my mitts on, I finally narrowed it down to a few that actually work and are legal to carry with you to most countries — though you should always check the embassy’s website to be sure.
First is Valerian Root, which is great to take before a flight to calm any nerves, quiet your mind before bed, or in the event of a panic attack. Next, is Passion Flower Extract, which is great for daytime anxiety. It won’t get you through a panic attack, but it will surely take the edge off on a day out exploring. Lastly, Melatonin + L-Theanine is fabulous for sleep.
Though I don’t need these regularly anymore, I’ve definitely been known to mix Valerian Root and Melatonin + L-Theanine when a bout of insomnia ensues.
2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Whether you’ve dealt with anxiety for years or it’s only the beginning, anxiety is just as terrifying every time you have an attack. After all, the definition is having excessive fear. The only thing that changes over time, is that even though your body is experiencing fight or flight mode, your brain knows it’s just your anxiety. Use this to your advantage.
This is perhaps the most basic of these tips, but in my opinion, the most effective. Instead of focusing on the uncomfortable feelings getting worse, focus on how they actually feel. Become OK with being uncomfortable.
For example, when I used to get anxiety attacks I got tightness in my chest and had trouble breathing. My rational side knew it was anxiety and not something worse, so I focused on exactly how my chest felt. I told myself that it would go away in a little while, but for now, it was OK that I felt uncomfortable. Surprisingly, once you accept the uncomfortable feeling for what it is, it tends to just ::poof:: go away.
3. Discover your calming scent.
There’s a reason that spas invest in high-quality essential oils to help lull you into an almost meditative state during a good massage -– they work! Anxiety 100% starts in your head and scent is scientifically proven to have an effect on your brain. According to psychology Professor Herz at Brown University, our brains are trained to react in certain ways to different scents. For instance, grandma’s perfume might make you feel at home. However, the effects vary by person.
I tend to choose lavender, frankincense, and bergamot when I like to relax. Something in my past caused me to associate these scents with being calm. They work every time. I like to rub one of them on my wrists when I need to relax or calm down. Oil diffusers are great for at home or to travel with too.
Many times stores that sell essential oils, like spas or Whole Foods, have tester bottles available so you can smell them before you buy. I always call the store first to make sure they have testers available. Go and smell some different scents. When you pick up the right scent to find your “inner calm,” believe me, you’ll know it.
Pro tip: Bergamot, Basil, Clary Sage, Frankincense, Lavender, Marjoram, Palmarosa, and Ylang Ylang are good scents to try first.
4. Try guided meditations.
I used to be a nervous flier, but the first thing I do now when I sit down in my seat on the plane is put on my noise-canceling headphones in with a guided meditation. I actually listen to one of these every night before bed, too. If you’re the type of person whose mind races when you try to meditate, a guided meditation is a great option for you.
By far, my favorites are by Meditainment. They have limited meditations available for free, but they also have a great variety at a reasonable cost. Another great option is Headspace, which is a free meditation app with more options available at cost. Headspace not only offers short and effective meditations, but it also reminds you when you’re slacking on the meditation front. Lastly, YouTube offers thousands and thousands of free guided meditations. Once you find someone with a voice that calms you, take a look at what else they offer on their channel. I really like Jason Stephenson’s Meditation Channel.
5. Download some calming music.
Music is also scientifically proven to have an effect on your mood. I listen to classical when I’m working or writing to improve concentration. I listen to upbeat pop, hip hop & R&B when I work out. And I listen to calming music when I need to chill.
My favorites were actually discovered during a stay at Ritz-Carlton Naples. During turn-down service housekeeping would press a button on the alarm clock called Bedtime beats. When I walked into my room with that soothing music playing I was instantly relaxed. I loved it so much that I Googled it right away and bought it.
I have both Bedtime Beats Classical and Bedtime Beats Jazz. Both are great background music when you just want to relax or to help yourself fall asleep. Of course, you’ll also find a bunch of free options on YouTube too if you search for “relaxing music.”