How To Not Let Mental Illness Stop You From Travelling
So you’ve grown a bit tired of seeing everyone else’s travel photos. You want to go away, experience some new things, and make some memories for yourself.
There’s one problem: you struggle with some form of mental illness.
I feel you.
For me, having OCD and generalised anxiety means that I can average anywhere between three to ten panic attacks in one week. We’re not talking slightly elevated anxiety levels. No no. Three to ten full-blown, fear-inducing, palms-sweating, hyperventilating, struggling to breathe, intrusive thought-provoking panic attacks.
But yet, I still travel. And you can too. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I hope will help you get on that plane and stop mental illness holding you back.
1. Believe In Yourself
I cannot express the importance of this one enough. No one would get anywhere in life, mental illness or not, without a healthy dose of self-belief.
The first thing to do if you’re planning a trip somewhere is to believe that you will be ok. Like, deep down know that you will be.
Yes there might be some tough times ahead. Like everything we do in life, your travels will be full of some incredible highs but undoubtedly also some lows. But if you believe that you will get through the lot, then you will.
2. Set Up A Strong Support Network
Even if you act on complete impulse and decide to book a flight for this evening (go you!), there’s still time to do a bit of preparation before you go!
Take a minute to work out who is in your support network. Who are the people you turn to when things aren’t running so smoothly? Who are the ones that help you get through the low times and feel like yourself again?
They’re going to be important when you’re away.
Speak to those people and tell them that you might need the odd phone call here and there if you’re struggling on your trip. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially not from the people who care about you.
One of the wonderful things about the time we’re living in now is the technology we all walk around with in our pockets. It’s never been easier to keep in contact with each other, and you might even find you speak to your loved ones more while you’re away than you do when you’re at home!
3. Give Yourself Time To Check In With How You're Feeling
Travelling is exciting; exploring new places, meeting new people, and trying new things.
But as great as the whole experience is, it can also be pretty daunting. You constantly find yourself out of your comfort zone. There can be a lot of alone time, and you’re far removed from the routines you might be used to.
With so much new-ness (did I make up that word?!) around you, there’s a temptation to just go, go, go! You’ll want to see everything, do everything, and try everything.
Make sure you give yourself time to check in with how you’re feeling. If you take five each day just to make note of your body and emotions, and just breathe, you might be able to stop yourself from getting a little overwhelmed before it actually happens.
4. Regularly Write In A Journal
If you’re taking five every day, then why not try jotting a few things down in a journal?
Journaling is something I try to do regularly, regardless of if I’m travelling or not. But when I do go away, I always make sure I have a notepad with me.
Writing things down often helps to clear your head, it’s basically a creative painkiller. It can help you figure out what’s actually going on and gives you a sense of control over whatever is going on in your mind.
It’s also an amazing way to store your memories if, like me, you’ve been cursed with the memory of a goldfish!
If you’re feeling brave, you could even try writing your journal as a travel blog. That’ll give you an ongoing project to keep you creatively stimulated while you’re away, and it means friends and family can (almost) be with you while you travel!
5. Remember The Bigger Picture
When you travel you can feel very far removed from your “normal” life. And that’s often a good thing!
We all need a bit of space every now and then.
But one thing I’ve realised is that it can help to maintain a sense of the bigger picture. No matter if you’re going away for two weeks or two years, it’s likely that you will head back home at some point.
If you take medication, don’t stop just because you’re travelling. If you’re in therapy, schedule Skype sessions for while you’re away, or at least get them booked in for when you get back.
Future-you will thank present-you enormously for the coping mechanisms you put in place now.
The other thing to remember, and possibly the thing that helps me the most, is that “this, too, shall pass”.
Low moments, dark days and panic attacks. They all pass eventually. And it’s likely that at some stage your trip will have passed too.
When I remember this, it helps me to enjoy it while I can.
If you’re planning a trip soon and you’re feeling a little nervous about it, I hope this helps. And if you have any other ways that you cope while you’re traveling, or anything else you’d like me to write, I’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!