Let's go to Maui! Hello, my friends, my name is Tessa. I am 35, mom to two adorable Havanese dogs, and married to my husband Jeremy. I am the founder, owner, and designer of my own company called Soul Curiosity. I love learning new things, exploring different cultures, and experiencing anything in life that makes me or someone else smile. I feel deeply—I guess you can say I’m sensitive, but I like to call it empathic. I have an innate desire to share the highs and lows of my life in the hopes of positively impacting others. Why would I call myself an anxious adventurer? Well, I have an anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, a shadow that likes to follow me wherever I go. I also have three autoimmune diseases that make living with anxiety that much more exciting! I refuse to let either keep me from following my dreams and engaging with life in a way that I desire. If you struggle with anxiety, I hope this inspires you to step outside of your comfort zone. If you have a loved one who struggles with anxiety, perhaps this will help you cultivate more empathy and understanding as they navigate uncomfortable situations.
This anxious adventurer would like to take you on her honeymoon to Maui, Hawaii.
Over the summer, my dad gave us the best wedding gift, money for a honeymoon! I was instantly excited, then anxiety kicked in. This means I have to fly somewhere, huh? Oh no… this means I am going to be anxious. We ended up choosing Maui for a variety of reasons, one being that it would be a warm destination for our honeymoon, and two, it has a Whole Foods which would make eating for my autoimmune easier. For anxiety sufferers, the anxiety develops way before any departure, they call it anticipatory anxiety and it’s the worst. You get irrational thoughts and your mind creates all these scary movie-like scenarios that honestly, 99% of the time never happen.
The anxious person has their own mantra that is repeated on loop and it’s not something you would post on Instagram to inspire others. It’s called the “what-ifs.” What if I get really sick? What if I feel terrible the entire time I am there? What if I have a meltdown on the airplane? What if my plane plummets into the ocean? What if I have a panic attack while snorkeling and drown? What if I am hiking and can’t breathe? What if Whole Foods doesn’t have any food I can eat (I mean really Tessa?).
The list goes on and on. The controlling part of you is checking off all possible scenarios so you feel best prepared when things go sideways. The thing is… “the things” rarely go sideways, yet you can’t stop yourself from obsessing over the details.
There was a time when I refused to fly anywhere. I was convinced for whatever reason I was going to die. I would actually be up the night before in tears, counting down the hours until I would be dead. Sounds super dramatic I know, but it’s the truth. I would say no to vacations because I couldn’t get on an airplane. My dad told me I had a higher chance of being hit in the supermarket with cheese than dying on a plane. I knew the statistics but it didn’t help. I started flying again with the help of a prescription drug called Xanax when I moved away for college in Utah. If I wanted to see my family I knew I had to get on an airplane. Facetime and Skype weren’t invented yet :).
I’m not going to lie, flying on Xanax was amazing. The plane could have crashed and I wouldn’t have cared. I am proud, however, to be Xanax-free since 2012. I had horrible side effects—plus I really wanted to start dealing with my anxiety head-on. Xanax helped get me to Kauai in 2009, so flying this time around felt different being completely drug-free. I didn’t start to get nervous until an hour into the plane ride when I realized I had another five hours to go. I was able to mentally calm my nerves down and the rest of the ride wasn’t too bad. Being on an island is a weird feeling. For me, I initially got really claustrophobic, being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not to mention knowing your only way off the island is getting back on an airplane. It took me a day to fully relax, which was much quicker than the last time I visited the islands.
A lot of people on vacation like to completely relax. I do too, but I also love adventurous activities which unfortunately trigger my anxiety. I didn’t want to let anxiety keep me from doing fun things so I forged on, anxiety in tow. I did a 26-mile bike ride down a 6,000-foot volcano in the rain, ziplined, snorkeled, and took two boat rides into the Pacific Ocean, one in the dark.
As mentioned earlier, anticipatory anxiety kicked in right before any anxiety-provoking event, followed by the good ol' mantra: "what if.”
What if I get sick on the bike ride?
What if I get too cold in the rain?
What if I can’t finish it?
What if I freak out on the zipline?
What if I get really thirsty on the three-hour tour and there isn’t any water?
What if our boat gets a hole and we sink into the ocean?
It’s exhausting reading those huh? The thing about anxiety is that our bodies are actually trying to work with and for us. Our mental worries trigger our flight or fight response and our brain is trying to help us resolve the anxious feelings. We are thinking and creating non-existent worries so our bodies follow, leaving us feeling more anxious and overwhelmed.
I don’t want you to think my entire honeymoon was an anxious tizzy, because it wasn’t. All the moments of pure contentment and peace reminded me why I wanted to go in the first place. In those peaceful moments, I feel alive and sometimes I shed a few tears because of how wonderful I feel and how proud I am of myself. Even with the anxious shadow that follows me, I find fun, act silly, and sit with those good feelings when they are present. That moment of alignment with yourself is unparalleled to anything else, you feel free, connected, and at home in your own body.
Here are five tips to help alleviate some anticipatory anxiety for your next exploration into the unknown. I know you're feeling overwhelmed, so take a deep breath. I am here for you!
Allow yourself to obsess or be anxious about something once, make a plan A, plan B, and plan C... okay let’s be real, you have about 10 plans in your mind so you can feel a bit more in control. The key here is to make the plans and then let them go! Each time your mind tries to repeat that scenario, remind yourself you already have a strategy in place so there is no need to go over it again and again. We all know it only invites the type of imagery seen on Dateline’s 20/20.
Only do things that you truly want to do. Just because we are scared to do something doesn’t mean we should force ourselves to do it. Have an honest conversation with yourself. Is this something I really want to do? If I wasn’t worried about the outcome, would I do it? If the answer is yes, this is a great opportunity to work through anxiety.
So you want to snorkel but you are petrified to get in the water. Panic attacks change your relationship with water, it just does. For me, I had a life jacket and I stayed close to the boat. I wasn’t swimming around carefree like everyone else, but I got in the water and I challenged myself. Next time, I plan to venture further out.
It is important to enjoy your vacation, however, anxiety sufferers still need to take care of their physical body. Late nights, excessive drinking, and unhealthy foods will not do you any favors in the anxiety department. Listen to your body and know when to cut back a bit. Please enjoy your time away, just remember that anxiety loves to pop up when your body is a little run down. Just ask my 23-year-old college self who went to work at a coffee stand, then proceeded to cure her hangover with two mochas and a muffin. Cue in the panic attack that followed, the fire truck that showed up, and confused spectators who thought I was strung out on drugs as I was semi-unconscious on the floor. Take it from me, what you put into your body counts!
Be honest and upfront about your anxiety with those close to you. My husband doesn’t understand my anxiety completely, but our up-front communication regarding my fears has helped us become a team. Your friends and family can be your biggest cheerleaders. I told my husband the best thing he can do when I am anxious is to ask “what do you need from me right now?” Sometimes I just need him to hold my hand or hug me while I breathe. This takes a lot of pressure off others as well. They want to help, but often have a hard time relating to what you’re experiencing and feeling.
No, not the anti-drug campaign, I don’t think that even exists anymore. DARE is this wonderful program by Barry McDonaugh that helps anxiety sufferers work through panic attacks and fears. This program has helped me tremendously and believe me, I have read every book out there! Learn more about DARE for support. They even have a Facebook support group that is fantastic.
My final thoughts: I know how debilitating anxiety is, I really do. You are not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence anymore. My plan going forward is to keep pushing myself: to keep living life, inviting anxiety along for the journey. Each success builds confidence and I’ve never regretted going on a vacation, ever! So, where am I off to next? Who knows. But I'm off, whether anxiety has booked a seat beside me or not.
And it’s okay to cry at any point on your journey. I cried a tad on my flight home. Everyone on the plane thought I was sad to leave Maui, right? You can do this, we can do this together!
If you are looking for inspiration or want to follow my life adventures, please follow me on Facebook and Instagram @mysoulcuriosity. I also have a lot of resources on my website www.mysoulcuriosity.com as well.