I don’t believe that anyone is truly fearless. Some may seem so, but I guarantee there is something deep down that rolls the guts of even the steeliest of individuals every now and then.
Stoic is often a word used to describe me, which makes me laugh. The people who use this word haven’t learned yet that everything makes me cry. Even the happy stuff. Plus, I have some big fears and suffer from anxiety and depression.
I’ve come to realize that stoic is actually a fitting description. I have spent a long time silently and secretly battling my fears, anxiety, and depression. Trying my hardest not to show that I am uncomfortable in any way or being an inconvenience to anyone.
I’m going to share some of my fears and how travel forces me to face them later in the post. Bear with me, though, while I weave through some thoughts on life skills and facing your fears.
Fear Is Not Something to Mess With
There are legitimate reasons for the things we fear, even the ones that others (or even ourselves) see as silly. Facing them, embracing them, and learning from them is key to accepting them. Maybe even overcoming them someday.
That’s the hopeful side of me speaking. Now, the pragmatic side of me knows that there is a 99% probability that I actually won’t ever overcome my fears completely. I’m 34 years old, and I don’t see those fears I’ve had since childhood going away anytime soon. I can continue to learn from them, though.
Life Lessons Learned From Facing Your Fears
This is the key takeaway of facing your fears – the lessons learned and skills gained. Despite the adrenaline rushing through your body and thoughts of what your funeral might look like, you will gain life skills by facing your fears. Adversity is the path to learning, after all.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
— Walt Disney
You could become an expert problem-solver, creative thinker, or have crazy MacGyver skills. Perhaps you become really good at tapping into your intuition and reading other people or situations. These skills will vary for everyone. After all, our fears are unique to each of us. As are the ways we respond to and reflect on stressful situations.
Facing certain fears may not get easier the more you do it, but recalling the skills you learn will. Then the next time you are confronted by one of your fears those skills will show up to support you. This is the silver lining.
Anxiety is the Anticipation of Facing Your Fears
Switching directions a little, some may say that anxiety and fear are the same. Similar physical reactions may appear – quickened breath, racing heartbeat, butterflies in the stomach – but there is a difference.
Fear is the response to a clearly defined object or situation. You’ll hear about mine soon, I promise. Anxiety is the response to an unknown or imagined threat or danger. The two can be interrelated, one causing the other and vice versa. I get really anxious before I travel because I anticipate facing my fears.
Travel forces me out of my self-imposed, carefully controlled situations. This is how travel forces me to face my fears.
For those of you who also experience pre-travel anxiety, stop right now and think about the root of the anxiety. How is it manifesting and what does it really come down to? Are you stressed about forgetting to pack something? So you anxiously triple check your suitcase to make sure you have everything? Perhaps being unprepared for a situation is a fear you have.
If you think about it, the anxiety you experience before (and probably also during) travel is most likely rooted in one or several of your fears.
Bringing It All Together
Ok, I know. This has gone on for what seems like forever already. I’m glad you’re still with me!
To bring it all together, I’ll tell you that knowing that I’ll be gaining or practicing crucial life skills actually does nothing to relieve my anxiety.
After all that, I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear. I bet you wanted to hear that travel is a cure and I’m anxiety-free. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Sure, after years of facing my fears, my anxiety remains. But still, I face my fears. Every day. I work through the anxiety every single day. I embrace all of those awesome skills and I travel. So, I may never overcome my fears by traveling or any other means, but I will continue to face them.
Traveling happens to be my preferred method.
The Fears Travel Forces Me to Face
Some of my biggest fears came true either on my way to New Zealand for my working holiday or once I started traveling around. And look! I’m alive to write about it.
Here are three of my major fears and the reasons behind them. Plus a description of the situations that caused me distress and what skills I used to overcome them.
I know what you’re thinking. “Finally!” Am I right?
1. Feeling Safe Where I Sleep
I have talked about my PTSD minimally on the blog so far. The cause of it even less, only alluding to it once or twice. It was a sexual assault that happened while I was unconscious by a friend I trusted. That’s all I’m going to share for now.
Since then, I’ve had trouble sleeping, especially while traveling to unfamiliar places. I like to know where I’m sleeping and who else will be there. If I must share a room, I prefer it to be with other women. It would be great if I always had my own room with a door that locks, but I know that won’t always be an option.
Travel, especially on a budget, really gets me out of my comfort zone on this one.
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How travel has made me face this fear.
Scheduling confusion with BUNAC left me just hours from arrival in Auckland without the expected hostel reservation for my first two nights in the country. I first learned of my unfortunate situation after a beautiful morning tour of Nadi, Fiji. Just as I was settling in to watch a movie and take a nap after showering and getting a foot massage, I decided to quickly check my email. I was in a sweaty panic for about 20 minutes before I took things into my own hands and figured the shit out of the situation. Something that I do far more often than I give myself credit for.
In addition to this, two different hostels where I booked a bed in an all-female room tried to put me in co-ed rooms once I arrived. Brittany in her early 20’s was ok with sharing sleeping space with men she did not know. Brittany in her late 20’s and early 30’s is most definitely not ok with it. The other difference between me now and then is I have no problem firmly saying “No thank you. I’ll find another place,” and walking away. Even if the alternative is a budget-breaking hotel room.
Skills I practiced: Self-calming, problem-solving, standing up for myself, trusting my intuition
2. Large Crowds, Especially In Enclosed Spaces
This is an inescapable part of travel that I have learned to cope with. Some ways that I cope is to 1) stay on the outer fringes of the crowd, 2) always have an escape plan, and 3) have things that bring me comfort.
I consider a large crowd anything more than 3-4 people. I am an extreme introvert after all. So, being on an airplane definitely counts as a large crowd. A confined one, too!
Unfortunately, having an escape plan isn’t an option. So, only two of my coping methods work for me while in flight. Sitting in a window seat helps me feel like I’m on the outer fringes. Also having easy access to anything that helps me feel comfortable, entertained, and otherwise in complete denial that I’m sharing such tight quarters with hundreds of people with no possible way of leaving.
How travel has made me face this fear.
Well, while checking in for my final flight from Fiji to New Zealand, I was assigned to an aisle seat. I politely informed the woman helping me that was not the seat I selected while booking. Turns out, they prefer to assign seats on a first-come-first-served basis and do not honor pre-selected seats. Plus, she added, they had a seat just for me “in the exit row, with extra leg room at no additional charge!”
I reluctantly accepted my assigned seat and boarded the plane. It wouldn’t cost me any money to sit here, but what would it cost emotionally? Especially after learning that I couldn’t keep my bag under the seat in front of me in the exit row.
It was one thing to concede to essentially being in the center of the “crowd” on the plane. Add to that the need to unbuckle my seatbelt and rummage through overhead storage everytime I needed something sent me over the edge. Plus, I was next to a couple who didn’t look like they were in prime health conditions, to top it off. See my next fear for more on that.
I didn’t even sit down before asking a flight attendant to relocate me. There was no way I was going to make it through this flight in this situation. Before she actually moved me, she asked me “if I was sure” I wanted to move exactly 4 times, just in case I changed my mind. I said yes each time, of course. So finally, they moved me to a window seat in the very last row of the plane.
You better believe I will be showing up extra, extra early to check in for flights from now on.
Skills I practiced: self-calming, trusting my intuition, sticking up for myself
I have Emetophobia. Or an overwhelming fear of vomit. I am in no way joking when I say that I do everything in my power to avoid being vomited on, or within eyesight or earshot, and doing it myself. I don’t even like seeing evidence of vomit.
I’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. Although, I’ve kept it, or at least the intensity of the fear, to myself for much of my life to avoid being made fun of. A surprising number of people think puke is funny. I don’t get it.
I’ve been battling this beast for a long time and on a daily basis. I’m extremely careful about what I eat or drink and being around sick people. Make sure I wash my hands every chance I get and try not to touch the easiest places for germs to get in your body – eyes, nose, and mouth. When at places where alcohol is being consumed, I am hyper-vigilant and I don’t linger late into the night. I choose wisely when it comes to seats in public, beds in dorms, or bedrooms and bed placement in apartments.
There are more little avoidance techniques I have, but it’s far too much to list here. Plus, explaining my thought process behind some of these vomit-avoiding tactics “out loud” makes even me think that it’s a little over the top.
How travel has made me face this fear.
How does travel NOT make me face this fear? I’m out of my safe little bubble, out there with all the people and their uncontrollable bodily functions. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.
Most of the anxiety I feel while traveling is anticipating someone getting airsick, carsick, or sick from drinking too much on me, near me, or within earshot or eyesight. This fear is directly related to my fear of large crowds and essentially public transportation like planes and buses.
This is exactly what happened about half way through an 8-hour bus ride from Auckland to Hastings. A woman boarded and sat across the aisle from me with two young children. She situated both kids in the seats with their backs facing the front of the bus. Red flag number one. I should have moved my seat immediately.
The younger kid, probably 3 years old, started playing with his Transformers, alternating between sitting and standing in his seat. Red flag number two. I pulled my hoodie up over my head and made sure my headphones were secure.
Not even a minute later, his screeching cries managed their way through my music and I whipped my head around. I was hoping he was just injured in some way, blood I can handle. Nope, there he was climbing over his sister into his mother’s arms with that look on his face. Sure enough, he threw up all over himself and his mother just a few feet away from me. I didn’t actually see it because I, the truly compassionate person that I am, pulled my hoodie over my eyes.
Skills I practiced: self-calming, removing myself from an uncomfortable situation
Skill I did not practice: using my intuition
Now It’s Your Turn
What fears do you face when you travel? Do you experience pre-travel anxieties and what do you do to ease them? Please share in the comments below.
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