Travelling with Anxiety or Depression
Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford
Living with anxiety or depression, or a combination of both, can be challenging at any point in life. If you are thinking about travelling, take some time to think about how you might best manage your condition.
Everyone is different, and there is no perfect advice about how to cope. However, the tips below may help you to think about how you might get the most out of your trip.
A holiday will not the answer to your depression or anxiety problems, but you shouldn't be afraid to take a trip.
A Holiday Will Not Cure You, But Don't Be Afraid to Take a Trip
Even a positive experience like a holiday, with all the anticipation and excitement, can be stressful and difficult to enjoy. It is important to recognise that although a holiday may help your mental health and be restorative, it could also have the potential to be damaging if you don’t take in to account the more difficult aspects.
A holiday will not cure you. You will be taking your anxiety or depression with you when you travel – do not put pressure on yourself to be ‘happy’ or ‘fixed’ by what others may perceive as a positive experience. It is very common for people with depression to feel guilt when they consider themselves to not be appreciating things as they think they should – not having as much fun as they are ‘meant’ to. Your experience of a holiday does not have to be the same as other peoples – don’t put pressure on yourself to feel differently about things just because you are away.
You might find that you DO feel more able to relax and enjoy positive experiences, but just manage your expectations of yourself and make sure you don’t put unnecessary pressure on the holiday you have planned – it will not take away all your symptoms.
Think about whether you are planning to travel alone or in company. Travelling can be a great way to meet new people, but this in itself can cause anxiety. If you travel with friends or family, it is not unusual for people with depression to have feelings of guilt that they are not able to ‘join in’ with the fun to the same extent as others might. People often imagine that they are negatively impacting someone else’s holiday by being less able to relax, or join in, or take part.
You are not responsible for other people’s happiness. Make sure you talk to your travel companions about your concerns, and prepare them for the fact that you may not want to take part in every activity, or you may need some quiet time to yourself, and that this is not a reflection of them, but rather of the difficult symptoms you are living with.
It is worth thinking ahead about how you are planning to travel. Build in some flexibility with times and dates, so that if you are not feeling so well, you can alter your arrangements. Consider breaking your journey up to allow you to recuperate from the stresses of travelling. Build in ways to make your journey more enjoyable and relaxing – book an airport lounge, take some reading material or other hobby with you to keep you occupied, and make sure you are comfortably dressed.
There are a multitude of resources available to help with relaxation techniques – hundreds of apps and websites exist to help you learn techniques to manage anxiety and low mood. Do a bit of hunting online to find some that appeal to you, and download apps in advance to help with breathing techniques and mindfulness. These can be very useful for managing anxiety in any situation, and could be useful in a busy airport or in a new environment.
Try to avoid alcohol excess – although alcohol is very effective at easing anxiety initially, it will worsen depression and will cause a worsening in physical symptoms like palpitations, as well as quality of sleep.
Build in some time
Make sure you have thought about what you might need whilst you are away. Build in some space to allow for rest or alone time if that might be needed. Don’t organise a 24-7 non-stop schedule of activities that you may not feel up to. Ensure you get plenty of time to sleep – again relaxation techniques and breathing exercises can help you to relax and get some rest if you find it difficult.
Ensure you have sufficient medication to last for the duration of your trip. Keep your medication in its original packaging and take a copy of your prescription with you in case you need to replace anything while you are away. Carry a supply of medication in your hand luggage in case your hold baggage goes missing in transit.
Have a think in advance about whether there are any ‘emergency’ medications that have helped you in times of crisis in the past. Your GP may be willing to discuss with you options for ‘just in case’ medication to take with you should your symptoms worsen whilst you are away.
Make sure you set reminder alarms for your medication too. Especially with a time difference, it can be difficult to keep track of what to take and when to take it! Now is not the time to forget a day or two of medication.
When You Arrive
Take time to settle in to your new surroundings. If you find it helpful, keep in contact with your usual support network at home – albeit they might be on a different time scale. Keeping a journal or a diary while you are away can be a good way to manage your thoughts and take some time to reflect on how you are feeling.
Try to carve out some sort of routine while you are away. This can be very reassuring and help to reduce anxiety and uncertainty. Even just having a place you know you go for breakfast, or a regular route you walk every day, can be helpful in making you feel more settled and less anxious.
What to Remember
Take your friends and family contact information with you so you can touch base with a familiar network if you want to. Also take any contact details for support workers or crisis organisations that you may have. Most of these are run 24 hours a day and you could contact them whilst you are away if you are struggling to manage.
Your holiday is not the answer to your depression or anxiety problems, but don’t be afraid to take a trip. Try to think of ways to ensure you get some positive experiences as a result of that journey, but build in some ways to manage the symptoms that you may continue to experience whilst away.
ALWAYS speak to your GP if you are not coping well with your mental health difficulties.
Always Consult Your Own Doctor Before Travelling
These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
About Dr Ruth Handford
Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.
Travel Insurance for Depression and Anxiety
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you suffer from anxiety or depression and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for this; as well any other medical conditions you may have.[[Reviews-RuthHandford]]