Traveling With Anxiety and Depression

As someone who has traveled solo for work and leisure for quite a few years, I’ve learned to ride out the storm of anxiety and depression that can hit me at any time. Those sneak attacks hit when I am just trying to live my best life. I was on a work trip when I woke up on a Saturday morning and a depressive episode hit, caused by various triggers. Once I pulled myself out of bed, I wrote down what I was experiencing. What is written below are my words as I was in the middle of this.

When depression hit me on my work trip and how I pulled myself out.

Saturday, March 2022, 1:30 PM

I’m staying in a Springfield Suites in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I just crawled out of bed. 

I don’t know to what degree my depression plays a part in that, but I haven’t been able to rally myself into action. So I lie in bed. I’m stuck in a place of indecision, and this is honestly the one part of solo travel that gets to me sometimes. 

Decision-making has always been a weird dichotomy in my life. On the one hand, I’ve made big, hard, scary decisions like leaving my marriage or switching careers. I raised three children solo, and while some decisions were made with my former spouse, many were on my shoulders. I can make decisions. 

I also am sometimes crippled by the most minor decision. Do I want Spree or Milk Duds for the movie? (The answer is both.) Don’t ask me where we should go for dinner; even if I have a place in mind, I will overthink it to death. 

So what’s the deal today?

Well. I’m in Flagstaff for work and over the weekend I had planned to drive up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I got super lucky when I picked up my rental car—the “dealer’s special,” which is usually a car with zero features, ended up being a Dodge Challenger, one of my favorite cars to drive. Without thinking AT ALL when they offered it, I jumped in, revved that big ol’ Hemi engine, and took off! And then, it snowed. 

I’ve owned rear-wheel drive cars. My first car was a little rear-wheel-drive Toyota, and it was hell in winter. And I drove it for years. So when it started snowing yesterday I thought, “Well I can handle this.” But then it clicked … this is a rental car, which my company is paying for. I’m in mountainous Flagstaff, Arizona, and I’m going to take the chance of driving nearly four hours (there and back) on snow? That’s not smart. Then I drove from my office to my hotel and could barely coax the car up a hill through a stop sign and I knew: I can’t take this car up there. 

I decided I’d have to skip it and see the Grand Canyon another time. My new job is here; there’s a good solid chance I’ll be back. 

Well, that’s not so bad, why the depression?

Good question.

I actually woke up early this morning and looked outside and thought “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should try. Maybe I should get on the road and see how it goes.” And then it started snowing again. And I thought “Nope, good choice. Maybe I’ll walk into downtown Flagstaff.” And then I realized I needed to work out. And I should actually write — I’m pretty behind in writing for this website. And then I thought, “Well I need food, I could walk to the grocery across the street and get food and snacks and stay in and write.” But then I thought, “No you should go downtown and get some photos and see some things and eat a meal that isn’t microwaveable,” and then I went back to sleep because all that thinking exhausted me.

Until 1:30, when I woke up frustrated.

This is where traveling with someone else is nice because if I were here with a friend, they would have prompted a decision that somehow this Saturday, I couldn’t make on my own, in this moment.

I can’t get my brain to stop these thoughts: “If I don’t try to get up to the rim, I will feel like I somehow failed. If I sit here all day and do nothing, or just read my book and relax, I will feel like I have let myself down. If I don’t get some writing done for this site, I’ll feel like I let my partner down. I’ll worry that people who knew what my plan was will wonder why I didn’t take that chance to SEE THE GRAND CANYON. Am I being safe? Or silly? Am I being practical or lazy?”

I’m stuck in a depression loop.

These are the thoughts that will roll around in my head, until I’m back in bed in tears.

I know this is not uncommon. I follow enough travelers to know that depression or anxiety can hit at really unfortunate times.

We get stuck. It doesn’t make us any less adventurous, or brave, or full of life. 
What feels like something minor also feels like a lot today. 

gelato cures depression (not a fact)
2 gelato, one wine, all for me.

Hours later.

I did make myself go to the hotel gym and work out for a bit. I got a frozen meal in the lobby and ate it at the desk in my room, and here I am hammering out this little piece hoping that if you are sitting in a hotel room somewhere, feeling depressed because something minor has thrown off your plans and you’re beating yourself up for feeling like a privileged brat, that it’s ok. 

Weeks later, looking back.

I wrote this piece. I cried for a bit. I got in the shower and got dressed and called a Lyft and took myself out to dinner at a cute little wine bar in downtown Flagstaff — FLG Terroir. I was able to shake off the depression and salvage part of my Saturday.

On Sunday afternoon the sun came out, the snow melted, and I drove around Flagstaff for a bit and walked around downtown. 

It wasn’t the weekend I had planned, and in the end, none of the things plaguing me came to fruition. That’s what anxiety and depression can sometimes do—and sometimes, that hits you when you are on the road. I had a chill weekend. I went back to work on Monday. I flew home on Wednesday. Nothing bad happened. No one cared. It was a moment. 

Do what you need to do to take care of your mental, physical and spiritual health. The next adventure will be there when you’re ready.

5 Tips to get out of your head and back to your trip:

  1. Phone a friend – Do you have a familiar, someone you can call and have them walk you through how you are feeling?
  2. Allow yourself some time to just BE. Breathe, sleep, cry and acknowledge how you are feeling. For me it helped to write about it, even if I hadn’t decided to share, writing helped me identify my feelings.
  3. If you are prone to anxiety and/or depression, leave room in your trips, if possible, for some mental health time. I find the harder I push myself, the pace of my trip can take a toll. I need to recharge my batteries.
  4. Align your accommodations to your need for community. If you are an extrovert, consider booking a hostel over a hotel. If you are an ambivert, consider a hostel with a private room. I myself am an introvert and really need the peace and quiet to recharge my social batteries.
  5. Remind yourself to stay flexible. Travel requires flexibility, and if we set ourselves up to expect perfection, as I had on this trip, we are bound to get overwhelmed. Remember the process, success and failure, is part of the experience of travel. I ended up going back to Flagstaff six months later and made it to the Grand Canyon. That time with an old friend and the experience was even better than it would have been on my own that snowy March day.

I have mild anxiety and depression, which I manage in various ways. If you need help or are at risk of harming yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Line. They are available by phone or text in English and Spanish: 1-800-273-8255.

No matter where you are, treat yourself kindly. 


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