About a month ago, I decided that I would extend my 3 month study abroad experience into an entire year. This was not a rash decision, but one made on the thought that a semester was not enough time to settle into a city, or to explore all the countries I had on my bucket list.
At first I was excited; this was a chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to see places I had only previously dreamed of! I was elated, then quickly worried. How would I pay for this? Will this knock me off track for grad school? What if I fail my classes and my GPA drops? Will my friends back home forget about me if I stay abroad?
It started in high school, where my social anxiety was so bad I would have trouble talking to friends that I had known for years. In college, it transformed into more generalized anxiety over all the responsibilities I suddenly had.
To my therapist, I described my mental state as being a tornado; once I started worrying about one thing, my mind spirals into a million different thoughts. A simple concern about doing well on a test suddenly became a fear that I would never be able to accomplish ANYTHING at school.
Even worse was the fact that not only was my anxiety persistent, it was paralyzing; I cannot begin to describe all the opportunities I have missed because I was to anxious or scared to go for it. There have been times where I’ve just sat down and had sudden panic attacks because I’ve felt that I should be doing more, but physically cannot drag myself out of the spiraling state of my mind.
It’s true that traveling comes with its own unique set of stressors. There are flights to be booked, schedules to be checked, vast amounts of budgeting so that you can guarantee you’ll be able to buy groceries after the trip is over.
It’s a lot, and the main question I’m asked is: Why? Why put yourself through this if you can’t handle your daily life at home? Why add another stress on top of an already overflowing load? Is this worth it?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that I have grown sick and tired of letting anxiety control my life. I have missed far too much because I’ve been scared and anxious; I know that if I passed on this opportunity, I would be furious at myself for years to come.
Traveling with anxiety is possible once you realize how little control it can have on your life. Yes, it can be crippling, and there have been times where I have felt at war with my own mind. But once I managed to learn how to cope with these nagging thoughts, once I realized how amazing this chance was, I could not let it slip from my fingertips.
But I fight on, because at the end of the day, anxious thoughts are temporary; this experience of a year abroad is the chance of a lifetime.
To my Fellow Anxious Travellers (hello!) here are my tips:
1. Self-care is the most important thing. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, make sure you’re sleeping enough, and eating every single day. Seems self-explanatory, but for me it definitely was not.
2. Talk to someone. If you’re super-anxious, share it with a buddy. You’re not alone in this! A friend or family member is there to support you, and they won’t think your fears are strange or irrelevant. They can help you work through your fears…please do not sit in silence and let your thoughts spiral out of control.
And if all else fails…
3. Embrace your bad day. Sometimes, regardless of what we do, we can’t break out of the funk we’re in. And that’s ok! Although you may feel jittery and worried, try to do something that makes you feel better. For me, that’s taking a long walk while listening to music. For you, that may be something entirely different. It doesn’t matter, but it’s important to note that a bad day doesn’t mean a bad week; take time to reflect on the simple joys around you. Buy an ice-cream cone, smile at a dog, and realize that if you are not ok right now, you eventually will be.