How to cope with travel anxiety

Some anxious luggage.

Some anxious luggage.

A big part of the Adobe Creative Residency is travel. An even bigger part of my life is the anxiety I get around travelling. Whether it’s to a conference, to give workshops, or meeting up with the other residents from all over the world, I’ve been away more in the last three months than in the last six years. When I applied for the residency they said to expect to travel around 25% of the time, but for me it has been considerably more than that. 

This is because I’ve had the opportunity to do some really amazing things. I’ve been to San Francisco and New York in the US, and last month I went to the French Riviera for the Cannes Lions Festival. Closer to home I’ve been to London (about 4 hours from where I live) countless times, and it’s been wonderful. But it’s also been pretty tough. 

I am managing my mental health on a daily basis - it impacts me every single day. And one scenario I can pretty much guarantee I’m going to struggle in is one where I’m tired, which goes hand in hand with travelling. 

I worry about every tiny detail of an upcoming trip. What if I get a blister from new shoes? What if my suitcase gets lost, and I have no medication for a week? What if the plane crashes in a flaming ball of fire? And other weirder, far more outlandish things that I don’t yet have the courage to write about. What if no one reading this article can relate at all, and even more people think I’m just a massive weirdo?

All is not lost however. Despite these seemingly insignificant, but genuinely crippling worries, I have gathered more than a few coping strategies over the past few years. Please feel free to add your own in the comments, or send them to me in an email. And I really hope you find these helpful, or at the very least relatable. 

—> PLAN. Remember those blisters? Plasters boo. Lost suitcase? Don’t sweat it. I carry two sets of medication with me, one in my hand luggage and one in my checked bag. Not much I can do about the plane falling out of the sky, but that’s where the beauty of making lists and planning really comes in: there’s a CBT approach to this. Did you know for example that more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes every year? Morbid I know, but it definitely helps stop me freaking out at every bit of turbulence. Recognising my anxieties, and asking myself if they are likely to happen, can help stop me from worrying about them in the first place.

—> DISTRACT. Talking about anxiety more generally, distraction is definitely the strongest tool in my arsenal. When I first moved home after my breakdown, I had absolutely no other ways of coping with my mental health. I wasn’t able to rationalise my thoughts, or confront the fact that they might be only temporary. I was completely at the mercy of my negative thought cycle, and the only thing that distracted me was, well, distraction!

It wasn’t enough to just watch a film, or read a book, or listen to some music. I had to be doing two or three things at a time to take up enough of my brainpower to stop feeling so crap. I still need to do this when I’m feeling bad now - for example watching netflix, drawing on my ipad, and playing either The Sims or OSRS on my laptop. Yes, I am a total nerd.

If I’m travelling, I make sure that all my devices are charged up, that I have my headphones, a sketchbook and some pens in my bag, as well as a book or magazine to keep me entertained. This means that my backpack is always bursting at the seams, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind! I like to find the quietest corner of the airport lounge, plug in my headphones, and fight some virtual dragons so I don’t have to fight my own brain!

—> CARE. This is an approach that I try and have to life in general, but it becomes especially important when I’m asking more of my body and my mind - I need to look after myself, and take extra time to do so. Making five minutes in the day to sit down and draw, or have a bath, is even more important when I’m busy than when I’m not. I have also learned, the hard way, that I have to ask less of myself (and ingest far more caffeine) when I’m in these situations. I can feel incredibly anxious just spending the day at home, so I know it’s going to be tough sitting in a metal box with a bunch of strangers for a few hours. But recognising that that’s the case, and that I feel more vulnerable because of it, is half the battle. Plus, I’m learning that there’s something quite luxurious about having to spend 11 hours on a plane. There’s no internet, no emails, it’s generally at the weekend so no work, so all I really can do is stick a film on, and relax.

—> REST. Following on from caring for yourself, rest is the NUMBER ONE BIGGEST THING that helps me cope with things. I struggle with fatigue a lot anyway, and when I’m physically tired from travel as well it can totally knock me down. It’s hard when there’s always dinners to go to, touristy things to do, and people to see, but I have to force myself to try and rest as much as possible. I’m at my happiest when I have a solid routine (another thing that goes out the window when traveling), which in my world involves going to bed early, waking up early, and taking some time throughout the day to check in with myself (usually while having a cup of tea). If I can’t put any of this into practice when I’m away, I take AT LEAST two weeks afterwards where I don’t do any unnecessary things, work or otherwise. I know that this is roughly how long it will take me to regain that energy, and if I don’t rest, then my anxiety will roar, unchecked, and uncontrolled.

I really hope that some is this is helpful to you! The biggest thing I would say is to make sure you’re listening to yourself - you don’t have to miss out on cool shit if you feel up for it, but in the same breath it’s so important for life to be sustainable in the long run. So just make sure that your personal needs are met, and everything else will fall into place. I’d like to end by saying that these are all coping mechanisms, so called because I have something to cope with. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling anxious, and the most important thing is that you’re honest with yourself and those around you, and you ask for help when you need to.