Anxious travelling in COVID-19 times

Looking down on an airport gate area. Bright sunlight streams in. Tarmac is visible outside, with airplane docked to the gangway.

We are back from a trip "home" to Japan—the first time in 3.5 years! I was so anxious 😂

We did it. Husband, our kids and I went to Japan for the first time in 3.5 years. I am so so grateful for being able to travel across borders again...even though it wasn't easy.

To be honest, the whole experience overwhelmed me, and I found myself anxious most of the time. And then felt bad that I was making the trip less enjoyable for everyone else.

A friend pointed out that the heightened anxiety was perfectly normal, though, given the circumstances:

  • not knowing until the last minute whether we could really enter Japan (visa for Husband, PCR tests for all of us, registering all of us on the MySOS app and uploading all documents in advance...)
  • anxiety from premenopause...oh the joy!
  • depleted mental and emotional resilience from two+ years of pandemic life
  • discomfort—common to TCKs returning "home"—of not fitting in and flashbacks of how stressful it was living and working in Tokyo when I was younger
  • feeling responsible for three kids who have never lived in Japan and Husband who doesn't speak any Japanese
  • worries that our visit may be exhausting our elderly parents
  • PLUS my fear of flying 🙄

Ah COVID-19, you really have sucked the joy out of travel...! (Not that I loved travelling to start with. Not all third culture kids love travel.)

Getting myself through those anxious moments...

I did recognize that I was out of sorts. I tried to meditate, even if for a few minutes and, when I could feel the edges of a panic attack coming on, did breathing exercises (breathe in deeply through the nose, hold, then out in three through the mouth).

Another trick that helped in those moments was trying to focus on the now ("I'm sitting on this plane. I'm breathing. I'm ok.") and not on what may happen next.

Also helpful: distracting my racing mind by thinking of a place, a person, a color, a fruit, and a sound...or something like that. 

Oh, now that I've looked it up again, I realize I had it wrong 😂 It's a bit more involved (which makes sense; my version seemed too easy!):

The 5-4-3-2-1 method (a grounding technqiue)

  • Look at 5 separate objects (and think about each for a few moments)
  • Listen for 4 sounds
  • Touch 3 objects
  • Identify 2 different smells
  • Name 1 taste

(Source: Medical News Today, "How can you stop a panic attack?"; also "9 Tips To Help You Get Through A Panic Attack" on International Bilpolar Foundation)

I also repeated to my husband that I realized I was being anxious but that it was (in part anyway) hormone-induced and I was working on staying calm. At least he knew what was going on. He was incredibly supportive and sweet when we were in flight!

Still so grateful

Despite all this, it was a wonderful trip! 

It was such a relief to see my parents again and a joy to see a few friends. And I had almost forgotten about the pleasure of visiting new places.

Thankfully, our minds are wondrous things: all the travel stress has melted away now, leaving only precious memories 😆

May travel continue to be possible.

Cover image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay


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