On Traveling with Anxiety

I never had anxiety growing up, I couldn’t even fashion an idea of what it meant to feel. I knew my mom suffered with it a bit, but that was the extent of my understanding – in my carefree adolescent brain I couldn’t comprehend what there was to be nervous about.

I first experienced the unrelenting clutches of generalized anxiety my freshman year in college. Anxiety changes you on a fundamental level, the way you interact with the world – it rattles the very idea you have of who you are as a person. I recall thinking to myself that I lost my personality. I felt like I had become little more than a hollow shell of my former existence.

I slept hours on end each day, struggling to escape my worry-filled world of emotions that I wasn’t properly equipped to deal with. Each time I attempted to eat I took one look at the plate in front of me and lost my appetite completely, unable to shake nervous grip on my stomach.

My former ignorant self became rapidly familiar with the nauseating feeling of nervousness – nervousness over nothing and everything all at once – the propensity towards overthinking and debating the worst outcomes.

My rational mind clamored to denounce the feelings, replaying retorts of why the angst was uncalled for, stroking my thoughts until they disengaged from the tension. Yet these unwelcome guests continued to highjack my synapses.

I struggled with anxiety on and off for several years. Thankfully through various life changes I learned to control and manage my anxiety. Though the tension may remain dormant for months or years, anxiety will likely always taint my thoughts, whether reasonably provoked or not.

Foggy New Z
Tasman Glacier // South Island // New Zealand

When I left my corporate job to travel full time, I began to feel the bubbling cauldron of angst beneath the surface.

I struggled to understand why something I so desperately wanted for myself evoked my anxiety. I knew deep in my bones that I wanted to see the world, and yet here I found myself on the verge of departure struggling with anxiousness and self-doubt.

Questions I didn’t have the answer to flooded my mind and made me question whether I was even enjoying myself at first. Am I appreciating this experience enough? Why does everyone around me seem so carefree? Did I make a mistake?

The truth is long-term travel forced me to face my life head on. No more projecting into the future or dwelling in the past. I spent many a daydream wishing I was doing exactly what I am currently doing – and while I was sure I was mentally prepared, it was still nerve wracking. I yearned to be calm and collected, but I struggled to remain positive in the face of my anxiety foe planting worries in my psyche.

For a while I beat myself up, unable fully enjoy the incredible present tense I had built through loads of hard work and sacrifice. I didn’t feel worthy of the experiences surrounding me. Anxiety is exhausting, it cultivates stress and doubt and resistance, and it was catching up to me.

Albq mountains
Albuquerque // New Mexico // USA

So I decided to stop – simply to stop beating myself up. I began to acknowledge each tense thought, allowed them to move through me, sit with the feeling, and then let them go. I realized it was okay to not be okay, and that being not okay is only temporary.

I made the decision to not let the anxiousness define me. I realized the fear of the unknown was causing my chattering brain to protect itself through anxiety. But anxious thoughts are simply one thought in the jumble of many thoughts – and I can chose to believe them or I can choose to let them go. Sometimes our thoughts can be our own worst enemy.

Instead I fully embraced the moments of happiness and beauty – however fleeting at first – desperately clutching to those feelings until they began to crowd out the anxious ones. Each time anxiousness surfaces, I observe it, and then redirect my thoughts to the present moment. Over and over again. Sure enough, the less I focused on the negativity, the less was produced.

Anxiety will always be some part of my life experience, and it will require constant work and growth to overcome that portion of me. But I am grateful for the self-reflection and assessment anxiety forces me to do, to find the root of what is ailing me. I appreciate the heightened self-awareness it creates, for the obstacles it challenges me to overcome.

I realize, in the end, anxiety is only another sensation. One to be recognized, observed without judgment, and let go of. Anxiety doesn’t need to dictate anything more or less than simply a moment in time, which I can choose to cling to or not.

Katepicture1
In a field of Lupins // South Island // New Zealand

Traveling with anxiety is a reminder that mindfulness is the real tool to true happiness. No matter where we are, how we look, how much money we have, if we are not living mindfully and cultivating positivity from within, than happiness won’t flourish.

Now I face my anxiety as a challenge, a reminder to reassess my life, embrace the struggle when necessary. When I feel those twinges of nervousness, I will be gentle with myself, allow myself to feel those uncomfortable feelings. I won’t be ashamed of my negative thoughts, I wont feed the fire of my insecurities.

Instead I will pause for a moment, recognize, acknowledge, and set free. Anxiety won’t define me, and it won’t divert me from my path to happiness.

Kate Townsend

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