Crashing on Couches & Traveling with Anxiety

I’m an anxious person. Always have been. As a kid, I would stress out over things like talking on the phone (even to order pizza), not getting an A on an assignment, getting yelled at or in trouble. I especially stressed out over something that most little girls my age lived for: the sleepover.

Going to a friend’s house, eating pizza and twizzlers, staying up too late watching movies and prank-calling people is basically living the dream for your average 8 year old. And believe me, I had a lot of fun at these parties. It was at a sleepover where I saw my first R-rated movie (which I felt guilty about for days and finally confessed to my parents); played with my first ouija board (disappointing); and spent hours playing MASH & giggling about boys with my girlfriends.

But even amidst the laughter and Cheetos and nail polish, there was this nagging feeling at the back of my mind, a small knot sitting in the bottom of my stomach slowly growing larger, a tension that kept me from sleeping.

Sleepovers at my house were never a big deal. I was in my own space. Everyone else had to make themselves comfortable instead of the other way around.

Sleepovers at my house were never a big deal. I was in my own space. Everyone else had to make themselves comfortable instead of the other way around.

I didn’t realize it then, and certainly never voiced my concerns to my parents, but I was experiencing anxiety. I felt it any time I had to spend the night at someone else’s house, whether it was friends or family. Now, if people were spending the night at MY house, the anxiety never presented itself. I loved having people come over. I still do. I’ll gladly have 50 people make a mess at my house any day of the week, as long as it keeps me from having to go to someone else’s house.

I didn’t put two and two together until a couple years ago at my bachelorette party. I didn’t want to go out, I wanted to have a bunch of friends over to play games and drink too much and spend the night. My bestie, Tina, graciously hosted 15 ladies at her house for a night of penis straws, shouting games and shots (oh lord, the shots). I knew it would be a blast. But as excited as I was about the party, that little knot presented itself in my stomach a few days before. I had to sleep at someone else’s house. I wouldn’t have my own bed, or my own door, or my own bathroom, or my own space.

That familiar feeling of unease creeped up over the back of my neck. Why did I feel so weird about this? I love Tina and her house and feel very comfortable there. But that feeling from my childhood kept nagging at me. Weird memories popped up — trying to take a nap at my day care lady’s house and hating every minute of it; staying awake all night at a friend’s birthday party, reading while everyone else slept; even in college, visiting  friends in Ireland and Sweden, staying at their parents’ houses and not getting a good night’s sleep.

I realized that I’d actually been experiencing anxiety my entire life, and suddenly had clarity about my preferences for hosting parties, and desire for privacy when I travel. This is why I could never do the hostel thing, why I don’t  like sharing hotel rooms, and why I probably won’t ever do the “private room” thing on AirBNB. And this is why, despite my excitement, I’m a little anxious about my trip to LA this week.

I’ll be visiting a couple friends in Los Angeles, a place I haven’t been in nearly 10 years. I don’t see these friends enough, and I am thrilled to have the time to go out and catch up, witness their lives and meet their friends. But I’ll be crashing on their couches, invading their space with my stuff, with no space of my own.

Traveling can already be an uncomfortable, stressful experience: cramming everything you need into small bags; worrying about plane/car crashes; sending your pets to temporarily live with someone else; dealing with hordes of strangers, flight delays, or traffic; often limited food options during the actual travel; not always knowing where the bathrooms are (or what their quality will be); spotty internet or cellular connections; unexpected changes to the itinerary; unfamiliar terrain, foreign languages and culture shock; being away from your own bed….. and those are things that can bother average people. For someone with anxiety, each of these things can be amplified into massive problems. For someone like me, whose anxiety manifests in intestinal distress, nausea and not sleeping, traveling can be physically draining.

Dealing with anxiety’s effects on my body is frustrating because it’s often the things I love (like travel! trying new things!) that make me anxious. There’s also the endless anxiety circle of being anxious about being anxious or the results of the anxiety that make the whole thing very annoying, not only to me but my travel companions. But I refuse to allow my body to hold me hostage. There are too many places that I want to go, people I want to meet, and sites I want to see.

It’s supposed to be good for us to get out of our comfort zone, so that’s the spin I’m putting on this as I try to convince my subconscious to chill the hell out and let me enjoy my trip. These are people I’ve known forever, people I love and who love me back, people who will understand if I need to just take a minute to let an anxious moment pass…. Chill the heck out, Ashley. It will be okay.

I travel with an arsenal of OTC sleep aids, tummy tamers, and allergy fighters. I practice deep breathing, yoga and EFT tapping techniques, journal as often as I can, and keep my husband (my most frequent travel partner) abreast of my anxiety levels and what is currently freaking me out.

So I’m embracing this trip as a personal challenge to not let my anxiety control my life. Not talking about it only make its worse, so maybe by putting my discomfort out in the open and not trying to hide it, I’ll actually be able to relax a little and make the most of the short time I get to spend with my friends.

For those of you with anxiety, what parts of travel are the hardest for you? How do you combat your anxiety when traveling? What tips do you have for fellow anxious travelers?