A look into the body’s response to stress.
Going someplace new can be an exciting experience, especially if you are going overseas for the first time. Sampling new eateries, becoming familiar with a different language, and even documenting your excursions create timeless memories that you will cherish.
Despite how enriching these trips can be, some people experience a great deal of anxiety when traveling.
Travel anxiety is fear related to traveling somewhere unfamiliar which can include the stress of planning a trip. An apprehension to flying is a common reason, but these negative emotions can be triggered by anything related to travel, like past negative experiences or concerns about accommodations.
On the macro level, this emotional response can be quite gripping and misleading since your body is responding to danger that may or may not be present. Though we recognize this as anxiety, what your brain is really processing is fear.
Fear assessment and management relies mainly on four parts of the nervous system: the amygdala, hypothalamus, adrenal gland, and sympathetic nervous system. Together, these structure work as a relay team to mount an internal response to prep the body to address the threat head on or flee the scene.
The amygdala is the first runner. Its primary function is regulating emotion by processing information from your environment to determine if there is a threat worth preparing for. Usually, this alarm is reserved for potential harm, but turbulence or the flight attendant who looks mysteriously like your least favorite high school teacher could induce this stress response as well. Either way, this structure will sound off in the form of stress signals to the hypothalamus.
This initial stress signal is the beginning of the relay race to prepare the body to either face the danger or escape as quickly as properly. The second runner is the hypothalamus who hands the baton to (i.e. activates) autonomic nerves of the sympathetic nervous system that relay signals to the adrenal glands.
The final runner of this race, the adrenal glands, secrete adrenaline into the bloodstream that travel to different parts of the body to cause the physical changes one experiences when anxious.
These alterations include dilation of the pupil and airways, increased heartrate, and increased blood sugar. Each intended to provide the resources needed to respond appropriately to the environment.
This fight-or-flight response happens involuntarily and rapidly and can be difficult to manage, but there are ways you can reduce the likelihood of experiencing it.
Identifying what triggers your anxiety can stop the problem at the source. If boarding and traveling by airplane stresses you out, try using other methods of transportation instead. This, however, isn’t always possible due to cost and convenience.
If other self-management strategies fail, you can always speak with a medical or mental health professional to discuss medications that you can take to make yourself more comfortable while traveling.
Traveling should be fun and harmless every time you go, and your body does its part to keep us safe each and every day, even if it’s a little off occasionally.