Going on a vacation with an anxiety disorder is like forgetting your cellphone at home. You’re constantly checking where it is and it’s driving you nuts.
When anxiety lurks its ugly head, it can be hard to wrangle it in. Travelling makes this especially hard because normal distractions, work, cleaning, a bubble bath, a nature walk aren’t there.
Like searching for your lost phone, I found myself checking for a thought or feeling while on a vacation recently. That thought checking is a compulsion of OCD. To battle this while on vacation, I used the strategy of saying “checking” whenever I noticed myself checking for a compulsive thought.
I immediately felt some distance from what my mind was doing (the checking) and what I was actually doing. An example: I’m playing a slot machine and just won some money. I don’t feel all that excited and I check my feelings again so to be sure. A worry pops in: ” Something is wrong, I’m not feeling happy enough ’cause everyone else around me is super excited on the slots and this must mean something” and so, the mind races. I take in a deep breathe and remind myself checking my feelings will only distance them further and make the worry that much stronger. Accept the feeling of non-excitement and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone around me is probably drunk and excited just to win a penny. As I thought challenge and distance myself from the worry, I suddenly feel more relaxed and find myself enjoying the slot machines after all.
This example can pretty much be applied to all sorts of situations, big and small. Thoughts like “I’m not feeling x enough, something is wrong” or “Why am I feeling x when I should feel y” are simply judgments of our feelings and they create a vicious cycle of anxiety.
The distinction between our minds and ourselves is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, especially when in unfamiliar lands and surrounded by strange faces. Having some tricks up your sleeve to combat the distortions of anxiety is critical.
Having them available when you come home after a vacation is also necessary. Coming home after a week’s worth of meals, cleaning and household chores being done for you is a reality shock. The fridge is empty, the cat is crying out for love and attention (and also scowling at you for being gone so long), laundry is waiting and work emails are digging for answers. Not only that, but your lovely vacation is over and tomorrow probably involves no snorkeling, endless chocolate cake or towel animals (they make these on the Carnival cruise and it’s adorable).
Post-cruise blues creep in. Anxiety catastrophizes this feeling. Instead of simply accepting the adjustment back from a vacation and like most people, it’s normal to miss all that yummy food and beaches, anxiety distorts the feeling and creates panic. “I just had a fabulous vacation! Why am I feeling down? Ugh, what is wrong with me?” and so on the mind goes. What to do though? I find that Acceptance is key.
If you’re feeling blue after your summer vacation, give yourself permission to feel blue. I find when I give myself permission to feel whatever I am feeling there is a sense of peace and joy, a lightness that smiles through me. “You mean it’s OK to feel blue that I miss all that yummy food?” Um, yeah, of course it’s OK! How many times have you had a feeling (let’s say grief) and then guilted yourself for having that feeling (example: I shouldn’t be feeling this way, it’s been x # of months)?
If this sounds familiar to you, I suggest you try this instead: Imagine a friend sitting next to you. They smile, place their hand on your back and say “Oh sweetie, it’s OK. You have ever right to feel X way.” See now how you feel. Lighter? Does your chest open slightly? I find that permission to feel whatever you do is very liberating and combats the thoughts that trigger anxiety.