Dealing with Paranoia and Anxiety While Traveling

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Dealing with Paranoia and Anxiety While Traveling

Traveling and Dealing with Paranoia and Anxiety

Anxiety is a burden that nobody asks to bear. It sneaks upon you when you least expect it, and it’s difficult to dissuade. I have anxiety every day, sometimes for obvious reasons, and other times for no reason at all. Paranoia is a deeper thing to struggle with, and although its less pervasive than anxiety, it can also be more frightening. Here are some of my experiences and some tips for managing paranoia and anxiety while traveling.

1. Number One Reaction When Bad Anxiety Hits: Breathe!

While I was traveling, I would have anxiety especially when I was checking into a new hostel for the first time. When booking a bed in a dorm, I always put a message in the special request field, asking for a bottom bunk bed. I have paranoia about rolling off the top bunk and it’s challenging for me to sleep up there. Fortunately, most hostels acquiesced and gave me the bottom bunk. I would still have anxiety when checking in, because sometimes they didn’t. Not every hostel has pre-assigned bunks; some are still first come first serve. I also worried about whom I would be sharing the dorm with.

Once I made it to my bed, tucked my bags away, and accessed my temporary roommates, I would lay down for a good twenty minutes and just breathe. Anxiety falls so heavy on me sometimes that it feels like physical pressure compacting my brain and body. Breathing deeply is one of the only ways I am able to lessen the pressure. Going into a sort of zen state and willing the anxiety to depart is usually what works. It’s not always easy to be in a peaceful state of mind in a hostel dorm, but plugging in your headphones and closing your eyes is calming.

2. What to Do When Paranoia Follows You

There are other things that I was paranoid of while traveling aside from tumbling off the top bunk bed. I also couldn’t help but be paranoid when I was staying in a mixed dorm with mostly men and only a couple of women. I was very careful not to be too friendly because there are so many cultural differences between travelers that you just never know what kind of people you are bunking with. I did not want to make myself out to be a target for any sort  of sexual assault, which, as women, we all deal with everyday, no matter where we are.

I was paranoid of being followed by a creepy man whenever I was out walking alone. Gut instinct is everything when it comes to this. Although I was perfectly fine walking alone for the majority of the year I was living in Paris, there were many times that the paranoid sensation proved to be correct. Men would see me walk past them and then just get up and start following me as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I paid attention. I knew not to go straight home. I did not engage, aside from telling them I wasn’t interested. If your gut instinct is telling you that the paranoia is more than paranoia and is actually danger, then listen to it.

One time, I made the mistake of thanking an old man on a bike who complimented my “pretty pink hair.” He then proceeded to follow me with his bike through the entire Jardin des Tuleries while I persistently told him I was not interested in going for coffee with him. He wrote his number down on a piece of paper and grabbed my hand to make me take it. I felt so disgusted and violated that he’d touched me, I ripped my hand away from him and sternly said, “I don’t want it.” Since he was on a bike, I stepped off the cement and onto the garden path, hoping to lose him there. When I emerged on the other side, he showed up right behind me, yelling in French about how much of a whore I was. I waited until he sped off before going into the metro.

 This is the Central Park Reservoir in Manhattan. I never felt unsafe walking here at pretty much any time of day.

This is the Central Park Reservoir in Manhattan. I never felt unsafe walking here at pretty much any time of day.

3. Paranoia and Anxiety Won’t Ruin Your Trip- They Can Help You

My anxiety about not having enough cabin storage for my carry-on luggage is what always makes me show up early enough to be one of the first to board the plane and get that guaranteed space. My anxiety about getting sick while I’m traveling is why I’m so obsessed with washing my hands and not touching anything in public spaces unless I have to. My paranoia that people will loot and steal my stuff in a shared dorm makes me hide everything, then hide it some more, then lock it up.  My paranoia of an emergency happening in a tight, crowded space, such as a dance club or movie theatre, makes me always aware of where the exits are. As soon as I enter the space I have a mental plan of how to get out.

True, more often than not, anxiety is not fun to deal with. Paranoia can make you feel like you’re crazy for the thoughts you have. But while I was traveling, I found that they helped me much more than they hurt me. They made me think. Made me be aware. So many people cruise along without anticipating anything going wrong, but having a mental preparation of what to do if something did go wrong is more assuring than just winging it. If you’re paranoid that somebody is watching you too closely, chances are that you’re intuitively aware of their intentions. If you’re anxious that staying in a 16 bed mixed dorm is going to be too much for you, you should pony up the extra cash for the 8 bed dorm instead.

Listen to these emotions, for as stressful as they can be, you can also use them to your advantage. As a female traveler, it suits you best to constantly be thinking and be aware of every situation you’re in, all the time.

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