After the birth of my second child, I experienced crippling anxiety and insomnia. It was such a struggle and since I didn’t have a history of anxiety it took months to understand what was happening to me. Fear, intrusive thoughts and a lack of sleep dominated my life. I tried to stay engaged with my family, but often times I was just living inside my head, all the while wondering when the living-hell would end and I could get back to being my happy self.
Before anxiety entered my life, I was pretty fearless when it came to travel. However, when the anxiety hit, thoughts of travel seemed totally overwhelming and terrifying. Questions swirled, “what if I can’t sleep?” “What if I have a terrible time and ruin the trip?” Staying safe became my life. I built a box of security around me, sticking to what made me feel comfortable and developing routines that I could control. The sad irony was that the more I built up my walls of security, the more anxious I felt. Any deviation from my routines would send me into a panic. Work travel would induce weeks of fear leading up to the trip.
In case you are wondering, four years later I still experience anxiety. Its taken me many years to unpack the reasons why I have anxiety, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that I want to control everything. I want to know that things will be ok, that I can determine the outcome. I believe my anxiety started after I had kids because all of the sudden I had responsibility for these little helpless people who I love beyond measure. As a parent, you know that children are both instruments of the most incredible feelings of love, but also threaten to induce massive amounts of pain. By that I mean, we can’t ultimately control what happens to them. Sure, I can keep my kids as safe as possible, but I can’t control every outcome. I can’t control if they get sick or if they get hurt. I can’t control who they turn out to be as people (though I’m doing my best to influence that as much as I can!).
Over the years, I have found an anxiety equation that is pretty much always true:
The more I resist letting go, and try to control = the more anxious I become.
This is where traveling comes in for me as a balm for my anxiety
If you think about traveling, the goal is to get outside of your normal day-to-day. It is getting out of your comfortable bed, and perhaps sleeping in a bag in a tent. Its opening yourself up to all kind of unknowns, such as, bad weather, food sickness, getting lost, getting hurt, perhaps even being disappointed. Traveling is a risk as much as it’s a reward.
I started to make traveling more of a priority over the past few years but more so in the past six months as I realized that the best cure for anxiety is living my life, in spite of the fear. Even though it sometimes makes me anxious thinking about all of the things I can’t control, I know that taking that step outside of my comfortable box is where real living occurs. When I travel, I immerse myself in the nature, or urban activity, the art I’m seeing, or the smiles on my children’s faces when we’re at Disneyland. Instead of living in the world of “What if”, I live in the present. The present is where life happens. Yes, its unpredictable, but it’s also beautiful.