How to deal with travel stress when the truth is you can’t

tallpinkFor people like me, who have issues with anxiety and depression, traveling can be enormously hellish. Even when it’s a trip you want to make, like the one I took up to Philly last week. One the one hand, it was great – I finished revising the first 1/4 of my novel and reconnected with some people from my past. On the other hand, the whole time I was swamped with intense anxiety, disorientation, and the depression blahs that made it difficult to muster enthusiasm for any of the good stuff that was happening.

I think the worst part, though, is dealing with all these feelings even after I return, because they tend to linger for up to a week. I mean, I get that for me, travel is going to be stressful. It just is. And there’s little I can do about it. Travel is an experience that occupies that realm of “so stressful all my coping mechanisms will fail.” I deal with this by trying to focus on the good stuff and on how nice it will be to return home. And taking an occasional chill pill.

But then when I come home, I still feel bad for days. That’s just not fair. However, such is life for someone like me, so here’s what I’m doing to get through my travel hangover.

1. Forget about getting back to normal.

My routines keep me stable. In the mornings I drink coffee and read for an hour. In the evenings I cook dinner, keep my hands busy and thoughts calm by quilting, and watch fairly mindless TV. (My Little Pony, anyone? When things are really bad, that’s about all I can handle!) I read in bed before turning off the lights.

When I’m feeling like I am now, none of this stuff makes me happy. The idea of cooking a meal is exhausting, and I wouldn’t want to eat it anyway because I lose my interest in food when I’m in down. And of course making it worse is the stress this causes me, because I feel that I should be able to get back to my life.

So I’m telling myself, yeah, this sucks, but it wouldn’t suck as much if you had come home expecting a week of blah instead of expecting to go skipping through the tulips with the joy of being back in your comfort zone.

2. Good habits will die, and bad habits will resurface.

There are many ways I try to make my life better. Exercise more, drink less wine, go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. The first week back from a trip? Expect to feel like you have fallen all the way back down the mountain and are lying battered and demoralized at the bottom, looking up at those steep cliffs.

This is what I’m telling myself: This is not a failure. Cut yourself 100% slack. Next week, when you are not so exhausted and demoralized, you can pick up where you left off.

3. Don’t try to get it all done. In fact, don’t try to do much at all.

When I get overwhelmed, my reaction is to withdraw. I still get the essentials done, but I cut as many corners as possible and spend a lot of time on nonproductive activities, like reading, TV, and sleeping.

The problem is, when you get back from a trip there are so many essentials you have to get done in order to catch up. It may not be possible to take the down time you need.

Take it anyway. Yesterday I cancelled my office hours and came home to take a nap. I am taking all of today off by knocking most of the essentials right off the list. They’re actually not that essential after all. I still feel down, but at least I’m coping in a way that prioritizes what is good for me, not what is good for other people.

4. Do this one thing: practice active gratitude for home.

I am saving myself from falling into a morass of despair over how unproductive and regressive my life feels right now by giving myself one goal I can achieve repeatedly throughout the day. This is my job for today: spend as much time as possible feeling grateful about the things I love about home.

All my windows are open because I live in Florida. The osmanthus is blooming and it smells like warm peaches. The mint is coming back in the pot on the back steps. The sun is shining and I can sit on the bench in the back yard while throwing the ball for my dog. Tonight I can make chocolate lava cakes if I want, because all the ingredients are in my pantry. I may not want to eat real food, but I could probably muster some enthusiasm for warm, oozing chocolate.

If I do this all day long, then this day will have been a success and I will be well on my way toward recovering from my travel stress. I hope.

Photograph taken at Longwood Gardens.

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