So, I write about travel anxiety a lot, and I keep coming back to it because I’m honestly crap at making time for self-care while I’m traveling. Seriously. I’ve totally got my routine down when I’m home, but while I’m traveling I find it so hard to separate myself from my family or what I’m doing in order to go do yoga or take a nap or watch tv.
I know that most of this is because I’m making up the story that other people think it’s selfish and are disappointed in me when I’ve come all that way but I go do my own thing for a while. I’ve talked about this enough with all the different permutations of my family that I have to know that this isn’t what people are thinking and that it’s ok to take the time. Part of why I feel like it’s selfish – and it is, but selfishness = bad to me – is because part of how we show that we love each other in my family is we do for each other and for ourselves. We’re self-sufficient so that we’re not a drag on others or inconveniencing them. We do things for them – like do their chores for them once in a while or cook them dinner. My mom put everything she had towards me and my sister, and there are a million ways that she still does that for us even though we don’t live at home anymore. If I can do something to make the life of someone I love easier or better, I’m going to do it. I struggle to realize that I should be on that list, too, especially when I’m traveling.
Take my most recent trip, for instance. I just got back from a trip home to see both sides of my family. In some ways, it was amazing: watching my nephew play and laugh and hearing him tell me he loved me for the first time was the best and I’m so glad I went. My grandma and I had a great conversation, and the same with my aunt, and my sister is such a freaking good parent. Honestly, I was just in awe the whole time.
I was also experiencing anxiety, mostly because I was going to have to drive on a busy highway by myself for about 1.5 hours at the end of the trip and I’ve only driven one weekend out of the last 13 years. And I really did not help myself; I only did yoga once during the trip, I was never by myself except for at night while getting ready for bed or in the shower, and my sister’s app exploded overnight and so I was trying to support her and ended up not prioritizing my sleep. I don’t regret that – most of why I wasn’t alone or wasn’t going to bed is that I really wanted to help lift some of her burden, because I love her. I’m never going to stop doing that. But I do wish that I had carved out some time for myself while my nephew was napping or made sure to do yoga every other day.
It’s just so hard, because I spent money and time to get there and be with my family and it feels like I’m saying that they’re not important to me to spend time with. It feels like a zero sum game, but it’s not. I’m working on reframing this for myself: the choice to spend 45 minutes doing yoga or reading does not mean that I don’t care about my family. It does not mean that they’re mad or disappointed. It doesn’t make me a bad person.
I’ve always had this idea, like a lot of us do, that being selfish is a bad thing. And it can be; I’m not saying I think that person who always does what they want regardless of what other people want or feel is my hero. I dislike that person greatly. I want to strangle the person who is oblivious to their partner’s needs, doesn’t think their decisions all the way through, or changes plans at the last minute and inconveniences everyone. But the person who can say “I’m going to take this hour for myself” when they are able to because they know that’s actually going to help them be better for others? THAT person is my hero. I’m pretty good at doing that at home, but I really struggle when I’m on a trip. Part of that is because when you travel your normal routine gets all screwed up. Part of it is that I traveled to be there, and when I’m not interacting with the people I came to see it feels like I’m wasting my money and everybody’s time. And also because of how families function: my family loves to sit around and talk, which is great, but it is so hard to do that all day, especially as an introvert. My dad and step-mom love to talk and find out things about people and ask questions, and I love that about them. They have a hard time understanding that I just can’t do that, though. I get exhausted talking to the people I love(and even more when talking to people I don’t know), and if I’m not doing yoga to manage anxiety, then it happens even faster. And if I’m not sleeping as much because I’m traveling? Oof.
I’ve been home for about a day and a half and I’m still clawing my way toward normal. I guess what I’m realizing that this is just a different version of saying yes. This time I’m saying yes to my mental health, yes to feeling good, yes to making the trip the best it can be by taking some time for myself. It’s hard to do and I know I’ll continue to struggle with it, and that I need to continue to do the things I do at home: make sure I set aside a consistent time for yoga if possible, set an alarm to remind me, try to remind myself that the longer I go without it the more anxious and gross I’ll feel.
How do you deal with managing your mental health while you’re traveling? Comment below or drop me a line.