Scared to death of traveling. What do I do?
November 30, 2009 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Scared to death of traveling. What do I do?

Ok so first off a little about me (male 28)

When I was little (around 2 years and all the way to 16) I traveled to Mexico on a yearly basis. I thought nothing of it and somewhat enjoyed my company there (mostly family). I stopped traveling after 17 due to some money constraints and finishing college, starting a life etc. Well at about 25 years of age my family in Mexico was tried of not seeing me so they booked a flight and of course they wanted me to go. At the time I was incredibly stressed. I was about 26k in debt, going to college and working to support myself because I had my own apartment. I barely let myself have a weekend as a vacation little alone taking a whole week off for something that I didn’t really want to do in the first place.

I also was expected to use my own money for fun and entertainment down there. Again having so much debt and spending money frivolously scared the crap out of me. Anyway, so against my gut instinct I took the trip, mostly because of guilt of not seeing the family. I got to about Phoenix and can only describe what happened to me as a mental breakdown. I was super super anxious. Didn’t want to go. Couldn’t stop worrying about my problems at home. I saw tons of my hair on the pillow while lying down and immediate thought I am going bald. How was I going to explain taking a week for myself doing something that I didn’t want to do. Etc etc. Well I called my mom and she suggested me just tough through it. I immediately broke down sobbing more then I have ever sobbed in my life. The tears just kept coming. At this point I knew there was no way I could complete the rest of the trip. I told her and she again told me to try and tough through it. I hung up on her and am still mad at her to this day for that (im 28).

On the way back to my home town, I started having what I can only describe as a panic attack. I starting “thinking funny,” that mole on my arm suddenly because melanoma, and I was to die right and then. Vision of me dieing to some internal parasite finishing me off etc. Basically just crazy thoughts. I didn’t act on them do to having a very rational logical mind that I relied to on to make me realize there is no way these were the classes. Despite my logical minds best efforts the shear trauma made me just accept my fate and at this point I just gave up. I fell into my feelings and gripped my seat like I was holding on to dear life the whole way back to home. I was pretty stressed out for next two weeks just recovering from this one day.

My next trip was 3 years later at the beginning on this summer actually. I was extremely nervous about it but I knew I couldn’t continue to live in fear for the rest of my life (I didn’t travel before because of anxiety and panic). I finally felt like I was in a more comfortable place to try again. I had less debt, no job, free rent, still debt but manageable. School was still a huge stressor (still in college, harder classes this time). I actually took the flight immediately after my finals. Needless to say I could focus on anything, paniced weeks in advance and was extremely terrified the whole time. But the difference is I actually wanted to go this time. No one was pushing me, this was all me. Yet I still felt scared for reason I cannot describe. I didn’t have the crazy thoughts just a feeling of anxiety. Which honestly I probably misinterpreted excitement as anxiety.

Anyway I took the trip and nervously doubted myself a week in advance. I had to call just about every person I knew and talk to them about my situation to convince myself I should go. Everyone I talked to was supporting and told me that this was a great idea for me and at a perfect time. So I went notifying my flight attendant that I will probably puke at any moment due to the stress. I got to my destination and felt fine for a bit, but wow the next 3 days I just couldn’t relax. I had to listen to mediation tapes for about 3-4 hours just to feel normal again. Mornings were the worst. Over the course of those days things did get better though. And by the 4th day I was pretty much back to normal except tired. Once I relaxed the rest of the trip was amazing. I loved every minute of it. I traveled around, met an awesome friend. Ate good food, had good company, just loved it.

Once I got back home though, I took a new job the next day. Seriously got home at 11 pm and started a new job at 2 pm the next day. I worked that job for about 3 weeks before I got food poisoning from a pot luck. It was really bad I felt horrible for 3 days. And for some reason this triggered a whole slew of anxiety. I no longer could function day to day, I was having panic attacks left and right, anxiety every moment (about things like debt, making a living, finishing college how I was going to survive if I didn’t keep this job). I had to quit 3 week in because it just got so bad all I could do all day was take walks to keep myself calm. I should also mention that this second trip was also a way to “combat” my fear of traveling for 3 years. Something I was hoping would work. Instead it backfired. I spent the next 3 months with generalized anxiety and just barely making it through a job. Of which since I had to make for lost time took up another job. So I was trying to manage 60+ hours a week. Yes I push myself way to hard but honestly the stress of piling debt is worse than working that much.

Ok so here I am. I am about to travel again. I have over 1.5k in the bank for needed emergencies. I have a car that is not a piece of crap that actually brand new. I am almost done with the semester (I have 2 finals in 2 weeks). I am taking less school. Still working part time but took all of next week off. I have Xanax incase I freak out. I have hotels books. I am only staying for 3 days total. I am not flying but taking my car instead. And even though I didn’t have therapy for the above. I have done severaling talkings with friends and family to find out what the causes of my anxiety are and why they seem to be coming. So I think I have that somewhat solved. Although I will be taking therapy again soon since I finally have medical coverage.

I am leaving tomorrow. Didn’t have stress until today (had to take one xanax though). Hotel is booked. I will be driving the whole time. So no plane. (8 hour drive). I have plently of money incase of anything. Everything seems to be in place. I am alittle worried about my finals but I could walk in blind and get a 60 to 70% on them. And I have no work for 2 weeks, plently of days to recover once I come back. O and the whole trip is 3 days total. So nothing major like a week or more.

So why do I still feel anxiety? Its greatly dimished but I still wake up with nightmares and didn’t sleep well last night or this night. I feel like I have gotten things in order. And have emergency on top of emergency plans in case of any possible mishaps. I do still need to pack though but for 3 days that should be easy. And above all I am doing this trip for myself to have and also to make it so I am not afraid of traveling anymore. I refuse to let myself get carried away into thinking I can never travel again because of anxiety.
So still I am feeling anxiety, should I go at all? It took a long time to recover last time and this time I doubt it will be as long. But still I am at a loss if I am doing the right thing. I will be seeing great friends there that I met last time so I won’t be alone. I just wonder if maybe I should cancel. But then I think I gave into the fear which is probably worse honestly. Anyway have any ideas about this whole situation?
posted by Takeyourtime to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
BTW I know xanax is very addictive and not a long term solution. But my goal is to let my body know thats its ok to travel. And I shouldn't have to worry.
posted by Takeyourtime at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2009

Amateur psychology hour...

I don't think you're actually having anxiety about the trip. You're stress about school, about your job, about your finances, about your car, and about your life. But it seems like the only time you allow yourself to be worried is when you travel. Thus, all these other anxieties manifest themselves in an (admittedly) irrational way.

You wind yourself so tight day to day that as soon as you try to relax, things explode. Solve your other stresses first, because trying to manage your fear of traveling the same way you manage everything else is just going to lead to an early heart attack.
posted by sbutler at 10:30 AM on November 30, 2009

None of what you're actually anxious about has anything at all to do with travel in itself, I'd point out; it seems to be more about money.

Can you try to separate those issues in your head? Perhaps with the assistance of someone professionally trained in such things, instead of trying to gut it out with xanax and grim determination?
posted by ook at 10:32 AM on November 30, 2009

Wow, great insight guys. I never thought of that before.
posted by Takeyourtime at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2009

Agreeing with ook and sbutler. I also wanted to add that it is common for people who have panic attacks to develop a strong aversion to the situations where they first experienced the panic. For example, if a patient has a panic attack in a shopping mall, they often find it difficult to go back to that particular mall, or maybe even to any retail store. It sounds like you associate your panic and anxiety with travel, so you try to avoid travel in order to control the anxiety. It certainly sounds like it might be worth seeing someone (I would suggest an MD as well as a counsellor) to see if they can confirm this is the case, and help you find strategies for coping.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

You know that you mention it. I do think tend to think that if I am not home to solve my problems and combat them everyday I will fall apart. I dont allow myself to let them go for fear of them overwhelming me while I am not present.

I actually feel so much better with what you guys have said. Its not the trip that worries me its the stresses that I leave behind that are not being dealt with everyday. And honestly since they are being dealt with I can honestly lay this fear to rest. Hopefully my body gets it. =)
posted by Takeyourtime at 1:56 PM on November 30, 2009

You shouldn't expect too much right away. TheLittlestRobot is right: the body has all these reflexive and automatic reactions, and none is stronger than the flight-or-fight response. Don't push yourself too hard or expect too much. The worse thing you could do right now is set yourself up for failure or disappointment.

I know what my panic attacks are and why I get them, but they still happen. But now I tell myself, "It's only a panic attack, and it will pass faster if I just calm down." Maybe you can think to yourself, "I'm not allowing myself to relax. My problems will not worsen if I let go for a couple days. I've earned a break."

But seriously, you need to find a healthy way to deal with all the stress in your life. Maybe that means some therapy. Lots of people say exercise helps; personally I think swimming is about as relaxing as it gets.
posted by sbutler at 2:25 PM on November 30, 2009

I started taking a mild anti-anxiety med this year and it helped so much with the panic, nervousness, and obsessive thoughts. You should talk to a doctor (if you're in school there should be a counseling center) about trying a mild dosage and see if it helps.
posted by alicetiara at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2009

In case anyone is still reading this. I went ahead with the trip!

The whole thing was pretty neat. I panicked slightly and had to take one xanax a day but otherwise things went along really smoothly. I set my expectations to absolute nil and just tried to enjoy my stay. And you guys were right its not the trip that was scary. Its the association of the trip with my first major panic attack and stress at home.

Thanks again.
posted by Takeyourtime at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2009

Makes me smile that you had a good time on your trip :) Here's to many more enjoyable vacations!
posted by sbutler at 11:13 PM on December 4, 2009

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