How to cope with travel when you have a mental illness

Travellers with anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD and OCD share their tips for staying healthy while abroad

Travelling with a mental illness presents its own set of challenges. Photo / Supplied
Travelling with a mental illness presents its own set of challenges. Photo / Supplied

While they're meant to be relaxing, holidays also can also be stressful.

There's bags to pack, accommodation to book, documents to complete - and all of this can be complicated if you've got a mental illness.

Travel insurance company Staysure worked with artist Loren Conner to show the different ways mental health conditions can affect you while travelling.

The results are five evocative drawings that bring the experiences of five real travellers to life.

Anxiety

Photo / Loren Conner
Photo / Loren Conner

Lauren Juliff was sixteen when she had her first panic attack and anxiety has been a constant part of her life since.

"Travelling feels like you're making a huge mistake," she says. "Everyone says to trust your intuition when you travel, but I had to learn to silence the voice in my head that was always telling me that something was going to go seriously wrong - if I hadn't done, I never would have left in the first place."

However, forming a routine while travelling has helped her reduce her anxiety.

"It gives me a sense of control over my life. I'll set my alarm for the same time every day and then head out for a morning walk. Even though the location changes, the simple act of doing the same thing every morning helps me to feel less disorientated."

Depression

Photo / Loren Conner
Photo / Loren Conner

Doug Leddin has had depression for twelve years, but only chose to speak out about it recently.

"Depression affects everyone in so many different ways," he says.

"For me it's just a bad head space where I'm not entirely sure who I am and I over think, over worry and over analyse every situation. I get this horrible sensation in both my stomach and my head and I can't even describe it. It's an uneasy feeling and that makes travelling really tough.

"Travelling is doable, but you need to find out how to do it in a way that suits you and leaves you in full control of your situation and surroundings. Arriving early really helps me get settled. Just being prepared in general is a great help."

ADHD

Photo / Loren Conner
Photo / Loren Conner

Diagnosed with ADHD at age five, Daniel only began to understand his illness when he turned 18.

"Travelling with ADHD is obsessing over stuff that never eventuates, but just to make sure, I'd better run it through my mind 300 times and not sleep for three days prior with a complete loss of appetite," he says.

"The stress of checking-in baggage and then being responsible for it is a bit too much."
To combat this, Daniel has simplified his packing process - taking only a backpack, wallet, passport and phone. With his wallet handy, he can buy what he needs along the way.

Rather than be unaware or misinformed - which can exacerbate his ADHD - Daniel finds that thoroughly researching the place he's visiting helps him cope better when travelling.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Photo / Loren Conner
Photo / Loren Conner

After being attacked near her apartment, Leanna Johnson recognized the symptoms of late-onset PTSD a year later.

"I noticed early on that shadows were a huge trigger. PTSD is like a shadow. It's always there but not always visible. It's easy to dismiss when you're calm, but can manifest at any moment, and when it does, everything else disappears," she says.

"I had to fight to travel again. It took two years for me to finally get the courage to take my first solo trip, but I was determined to move past my fear.

"The key for me was preparation. I learned to think about the situation practically. What were my options? What could I do immediately? How could I help myself feel safe? Sometimes, the smallest thing made the biggest difference - never underestimate the secure feeling of a fully-charged phone!"

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Photo / Loren Conner
Photo / Loren Conner

Ellen White was diagnosed with OCD as an adolescent, after her symptoms became physically evident. Previously, her OCD symptoms were internal, taking place via mental compulsions.

"Travelling with OCD at its worst can sometimes feel like you're carrying a little manipulative monster on your shoulders, constantly whispering negative thoughts and situations at every chance and not being able to shake it off.

"It can also feel like you're wearing a really tight life vest. Making you feel trapped and incredibly anxious, yet at the same time luring you into a sense of security that the OCD thoughts and anxiety are perfectly logical. No matter what you do, you can't seem to loosen the life vest."

She says travelling has become easier over the years - and planning is particularly important.

"I love to bullet journal, so I'll take the time to make dedicated pages for certain aspects of my trip like a packing list, or key sights to see. This helps to reduce the anxiety a little and it's enjoyable too."

- NZ Herald

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