One of my goals with this blog is to share the less-than-glamorous aspects of travel. The logistics of planning. The frustrations of things going wrong. The challenges of traveling with a small child. And managing anxiety on the road.
Most people probably know that I love to travel more than almost anything else in this life. But what they may not know is that I do not love the act of traveling. So I’ve had to learn a lot of tactics to keep calm while traveling.
When it all becomes “too much”.
I have suffered from fairly debilitating anxiety over the years that greatly affects how my family and I travel. My personal brand of anxiety manifests not just in spiraling thoughts and mental overwhelm, but also in visceral physiological effects. These include but are not limited to increased heart rate, blood rushing my ears, overheating, and an overactive intestinal tract.
I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been late to something or had to bail entirely after my body decided to rebel. Often, this sends me down a mental rabbit hole of shame and guilt that is hard to escape. I’ve gotten a lot better and can manage my symptoms more smoothly than in the past. But I understand that all-too-familiar feeling of wanting to hide in a corner. I understand that sometimes it’s all just too much.
I’m not the only person plagued by an uncooperative body or inhibiting mental ailments. I want to share things that I have learned with the hope that I can help you pursue your passions too!
I’ve worked with a number of therapists. I’ve tried various forms of therapy, read countless self-improvement books, and experimented with a variety of anxiety-management techniques. From yoga and guided meditation, to EFT tapping, deep breathing, and CBD oil, I’ve tried (and am willing to continue trying!) anything and everything. I don’t care if the mechanism is ultimately a placebo. I really only care about the end result:
I don’t want to be controlled by my anxiety.
I’ve got an arsenal of tactics to deal with the crippling anxiety and coping mechanisms that allow me to continue pursuing my passion. So I wanted to share with you one of my all time favorite anti-anxiety tools. I hope it can help you too!
One of the most effective tools in my anti-anxiety tool belt is the Feel Good Playlist.
A therapist I worked with for a short period of time back in early 2017 gave me several helpful tools to employ. Six years later, this is the tool I use most often!
From your chosen music app, create a new playlist and gather 5-7 songs that make you feel great. Songs that lift you up. Songs that make you feel empowered, like a total badass. Think of a song that you could hear a thousand times and every single time, it jazzes you up. A song that makes you feel powerful when you hear it. Think of a song whose lyrics give you hope or bring you peace, one that washes over you when you sing along. A song that makes you feel like everything is gonna be just fine. Put that song on this list. Then find a few more that provide similar relief, inspiration, and courage.
Don’t add too many songs at first. We just need a few to start. You may need to adjust this list over time, but for now, once you’ve collected half a dozen, it’s time to arrange them in an order that feels right to you. (Later on, you may opt to use shuffle mode, but for a while, you’ll use the list in the same prescribed order.)
How to use the anti-anxiety Feel Good Playlist
In any moment where you feel the anxiety creeping in or the panic starting to take over, it’s time. Get out your earbuds or turn up those car speakers, and blast this playlist.
Play it when you’re on your way somewhere stressful (like the doctor or before a big work presentation). Play it when you feel overwhelmed or when you know you’re going to face one of your triggers. Play it when you start to feel stressed.
You can also use the playlist preventively by jamming out in the mornings as you get ready for the day. Listen to it on the way to the airport, while you’re standing in the security line, or as you walk to the subway station. Let the music flow over you, forming a mental armor, as you face whatever stresses you out.
As a bonus piece of homework, notice how your body feels before you push play. Take stock of where you feel tension or tightness.
Then take a deep breath, close your eyes, and push play.
Stand still and listen. Let the music fill you up. If you feel called to move your body, go with it. Lean into the music.
After you’re done listening to all of the songs ask yourself a question. How does your body feel? Take stock of where you feel (or don’t feel) tension or tightness.
How does music help reduce anxiety?
Music is known to help reduce cortisol levels and calm your nervous system. So by utilizing the playlist in response to anxiety, you can naturally help the body regulate itself. The music sends the message to your brain, “Hey dude, it’s time to calm down.” Singing along with these songs can also help release endorphins to combat the rising anxiety or panic.
If you feel the need to dance and sing along, don’t resist! If you’ve ever noticed the joyful rush of endorphins after an exercise class, then you’ve experienced the healing power of moving your body. Dancing along can only help combat the rising anxiety.
I can tell you from many, many personal experiences that blasting my Feel Good playlist before leaving for the airport (one of my triggers) has significantly reduced my in-the-moment anxiety. My heart doesn’t pound quite as violently. The blood doesn’t rush through my ears quite as loudly. The churning in my stomach doesn’t feel quite as urgent. I’m able to maintain a steadier breath and calmer heart rate, which allows me to push through the triggering moment and make it to the other side without incident.
By *regularly* using the playlist in these moments, you may over time develop a Pavlovian response to the songs. You may not need to listen to all five or six or seven songs to bring yourself down from a tense moment. You may get to the point of only needing three or four of them. I’ve been using the same playlist (with additions) for around six years.
Now, I usually only need one to three songs to mentally prepare or soothe my nerves, but I still listen to the whole thing when I want that extra boost, need to proactively chill myself out, or have the time to go through the whole routine.
So go forth! Start gathering your musical armor! Build your very own feel good playlist, and try it out on your next trip. Let me know how it works for you!