Travelling anywhere can feel frightening when you have anxiety, but Australia can feel insurmountable. Aussie anxiety warrior Emily Leary gives some basic tips to manage the fear when you’re down under.
My anxiety and my personality completely contradict each other. On one side there is a daring lady who’s ready to take on the world and all of its adventures. I’m bubbly, sociable and what psychologists would call ‘high-functioning’, so I should be able to tackle anything – right? But it isn’t that simple for me, like for so many other people: behind the exterior there is a terrified child in the corner, spooked by her own shadow. It doesn’t take much for me to spiral and let my anxiety take over my personality. Despite my best efforts, anxiety can sometimes trump my true self. This is a common battle for many anxiety/depression sufferers – their illness often clouds their desires and the things they enjoy.
When it comes to travel, I often feel like I’m being pulled in two different directions. Half of me wants to take a leap, board that plane, tread the earth and dive into the unknown of ‘anything could happen.’ But, the other half wants to stay inside, curtains drawn, with a to-do list in my hand and an urge to create order in my small environment. I crave a certain degree of control; a kind of control you can’t get when travelling. But I’ve come to find that travelling is well worth the discomfort, and I can’t suppress an insatiable desire to escape a sheltered upbringing in Sydney, and explore wider Australia.
So far I’ve explored Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Tasmania, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, Hunter Valley, Falls Creek, Snowy Mountains, Narrabri, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Cairns, Mount Isa, Katherine and Darwin; and later this year, I’m visiting The Great Barrier Reef. I’ve had some chaotic adventures – I’ve swam with sharks in Northern Queensland, I’ve been stranded on a deserted road between Alice Springs and Ayers Rock in middle Australia during the height of summer and I’ve gone plummeting down a black diamond run in Falls Creek, Victoria with hardly skiing experience.
I’m privy to the world-wide known fears associated with where I live. For many of my British friends, all it takes is one Facebook video of a giant huntsman in Middle Australia for them to swear they’ll never set foot in Oz. Australia is beautiful and scenic but it’s also known as quite a ‘dangerous’ country. It’s a rich smorgasbord of diverse terrains and strange creatures. Between raging fires and floods to deadly box jellyfish and great white sharks; I get why some people don’t want to touch this place with a 10,000-mile pole. And I’m here to tell you – some of us coastal dwellers are quite spooked by this bizarre, often surprising land too (especially the outback.)
Throughout my own explorations of Australia, I’ve to conquer constant bouts of Australian travel-related anxiety.
“What if my flight is cancelled and I’m stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with no accommodation?”
“What if I get stung by a stinger on this secluded beach and emergency services can’t reach me?”
But make no mistake, Australia is an amazing place well worth exploring without any anxiety, so long as you take some simple precautions to stay safe! We’re a nation of battlers, and we, like you, can take on immense challenges with great conviction.
How to stay safe and travel Australia anxiety-free…
Research, research, research – Most people will tell you the secret to a stress free holiday is a well-planned one, and this is even more true if you’re planning an Australian adventure. Australia’s terrains and weather systems are extremely diverse and sometimes unpredictable. Know which cities and towns you’re visiting ahead of time and research local guides so you know what to wear and bring with you. Knowledge is our greatest tool against anxiety, so know everything you possible can before you set off.
Over pack – Other travel guides will tell you to pack less and pack smart, but I’m telling you to pack what will bring you peace of mind. Us anxiety suffers should at least be granted this. After all – it’s a big deal that we’re going on this trip! If your anxiety is growing, your only days away from take-off and you just can’t decide between two items? F**k it, bring both. Fork out for extra baggage allowance and treat yourself to the peace of mind of knowing you have everything you need.
‘Slip, slop, slap’ – In Oz, this basically means to submerge your entire body in a litre of sunscreen, even in winter. Our sun is extra harsh and Australian’s have a high skin cancer rate, so it’s important to lather on that SPF regularly throughout the day, especially during long periods of sun exposure like when you’re biking, hiking or at the beach. For those with hypochondria, this is particularly important. You don’t want your trip spoiled by fears of sunburn.
Take a first aid course – afraid of stings and bites from some of those nasty creatures you’ve heard so much about? Well – let me tell you, I’ve lived here my whole life, travelled to some remote parts of Australia and I’ve never once been bitten or stung by anything. The fear is definitely over-exaggerated. But, if you’re still fearful of snakes, spiders and stingers, then you might want to take a First Aid Course in Australia as soon as you arrive. Our First Aid training courses are catered especially for our country. You’ll not only learn basic First Aid and CPR, you’ll also learn exactly what to do for various Australian-specific stings and bites.
Be smart at the beach – I cannot stress this enough: swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach and don’t swim out past your waist if you’re not a strong swimmer. The most dangerous thing in our oceans aren’t the sharks and stingers, it’s the rip currents! So if the beach is not patrolled or there are no flags up, it’s probably best to skip your swim or find another open beach. Always be confident in where you’re swimming and ask a Lifeguard if you’re unsure, (Lifeguards are dressed in red and yellow.) It’s also a good idea to do some research on surf safety in Australia before you hit the surf.
Hydrate – I have a fear of being trapped somewhere without water. Even if you don’t have this fear, it’s ideal to always have H2O on you in Australia. With our hot, dry weather and with temperatures climbing north of 30 degrees in many areas; you should make your water bottle your best friend. Extra tip: venues that sell alcohol in Australia legally have to provide free drinking water to patrons. Even if you’re not a patron, I promise – no one will stop you from coming in, pouring yourself a water at the bar and leaving, so you should never be stuck without water!
Be reachable – The last thing you want as an anxiety-ridden traveller is to be stranded without a mode of communication. Having a reliable phone and a solid network will ensure you don’t get stranded. Buy a local SIM card and never worry about relying on slow public Wi-Fi to get out of a sticky spot.
Over-prepare, then go with the flow – Do your research and preparation, but try not to panic if things don’t go exactly to plan. I know – people with anxiety and panic disorders hate being told not to panic. But, your best shot at a seamless, carefree holiday is to do everything to prepare and then, once you’re out of the airport, to just go with it. Easier said than done, I know.
Sure, Australia is thrilling, but it shouldn’t be reserved for just the thrill seekers. Us anxiety-ridden folk need to be taken out of our comfort zone every now and then too. I am determined to never let my anxiety hold me back from doing the thing I love – adventurous travel. I’d like to think there are other like-minded women out there who can, after reading this, take a deep breath, take the leap and discover Australia.
Words: Emily Leary
Illustration: Emily Elliot