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Panic Disorder and Traveling

Tips on Traveling without Panic and Anxiety

By

Updated July 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Don't let panic and anxiety ruin your travel plans.

Photo © Microsoft

Panic disorder sufferers often feel hindered from traveling due to a struggle with fears, panic attacks, and other anxiety-related symptoms. There are numerous reasons why panic disorder symptoms may be heightened while traveling. For example, being in new and strange places and away from the safety of home can bring up feelings of insecurity. Additionally, you may be afraid of displaying your nervousness and panic symptoms in front of others.

Are your travel plans often cancelled or put off because you worry that it will be too difficult to control your symptoms away from home? Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms while traveling. The following offers some tips on traveling when you have anxiety and panic disorder:

Be Prepared

When making your travel plans, also put some effort in planning and preparing how you are going to deal with your symptoms. Anticipation of uneasy travel will often bring on more stress and anxiety about your upcoming trip. Be ready to face your panic attacks by having a plan of coping skills ready beforehand. For example, deep breathing techniques, visualization, or meditation may be all you need to get through your fears. Practice relaxation techniques and other self-help strategies in the weeks before you travel and you may find your symptoms stay under control on your next trip.

Use Distractions

When traveling, it is not uncommon to focus more on your symptoms. One way to manage your symptoms is to put your focus elsewhere. Instead of concentrating on the sensations in your body, try to bring your attention to other activities. For example, you can bring along a good book, favorite magazines, or enjoyable games. Turn your negative thoughts around by diverting your attention to happier thoughts or visualize yourself in a serene scene. Use affirmations to center on more calming thoughts, such as repeating to yourself: “I am safe” or “These feelings will pass.”

Another way to distract from any unpleasant physical sensations is to bring awareness to your breath. Focusing on your breath can have a calming effect. For instance, start to bring attention to your breath by breathing slowly and purposefully. You can become even more focused by counting each of your breaths, counting on each refreshing inhalation and again on each deep exhalation. Once your breath has steadied, you can also relax your body. Intense feelings of panic and anxiety can bring tension and tightness throughout your body. To refocus and relieve these sensations, try doing some stretches, moving through a few yoga postures, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Bringing awareness to your body can allow you to counteract your somatic symptoms.

It can also be beneficial to focus on what you are looking forward to on your trip. Have an itinerary that will include activities you enjoy. If you’re traveling for business, see if you can schedule some time to check out a new restaurant, get a massage, or fit some exercise in at the hotel or outdoors. By concentrating on fun activities, your excitement for your trip may take over your worry about your symptoms.

Don’t Fight Your Panic Symptoms

If your symptoms become too overwhelming to distract yourself from, try to simply allow them to run their course. Panic attacks often heighten within a few minutes and then gradually taper off. If you resist your panic attacks, you may actually experience increased anxiety and panic-related fears, such as feeling that you are having a medical emergency, losing control of yourself, or going insane. If you have panic and anxiety while traveling, try to surrender to your symptoms, reminding yourself that they will soon pass. Consistently conceding to your symptoms may reduce your fears around them and strengthen your sense of control.

Go with a Travel Buddy

Many people with panic disorder have one or more loved ones that they feel comfortable and safe with. If possible, try to enlist a trusted friend or family member to travel with you. Make sure that your travel companion is aware of your fears and anxiety. Your loved one may be able to assist you in coping with your symptoms and boost your sense of security while traveling. For some, just having that person there is all that is needed to have a much more relaxing trip.

Consult Your Doctor

Discuss your travel concerns with your doctor or health care provider. It is possible that you are experiencing other underlying issues or conditions, such as agoraphobia or a fear of flying (aerophobia). Your doctor will be able to determine if a co-occurring condition is contributing to your travel anxiety.

Your health provider may also recommend medication to treat your symptoms. Benzodiazepines are a type of anti-anxiety medication that can quickly reduce panic symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine, such as Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), or Klonopin (clonazepam), to help ease the intensity of your panic attacks.

Living with panic disorder can be challenging, but your diagnosis should not hold you back from having a fulfilling life. Follow these easy tips to help you manage your symptoms on your next trip. With practice and preparation, you may be able to travel without taking your panic and anxiety with you.

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