If you feel a little jittery in the moments before you leave for the airport, you might be suffering from pre-trip anxiety, an increasingly common condition in a world of uncertainty.
"Pre-trip anxiety is a form of anticipatory anxiety," explains psychiatrist Marie Casey Olseth. "It's not a specific phobia, such as a fear of flying or fear of driving, although these phobias can contribute to the anxiety felt by someone with pre-trip anxiety."
Symptoms may include a sleepless night before a trip, an upset stomach, or feelings of dread. To put it more bluntly, you'll freak out a little before you fly. But don't panic. Given the modern-day realities of travel, a little anxiety is inevitable and more common than ever.
Fortunately, it's treatable, and perhaps even preventable.
Some people confuse excitement with anxiety because the symptoms of restlessness and increased adrenaline mimic each other.
So what's the difference? Fear, dread and worry set pre-trip anxiety apart from mere excitement, according to medical experts. If you're so agitated that you'd rather call the whole thing off, it might be a severe case of pre-trip anxiety.
Under the best of circumstances, pre-trip jitters can make the journey uncomfortable for you. But under the worst of circumstances, they can affect you and everyone around you.
No one is immune. Consider Valerie Bowden, the author of the book "Backpacking Africa for Beginners." She has a graduate degree in social work, which included taking many psychology classes.
"Even with my training, I experienced a lot of anxiety before one of my last big trips," she recalls. "I was heading to Africa for seven months of backpacking. I broke down in tears in near fetal position during my layover in Frankfurt [Germany]. I was terrified of everything that could go wrong."
Fortunately, there are treatments to address pre-trip anxiety:
Cognitive behavioural therapy:
"Ask yourself how likely the negative outcome really is and how terrible it would really be," says Judith Beck, a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. "Take each non-catastrophic prediction and figure out how you'd cope if the negative outcome did happen." Beck says you should replace any negative images you have with more realistic scenarios.
That's where a therapist introduces you to the stimuli that are causing the anxiety. This allows you to work through this anxiety and fear with support. Michelle Maidenberg, a psychotherapist in Harrison, New York, does that by watching videos of takeoffs with her patients.
This increases the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, otherwise known as "feel good" chemicals, in the brain. These can help improve your mood before a trip and relieve some of your anxiety.
When you feel anxiety coming on, pause to breathe. Focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Notice that you can calm your body just by breathing. Deep breaths can help quiet your symptoms at the moment.
But perhaps the best remedy is experience.
Take enough trips, and you'll soon realize that most of your worries are unfounded. If you miss a plane, you can always catch the next one. If you forget to pack something, you can buy a replacement when you arrive.
Easier said than done, though. I've been on the road almost nonstop for most of my career. Still can't get a good night's rest before a trip.