5 August 2016

How to cope with anxiety abroad?


I added the question mark into this title last minute, as I'm hardly in the position to write a self-help manual! When it comes to managing anxiety, I'm about as equipped as Neville Longbottom on a broomstick. That being said, I have picked up some coping strategies over the years, so I thought it would be a good idea to check-in with them. Wow that pun was plane awful...  

This time tomorrow, I will be in New England! We fly tomorrow and, although I am incredibly excited, the nerves are setting in. We didn't get away for a proper summer holiday last year, largely due to my mental health, so guilt is playing a big part in my anxiety. As I've mentioned in earlier posts and various tweets, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be, well, sane mentally sound.

Okay, my attempts to go all PC with 'mentally sound' sound ridiculous. In truth, I'm a bit over skirting the issue and ignoring the elephant. We all need to be a bit more like Mowgli and make friends with the Trunk brigade. The biggest part of coping with anxiety? Acceptance. I have a physical illness - diabetes - but also struggle with anxiety and anorexia. Mental illnesses. Some may call me crazy, troubled or - if you're a sensationalist Newspaper - a potential threat to society... I call them the Shir Kahns of society.

The reality is, you can easily hide a mental illness from the outside world, but you can't hide it from yourself; on the contrary, suffering in silence often fuels the illness, as depression/anxiety/eating disorders all thrive off isolation. To cope with any mental illness, you need to acknowledge it is there. 

It would be all too easy to plonk my head in the sand and proclaim New England an anxiety-free zone. I could flippantly say "oh it will be fine", which was funnily enough how I began my CPN appointment last week. With the help of my top security blanket - Mr Sarcasm - I remarked "I'll just pop anorexia in a little box and stick a haribow on top. Problem sorted." Over the next hour, with a bit of coaxing, I managed to swap my inner Chandler for a more Monica outlook. With hoovers for hoovers and special china for the Queen, Mrs Gellar-Bing leaves no stone unturned... so that's the new plan! 

As I cross the water, anxiety will follow and anorexia will try to mess things up. Those are the facts. So what I need to do is arm myself with a whole lot of hoovers; aka self-care strategies, distraction techniques and important reminders....

Distraction not Destruction 

I've got a good soundbite going there, but words need to work in practice. Thankfully, I have a whole list at the ready. In fact, I've already begun using it! Over the past week,  pre-travel anxiety has started to build. , my mind racing to predict every possible scenario that could go wrong. It was exhausting, but the thoughts wouldn't go unless I found another outlet. So I've been trying to capitalise on any glass-half-full thoughts I have; predominantly, this has been the excitement of going on holiday! 

Blogging has definitely helped here; from styling to crafting, I caught the travel bug with my latest Fortnightly Favourites. One particular post - the DIY camera strap tutorial from a Pair & a Spare - provided this week's craftspirationOh the places you can go with a belt and a ball of yarn... 
For the journey itself, self-care has been added to the hand-luggage 'essentials' list. I've somehow resisted the temptation to dive into August's The Simple Thingsso my plane reading is sorted, although I guarantee it will be joined by Glamour at some point...  I also have a pocket codeword book and my Kindle - when you have a bucket-load of diabetes medication to carry, compact is key! Both of these things will also come in handy during the holiday. 

As it's our first time travelling without my sister, it will also be the first time I'm not sharing a room. Recently, insomnia has started to rear its tireless head again and anxiety can't wait to gatecrash the party... well, I'm not in the mood for dancing on my holiday, so books and codewords will be my saving grace! Music is also a must; I've made two playlists, one for lyrical music and another for Film Scores. Birdy and Rae Morris remain top of my list, along with the Matilda Soundtrack...

Ps: this is the first peak of Periwinkle Push-lock Polly, my new baby... isn't she just gorgeous?!

The power of positive thinking

 I've also packed a mini journal, so I can keep a record of each day. Not only will this help me with my New England travel blogs, but it's a way of clearing my thoughts and reasoning with any negatives. As part of this, I plan to write 5 positives for the day. Even if they're as little as "I saw a nice tree" or "wow that froyo was good". Okay, hopefully they'll be slightly better than that, although Froyo is a very exciting prospect. 

Either way, the positive of the day is happening. My mind seems to be so good at worrying, why can't it be equally good at wishing? I've also popped the little notecard below into my hand luggage. It was given to me by one of the girls in hospital, who knew of my love for Matilda. It always makes me smile to look at, so I've taken it as a reminder to have faith in myself. To quote another wonderful woman, "we all have the power to imagine better" (JK Rowling).  

Home sweet away-from-home

Meet Gus Gus. Yes, he's a squidgy ball with a hat and two ears. Yes, he's the greedy mouse from Cinderella. Yes, I am 21 years old. Bare with me. I've mentioned him before, in my post on OCD; I got him as a stress ball during meal times, as I was struggling with the compulsion to scratch my arms/ bite the skin around my nails. It is all linked to anxiety, but Gus-Gus has helped me out and I'm making progress on this front. 

On a more sentimental note, he was by my side during some difficult moments in hospital. He was there through toast tears and hobnob hiccups (yes, that actually happened. I cried so much I started hiccuping and nearly choked on a hobnob...!) In short, he's a bit of a reminder that I got through it. Sometimes it's hard to believe your own strength, especially when your mind is on a self-critical default. So that's mostly why he's snuck into my bag; my little visual reminder, whiskers and all. 

It's always Time to Talk

There's a reasons this is the name for one of the biggest mental health campaigns; communication is key! Communication. Communication. Communication. Now there's a good campaign slogan. The world would be a far happier place if we mastered the art of communicating! This is an area where I do freeze. I love to talk - as you've probably figured out by now - but communication? I remain silent, especially when it comes to my health. I worry so much about letting people down, so the idea of voicing my struggles is terrifying. 

Time and time again, my mum has reminded me that I need to talk. So, for this holiday, I am going to make a concerted effort to speak out. I've already started as I mean to go on, telling mum in advance of my main fears: the american portion sizes, food choices, blood sugar fluctuations and managing OCD triggers. It was good to have this conversation, as she was really understanding. She reassured me that health comes first; if my blood sugars have a wobble, or my anxiety becomes overwhelming, we can alter plans accordingly.

In terms of food, I need to put my logical head on! First off, it's the America, not Antarctica. I'm pretty sure they'll have options. If I don't feel I can manage the whole portion, no one's hand-cuffing me to the table. Good old logic; nonetheless, I know that my mind can be irrational at the best of times, and downright tyrannical at its worst. So I must check in with the healthy perspective, aka talking to my mum!

Planning is a friend of dreaming 

Because you can dream all you like, but ultimately plans get you where you want to go! So there's no point skirting around the issue, food is my jumbo elephant in the New England room.  I've spent the past six months in a very structured routine, first in hospital and now at home. This has benefitted my recovery, on a practical level, but it has made me slightly petrified of change.

Our holiday will definitely use a "plunge pool" method of exposure therapy! We are going from place to place each day - 4 states in 8 days - and have no meals pre-planned. And breathe! Nonetheless, I'm particularly conscious of keeping some sense of routine, mainly with snacks; we will be walking more and I am determined not to slip while I'm away.

So with the help of some end-of-the-month Holland & Barrett points, I picked a selection of failsafe snacks for my suitcase; this way, I can always ensure I'm covered, plus we save money! Gotta love the post-Brexit exchange rate... I've also gotten myself organised with all my medication, using one of those 7-day boxes for my tablets and bulk-buying glucotabs. Oh the joys of the low blood sugar, at least they now sell them in blueberry...
So there you have it, my "anxiety abroad" list so far. If you have any more suggestions, please do leave them in the comment box! I'll see you when I get back... 

Have you got any travel plans this month? 
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