The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be over but new fears arise from time to time relating to new viruses, including monkey pox and others that may not make it to the news. Studies have shown links between higher levels of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and the pandemic.
It is only natural that some of us may feel an extra level of anxiety when we decide to travel away from home and from our own country after a long period of time. The fear and anxiety may not arise directly from getting the viruses but rather from being out there again in the outside world and navigating our way around airports, trains and accomodation. If you have anxiety attacks that last for days, you should read this.
Do not try to push away your anxiety, as it will come back being stronger. You can work on it to your favour. Here are some practical tips to help you prepare for that long awaited trip, to stay safe along the way and to enjoy your time to the max! Now is the time to go for that long awaited holiday or to spend time with loved ones again after a very long time.
Our tips for your next travel after a long COVID-19
- Do your research: Anxiety fuelled by COVID-19 is mostly based on the fear of getting the virus and what restrictions might arise and how these might affect us. So, the best way around it is to do your research. Look up information from official sources, like your local health authorities and put these into perspective to answer the questions: What are the real risks? What are the benefits of this trip?
If it’s not enough, you can also go for anxiety counseling if needed.
- Take precautions: Take the necessary precautions, for example by wearing a mask in crowded places and on the aeroplane and on transport. That will help you feel safer, more prepared, and more confident.
- Talk to others: Talk to family and friends who have travelled after the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed. How was their experience? Any helpful tips they can share with you?
- Do not over do it: Trying to prepare too much can have a negative effect on your levels of anxiety. Be realistic and think through some actions that may be counterproductive. For example, spending a very long time washing your hands after touching a surface may not allow you the time you need to relax and enjoy yourself during the holiday. Be aware of excessive behaviours and talk yourself out of wasting time on unproductive worries.
- Know your triggers: Before you travel, take some time to think through and list what you are afraid of most. Is it the flight? Or getting on the metro? Or visiting crowded places? That fact that you can anticipate a trigger, helps you be better prepared. You can talk it through with someone you trust or even a professional who can support you to be better prepared to live through that part of your trip.
- Be kind to yourself: Reasoning that is perfectly normal to feel some anxiety can help you enjoy the moment even more. Acknowledge that your emotions aren’t unusual, others are processing similar feelings and there is no need for you to judge yourself.
- Ignore the news: As soon as you have made the decision to travel, it is best that you stay away from consuming news related to COVID-19 or looking up travel related stories online which may only serve to scare you unncessarily. Make sure that the information you look for is science-based and factual.
- Trust yourself – sit back and enjoy: Once you have made an informed decision, stop agonising yourself with thoughts of “what if?” Trust yourself that you have made the best decision in the circumstances and that there may be other things that you will not have control over, and that is perfectly fine, for example the fact that you will be in a restricted space on the plane.
- Exposure Therapy: You may wish to consult with a psychologist who works with exposure therapy as it is proven to be highly effective in preparation for stressful situations, panic or anxiety. The therapist trained in cognitive behaviour therapy might use imaginary scenarios or virtual reality flight simulations to help you prepare for the real experience and to face your fears.
- Consult your doctor: If after you try all the above, you still feel that you want to be better prepared with some anti-anxiety prescription medication prior to your trip, speak to your doctor to prescribe a helpful medication. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the trip may feel more fearsome before you actually embark on it and having the courage to go for it will help you for future endeavours.
What if I get anxious as I start my trip?
You are seated for your flight when you start getting a feeling that anxiety is setting in. Here are some quick tips to take with you in case this happens:
Remind yourself that you need to breathe to feel better. So breathe deeply and slowly to a count of your preference and this will help you feel more in control of your feelings. Hyperventilating may lead to a greater feeling of anxiety so it will be beneficial to keep your breathing under check.
Take things with you that will keep you busy during the trip and will keep you distracted from being super alert about anything happening around you, such as someone who coughed close by. This may include a playlist of calming or upbeat music or reading a book that you have been longing to read.
Stay in the moment
Be rational and reason with yourself as to why you decided to travel: you will be arriving at your destination pretty soon or you may be meeting family whom you missed so much for several years. These are some of the cognitive techniques that you can use to stay in the moment and to not think too deeply into issues that you have no control over.
Zone out and rest
Another option is to zone out and to focus on some meditation exercises, which you have already prepared and practised beforehand. Also you may decide to allow yourself to relax to the point where you sleep during the trip. This will help you feel more energised and less stressed about what is going on until you get to your much expected destination. Ideally you would have also rested well at home before the trip and eaten healthy food that doesn’t make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Have a great time
Enjoy yourself, relax and as soon as you return start thinking about and planning for your next adventure! That will help to keep the anxiety under control.
Writer for Therapy Hunter as well as psychology
professor at Malta University.