Managing a Panic Disorder While Traveling3 min read
You’re about to set off on vacation and you’re running through the typical pre-travel checklist. Clothes are packed, the hotel is booked and you know when to arrive at the airport. You’ve even taken advanced steps around the house and with your job to ensure you can truly relax while you’re gone.
But what about the things you can’t always prepare for?
In 2015, I was ready to set off on a 4-month-long solo travel adventure around the world. I had a brand new backpack with packing cubes full of practical clothing, adapters, emergency meds and everything else one might need while on the road. Yet there was one giant question mark in my mind. What if I have a panic attack while I’m abroad? Where will I be able to go if I’m in a crowded tourist spot and there’s nowhere to be alone? What will I tell the people around me who don’t even know what’s going on?
Managing a panic disorder (or any mental health disorder) while traveling, can be complicated. But it certainly isn’t impossible. And allowing it to prevent me from exploring the world wasn’t an option. Whatever mental health issues you might deal with, there are steps you can take to help better manage them while traveling.
There are a few obvious preparations you can take to manage a panic disorder while overseas. If you take meds, make sure you have enough to last the length of your trip and then some. This might require speaking with your doctor to get a higher quantity prior to leaving.
If there are specific triggers for your panic attacks, you can pre-plan what you’ll do to help in those situations. For instance, if flights make you anxious, consider finding a friendly flight attendant prior to departure and explaining your situation. Simply having someone to keep an eye out for you, or who knows what’s going on if you have a panic attack, can make all the difference. You can also be sure to pack things in your carry-on to help if needed (squeeze balls, lollipops, instant ice packs, etc.)
Don’t be afraid to share
I can’t emphasize this point enough. Do not be afraid to share your mental health struggles with those around you. One of the quickest things I realized while traveling was that the fear of having a panic attack in front of strangers was fueling my underlying anxiety and only making it more likely to happen.
Once, while preparing to spend an entire day out with a few new friends, I casually mentioned my panic disorder over breakfast. Not only did nobody bat an eye, but I was also able to better enjoy our outing. I knew that if I were to have a panic attack, I wouldn’t need to explain what was going on. And until I had that subconscious comfort, I didn’t realize how important it was.
Go with the flow
All in all, I was actually surprised at how little my panic disorder bothered me while traveling. Being away from the stressors back home (work, errands, etc.) instantly lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I realized that the stressors that come with travel were much easier (and even more enjoyable) for me to cope with than the ones in my everyday life.
However, this can backfire if you set yourself up for failure by turning your travels into a chore. Relax on the timelines, and leave days (or even weeks) open-ended. Only book things in advance that you’re 100% sure about or that are refundable should you change your mind. For me, the more I go with the flow, the more I’m able to enjoy the ride, and the more my panic attacks take a back seat.
But you know yourself best. Be honest with yourself about what will allow you to best take a load off while you’re gone and hopefully, your mental health struggles will take a bit of a vacation as well.