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Anxiety is All About Control

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Anxiety is All About Control: The very thing that’s taken away from you the moment you step out of your home.

Elaine Orabona Foster, Ph.D., ABPP
Do I really need to go on this trip?
Every traveler asks this question now and then, even the ones who don’t suffer from anxiety. It’s just that those of us without panic or disabling worry can push ourselves to get on that plane, train or automobile anyways.  So what about those of us who have anxiety?

Here are some tips for pushing past your fears to get you to that fabulous spot you’ve always wanted to get to:

1. Focus on why you want to go.
I’ve written about this in previous posts, it is a very important concept for worriers. So here it goes: Think of a pink elephant.  Got it in your minds eye?  Good.  Now stop thinking of the pink elephant.  I’ll give you a second to do this. Were you able to do it? No?  That is because when anxious people try to stop having a thought, especially a worry, it only gets worse or more persistent.  Now, if I ask you to do nothing about the pink elephant, but instead ask you to  imagine the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen. What colors did you see? What was in the background? How did you feel when you saw it.  Even people who are highly anxious will say they stopped thinking of the pink elephant while they imagined the sunset.  That is why you want to focus your thinking on what you want, instead of trying to stop thinking about what you don’t want

2. Repeat your motivating thoughts about traveling often and keep them short.
The brain is capable of changing connections or neuronal paths all the time. It is called neuroplasticity. Why do you care? Because, if you can keep your thoughts short, positive, and frequent you will be building new connections for the life you want. Think of it as if you’re watering your plants.  You don’t water them one day one and get a tomato the next. It’s the same with your brain. Keep watering and you will see a bud of a new belief and a little later a behavior. Still later you will see the life you want for yourself, when your behavior is in “full bloom.”

3. Here are some examples of short, motivating brainwork for reducing travel anxiety.
a. I want to see_______(the place you are going). Fill in the blank like, “I want to see the Vatican.”
b. I love my __________ (the person you are going to visit). “I love my son, Jimmy”
c. I need to explore.
d. I care about making a difference.

If you look closely, you will notice that none of these sentences has a “I must” or “I should” in it.  That’s because, like the pink elephant, you only want to focus on what you desire, not on what you have to do. Once it becomes a chore that you should or must do, your mind will look for ways to postpone the action. Not because you are lazy, but because your anxiety about traveling will win over.

4.  Finally, look for attractive pictures related to your destination.
It is hard to compete with fear because it resides at a very primitive level in your mind, it’s known as the “reptilian brain.” So, is there anything that can offer at least a good competitive fight? Yes. Your visual cortex. It sends direct signals to the reptilian part of your brain. If you can fill it up with great images of the place you are going, it will tell your brain, “Wow, this is spectacular!” While your brain is marveling over the great sites, it will forget how scared it is.  Try a website like Pinterest or Flikr and search in the travel section for places you are going. You will find some wonderfully inspiring images that will directly compete with that inner anxiety.

That’s it for now. Happy travels!





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