Anxiety 101: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Our World Travel Protection Medical Team Leader, Emma-Louise Robertson, shares the common signs and symptoms of anxiety in everyday life, and how to deal with anxiety while travelling.

According to health and wellbeing organisation Benestar, anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions and most of us will suffer from it at some point during our lives. However, for some, anxiety symptoms are more than just an uncomfortable worried feeling – it can considerably impact their day-to-day lives.

Our Medical Team Leader and Registered Nurse, Emma-Louise Robertson, believes understanding and managing anxiety is more important than ever. As the world continues to deal with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, stress and anxiety conditions are increasing. Social isolation, separation from family and loved ones, border closures, and difficulty travelling for business and leisure have become the norm.

Here, Robertson shares her expert advice to make effectively managing anxiety the norm, too.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry or nervousness often related to an event with an uncertain outcome. It can also cause physical changes like increased blood pressure or a rapid pulse.

“For most of us, feelings of anxiety are brief. For others, anxiety symptoms go beyond a stressful day at work – lasting long periods and negatively impacting their daily life. This could be an anxiety disorder and may require professional intervention,” explains Robertson.

What causes anxiety?

Certain traumatic experiences (particularly grief or loss) or environmental stressors (such as difficulties at work, relationship problems, family issues or financial troubles) can trigger anxiety in those who may be prone to it.

Travel can also be a trigger. Being in a confined space on a plane, crowded airports, unfamiliar environments, or even travelling through non-English speaking countries where signage and communication may be difficult to understand are all potential stressors for anxiety sufferers.

“Sometimes an underlying trigger of anxiety can be fear, and in the traveller, this could be fear of being in an unknown situation.”

Caucasian Woman with Anxiety Symptoms at Airport

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety can present itself in many different ways, depending on the person. Some common anxiety symptoms include:

  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Feelings of panic, dread or being “on-edge”
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Increased or heavy sweating
  • Trembling or muscle twitching
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Difficulty focusing or thinking clearly
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal problems
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Performing certain behaviours repeatedly

Anxiety can affect day-to-day life in many ways

Anxiety is a normal part of our lives from time to time, however, when someone is suffering from anxiety it can affect:

  • Sleep patterns and ability to fall asleep
  • Self-confidence and ability to interact with others
  • The ability to make simple decisions
  • The ability to complete daily tasks, whether that’s simple communication or responding to an email
  • Work performance
Asian Business Man with Anxiety

How to reduce anxiety symptoms

Anxiety symptoms can often be reduced without the need for medication if they’re managed effectively with simple techniques and diversional activities.

Reducing anxiety symptoms without medication

  • Yoga or meditation can help reduce anxiety levels through relaxation, stretching and breathing techniques
  • Exercise: even a short walk releases feel-good endorphins
  • Create a bedtime routine to promote healthy sleep hygiene habits, such as a hot shower before bed, limiting screen time and guided meditation
  • Reduce caffeine intake, and avoid caffeinated drinks from the late afternoon onward
  • Keep a diary or journal
  • Chat to a close friend
  • Try diversional activities like painting and drawing, playing a musical instrument, or learning a new hobby
  • Use guided meditation apps and podcasts while travelling, or on public transport
Middle Aged Men and Women Doing Yoga

When to seek medical help for anxiety

When it comes to anxiety, it’s important to listen to your body and speak up when you think you might need support.

“If your anxiety symptoms are becoming unmanageable, or you are feeling a loss of control on a regular basis, this may indicate underlying factors that may need to be investigated and managed by a medical professional,” advises Robertson.

Speak to your GP or local mental health organisation for advice on you can get medical help to support you and help treat your anxiety.

How to help someone suffering from anxiety

Often, the best way to help someone with anxiety is simply by being a calming presence.

“Be patient and supportive; allow the person to verbalise or share their anxious feelings without fear of judgement,” explains Robertson.

“Anxiety can be extremely overwhelming, and if it has been present for an extended period, it can be hard for the person experiencing it to feel normal or wonder what normal could look like.”

How to help someone suffering from generalised anxiety

  • Use positive affirmations
  • Gently reassure the sufferer that they are going to be okay
  • Encourage them to seek help, and remind them that asking for help is normal
  • Be empathetic, but not patronising
  • Try to shift their feeling of anxiousness to feelings of excitement
  • If there are any comments or thoughts relating to harm or self-harm or suicide, take these comments seriously and call for emergency support if the threat is imminent

How to help someone suffering from an anxiety attack

  • Concentrate on slowing their breathing: slowly count to 10 with them
  • Move them away from the stressor, if possible, to a quiet area away from others
  • Check if they take any medication for anxiety: have they taken any or do they have medication to take in an event like this?
  • Ask how they usually manage their anxiety – they may have a management plan you can follow
Caucasian female consoles African American female with Anxiety

Tips to help reduce anxiety while travelling

Do you experience travel anxiety? Even the most seasoned travellers can experience anxiety – more so now than ever before as a result of the unfamiliar territory of travelling during a pandemic.

The key to reducing travel-related anxiety? Being prepared.

“Consider the triggers for your anxiety or what may be making you anxious about the upcoming journey, and write down a plan to manage these triggers before you leave,” suggests Robertson.

“For example, if you are undertaking a two-sector international long-haul flight, break the journey down into a simple plan including the ground transfers. Also, organise a meet-and-greet with a transfer at the end of your journey to reduce the fear of how you get to your final location.

“If you have a management plan for your anxiety, keep this with you as you travel.”

Other ways to reduce travel anxiety include:

  • Know your travel itinerary, airport terminal, check-in time and boarding time, and arrive at the gate well in advance
  • Check in as much luggage as possible: this helps to pass through the terminal and security checkpoints more easily
  • At check-in, ask if there are seats available in more spacious areas if the flight is not full. Avoid seats near busy galley and toilets if this may be a trigger for some travellers
  • Carry all medication in hand luggage with a doctor’s letter, and if necessary, instructions for if a panic attack occurs
  • Keep diversional activities with you, such as a puzzle book
  • Download a guided meditation app to listen to before boarding or just before take-off
  • Pack a change of clothes in hand luggage in case of flight delays
  • Use noise-cancelling headsets to minimise external noise
  • Set your watch to the time of your destination once on board the plane, and plan to rest at the appropriate times if on a long-haul flight

How World Travel Protection can help support anxiety sufferers while travelling

At World Travel Protection, we provide 24/7 assistance to help support our customers when medical, travel and security emergencies arise. This includes access to useful support information, GPs via telemedicine consults, or counselling provided by qualified and accredited psychologists and social workers.

To learn more about how World Travel Protection can help you or your organisation navigate mental health risks such as anxiety while travelling, fill out the form below to speak to our team and receive a free demo of our Travel Risk Management Solutions.