When I was preparing a one-month trip to Central Asia recently, pressure began to mount.
I had too much to do, I hadn't traveled solo for a while, and I was going to countries far out of my comfort zone. I was becoming stressed, more so by the day.
Then I had a chat with my friend Mariana Calleja, who happens to be a medical doctor. Mariana was dealing with stress issues herself and told me she was working on a stress management course via email. It wasn't quite final yet but she was kind enough to let me road-test it - and here's what happened.
At first I was skeptical.
I'm more the "I can fix myself" type and I also find it difficult to slow down. I dislike being told what to do and tend to think things will resolve themselves.
But then I realized - if I did nothing, if I didn't take this course seriously, my stress would stay, and maybe get worse.
So I committed.
The course was simple to follow: it is divided into eight parts, each sent by email. Each part suggests a simple habit to relieve stress.
I tried each habit in turn, and applied myself diligently. It took a few days, but this happened: I started slowing down, and I started feeling better about myself and my trip.
By the time I was ready to leave for Central Asia, I was 'normal' again. Yes, a bit nervous, but the stress and fear were pretty much gone. All it took was a great email course with a few simple habit changes (but - no miracles - you actually have to take the steps, not just read them!)
I started off with a 'What's the point' attitude. How could this possibly help bring my anxiety down, I wondered? Shouldn't I be taking pills or something?
Actually, no. Pills might work for a few hours or days, but then I'd have to take them all over again, and the fears and worries would come right back.
This was my chance for more permanent change, and this trip meant so much to me I wasn't going to blow it.
While this is probably obvious, I can think of several good reasons to take a course that leads to less stress when it comes to travel.
1. To beat the fear of travel itself
Do your travel fears feel insurmountable? Are you almost defeated before you step on that plane?
If you're like me, preparing to travel can throw you into a whirl. There are a million (or so it seems) preparations (you saw my packing list picture above!), along with the actual thought of travel itself.
I've been traveling solo most of my life but that doesn't mean I sail off calmly into the moonlight each time I leave my family behind and head off who knows where.
It's stressful, I get nervous, and yes, I get fearful, more so as I get older. But solo travel isn't something I want to give up so I find ways to cope - and taking this course was one of those coping mechanisms.
Sometimes, taking the first step towards travel is the hardest. It would be a shame to shelve your travel dreams because you fear what's out there. For me, facing those fears and learning to scale them back is a much better option.
2. To conquer the many fears that surround travel
Do you tremble at the thought of flying, of dizzying mountain roads (I do!) or of being thrown in with strangers in strange towns?
Just because you have the courage to actually go doesn't mean the sailing will be smooth all the time. On the road, fears can manifest themselves when you least expect them, and anxiety about new cultures, foreign foods or personal safety can disrupt the joy you should be feeling as you travel.
Conquering fears and phobias won't happen overnight but any reduction in stress helps me cope with them better. If I'm in a 'calm' state, those deathly narrow ribbons some people call roads don't worry me as much. Yes, I'm concerned, but I'm not hyperventilating or sweating or yes, even crying. I may be afraid, but that fear is manageable if I'm out of my 'stressed zone'. I can cope, and I can survive.
3. To toughen yourself against anxiety and fear
It's strange but coping with stress is cumulative. If I keep doing what I'm supposed to do (by applying the simple healthy habits I've learned), my stress levels will go down - and keep going down. As stress reduces, I'll start to think more clearly, manage emotions better and keep it all together where it counts.
In the mountains of Kyrgyzstan recently, I somehow convinced myself that the road was so narrow my car would magically fly off the edge into the precipice below. The more I thought, the more I stressed. So I did something I learned on the course, something extremely simple that involved getting out of the car for a few seconds. When I boarded again, I could cope. I was still afraid, but the panic attack had subsided.
Now, when I feel stress trying to break in, I try to remember some of those simple lessons. A bit of fear is natural - but deep and possibly life-threatening anxiety is something I'd rather live without.
This course worked beautifully for me, but can it work for you?
Stress can hit anytime, anywhere, at home or abroad.
Stress can arise when you're planning your trip, or right in the middle of your travels. It can undermine the fun of your trip, and worse, it can undermine your health. So I'd like to make sure I know how to deal with stress when it raises its ugly head.
Like most things in life, you get what you put into it. Reading the course will already help, but putting its simple suggestions into practice will do much more.
This course will not cure all your ills. What it will do is help reduce your stress levels, something we travelers often need.
When you travel, especially solo, you need to rely on your body more than usual. There's the wear and tear of travel, of course, but there's also the foreign food and water, and the potential difficulty of finding medical care. Creating healthy habits that keep you serene helps you avoid not only health problems, but the anxiety that can lead to them or result from them.
Stress can prevent you from thinking properly and affect your judgment, yet making smart decisions is essential during travel. By understanding your anxiety, you can tackle it and prevent it from harming you.
So yes, I need my body and my mind to be in tip-top shape, not to mention my emotions.
What I loved about this course was the "baby steps" approach: one habit per lesson, and eight habits in all. It's bite-sized, and I don't feel I'm being lectured - just helped along.
While I used this course to prepare for travel, it's actually designed for absolutely anyone who wants to know how to relieve stress - in travel, in work or in life generally. I've worked through it once, but now that I'm back I plan to work through it as often as I need - until those habits become second nature to me.
And here's a surprise: if you're the kind of woman who needs personal interaction, Mariana is offering a special one-off Skype or phone consultation for FREE to everyone who buys the course. I haven't had the pleasure, but - hey Mariana, how about it? Can I have the stress-busting consultation too?