If you’re new here, I’ve shared that I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD and it’s been a challenge for all aspects of my life. I have been hospitalized for panic attacks, gone to therapy, tried medicines and nothing seemed to work, except travel.
As amazing as traveling is, it almost never goes smoothly. There are always hiccups on the road, with packing stress, flight connections, communication issues, and the list goes on. These situations are stressful for anyone, but for someone struggling with anxiety, or any other mental illness for that matter, these seemingly small hiccups turn into a full blown trigger.
If I’m home and experience a panic attack, I can usually hide in a room and do what I need to do. When I’m traveling, I don’t always have that option. On top of my usual anxiety, I was diagnosed with PTSD a few years ago. These conditions often magnify any situation, as it did on a recent Lufthansa flight from New York (JFK) to Tunisia (TUN).
*Trigger warning as I will be summarizing an instance of assault.*
When it came to meal time, the flight attendant woke me up and asked me to put my seat in the upright position to accommodate the person behind me. Sure, no problem. Except when I did not move fast enough for his liking, this man decided to forcefully grab my arm and pull me across the aisle and out of my seat in an attempt to reach the button on the armrest.
I. Freaked. Out.
I felt the beginnings of a panic attack and started to cry involuntarily. After being in a very abusive relationship, this man grabbing me immediately triggered flashbacks to past assaults. What did this flight attendant do in response? He told me “Calm down, you look crazy.” Another flight attendant, a woman, past by in this moment and did nothing. When the male flight attendant who grabbed me passed my row with food and drink, he did not offer me any. The rest of the 4-5 hours no other flight attendant came to my aid or answered my call.
This situation was especially scary to me, as I had no means of escape. I was stuck in a plane 30,000 feet in the air. I know I had to “act normal” for the remainder of the flight and not attract attention, so I cried myself to sleep. Once that plane landed I pushed my way past people to get out as fast as I could.
As insanely hard as that situation was, I knew I had the tools to control my mindset and remember I am stronger than this. That doesn’t mean what happened was okay, it’s hard enough typing this story now. It’s even harder when Lufthansa failed to acknowledge the situation, and never even reached out to me to hear what happened on the flight. In fact, this is all I got:
It is absolutely safe to say I will never fly Lufthansa again, but that is not the point of this post, the point is.. well there’s two points:
- It’s okay to not be okay.
Don’t force yourself to pretend like things are fine when they’re not. That will just cause added stress to a situation, especially when it isn’t going your way. Take all the time you need to collect yourself, relax, and recharge.
- I learned what works for me in dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks, and you will too. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t have moments, I absolutely do, but I have learned, and still am learning, what works for my mind, body, and soul.
It’s not the first time I’ve had a panic or anxiety attack abroad. It’s happened to me in Cuba, Colombia, Spain, and Peru. It happens. I have some steps I try and take when I feel the anxiety creeping in:
- If possible, try and find a quiet or isolated place to breathe and clear your head. For example, sometimes crowds are a trigger for me, but avoiding crowded places as a tourist is sometimes unavoidable. Removing myself as far away from the situation helps. If there is a tourist spot that typically is more popular, I try going right as it opens or right before closing to avoid the crowds.
- For me, I always take a necklace of a globe that was gifted to me by someone I love. When I have anxiety, touching it calms me down. Maybe there is something like that for you, whether it be jewelry, an article of clothing, or a photo. Reminders of our safe places can give us a calm, reassuring feeling.
- Writing always helps me get through any fears or anxieties I have, especially if I am able to write in the moment I feel that pressure. I write my heart out, and I usually cry doing it. Writing everything that is going on in my head let’s me release my worries.
- Call whoever you need to, whenever you need to. Sometimes I need to hear a family member’s voice. It’s your choice if you want to share with them the hard time you are having, and I encourage you do. A loved one will always support you and sometimes you need a person of trust to listen.
What works for me may not work for you. It’s important that you do whatever makes you feel safe and grounded. One thing I will never do when I have those feelings is drink alcohol, as it often exacerbates the problem, instead of drowning it like you thought.
The most important thing I remind myself is that tomorrow is a new day. It took me a loooong time to make this a habit. But when I remember that tomorrow is a new day, I remember that this moment will pass and I will feel better. Then I also remember I am on a new adventure in a different country and use that to my advantage when healing. I love going on long walks to no specific place and take joy in taking in life abroad, even people watching helps me zone out of my problems if only for the time being.
I hope that you never experience anxiety, or any other stressful situation while traveling, but it happens. If you are prone to anxiety, maybe make a list before you go on a trip for strategies that work for you, or research places that may bring you a sense of calm like a park or museum. Whatever the situation, do not ever let your fears stop you from exploring this big, beautiful world we are blessed with!