I’ve written before about my social anxiety, which I think I always had to a certain degree. I was a shy child, but the real serious social anxiety started in my early teens and persisted halfway through college. I didn’t start to discover the solution for it until I went to Israel for a study abroad semester… well, not really discover… rather, the solution came to me. The solution was travel.
I can’t say I don’t still sometimes experience social anxiety or anxiety in general, but it’s much, much less than it ever was. Travel forced me to sit with my alone-ness and realized that I was strong and independent enough to stand up for myself and navigate my own choices and desires. Travel forced me to talk to strangers and to make friends (even with cacti – see the featured photo). If I didn’t like someone, I never had to see them again. I could be myself. I could recreate my social circle.
The travel itch and scratch came in waves – first was a month in Greece, then six months in Israel, then ten months in Czech Republic. And that last one turned into three years and counting. Baby steps – but effective ones that allowed me, over time, to grow into myself as a person and manage my anxiety until it was practically non-existent.
There are two more ways I’ve noticed a big change.
For one thing, I’m more patient and open with plans. In the past, plans had to be scheduled to a T. I had to know exactly what I’d be doing, with whom, and where, in order to feel safe. Now, I’m open. You don’t have time now? Okay, we’ll do it later. Stop by when you have a free moment. No rush – I’ll be around. If not, another day. You suddenly don’t feel like going to this place? Fine, we can find another.
I’m also more willing to meet people where they are. Before, the personalities of others were my personal barrier. To protect myself, I would put people into categories. “Sympathetic.” “Brisk.” “Can’t read them.” “Seems nice but I’m not sure.” “Flexible.” “Superficial.” I would assume this person would always stay the same – that one experience with them was the be-all and end-all of my perception of them. I would brace myself around people I didn’t feel comfortable with. I would sometimes force myself into interactions with them just to be cool, not to seem too uptight. Ironic, right? (Or I’d just avoid them and look awkward as hell.)
On the one hand, now, I simply don’t give people I don’t like my time. I know what I want and what I don’t – that’s one thing about coming to terms with social anxiety. On the other hand, I simply have more tolerance for people’s personalities. They don’t have to be “my type of person” 100%. They are who they are, just as I am who I am. I am not so quick to judge, and am more relaxed to the idea that someone might be having an off day. I can’t control other people – I can only control my reactions to them. And that takes time and patience, but with yourself.
I don’t know how much living in Europe has influenced this exactly. I think it’s a side effect of travel in general, and of course also of me getting older. But the more relaxed atmosphere and feeling of having all the time in the world – as well as the necessity to allow time for Czechs to warm up to a stranger – is certainly infectious.
How has travel changed you?
[…] written before about my social anxiety, here and here. Thankfully over the years I’ve developed many strategies to help me cope with it, but as […]
Back-reading a lot of your posts right now 🙂
I used to think that first impressions were everything, with people and places. I’d meet a person or step off into a new city and immediately think, I either love this or I hate it. But since being in PC I’m forcing myself to change that habit because I think it’s incomplete and actually inhibits me from learning. I know think there is always more to a place or a person than meets the eye, and it’s part of my job as someone-who’s-actively-trying-to-be-a-compassionate-and-nonjudgmental-human to *not* let my first impressions, which are usually first judgements, cloud my understanding of what’s really happening around me.
Easier said than done, but it’s such a fun challenge when it comes to traveling. I love reading about how healing these adventures have been for you. I can relate 🙂
I totally agree- I’ve been trying to work on that the last few years. And being/having been a person with moderate to severe anxiety, that’s sometimes hard because accepting/dismissing things based on first impressions often acts like a defense mechanism.
I have been reading your posts too; especially the one about you painting the world map in your village. I wish I had more time to follow your journey! But I’m happy you’re making progress 🙂
Travelling takes a lot of courage and guts, and even more when working abroad like you. You’re left with nothing but yourself at first, so it’s either you flourish and mould yourself with the environment, or shy away and face difficulties.
Travelling is not so much different than my occupation as a nurse. Meeting different people, keeping in mind everyone has their own story, taking initiative with work, constant problem-solving… Even with this I still consider myself somewhat of a shy person, but through travelling I’ve learned to be forward with how I feel and what I’m thinking, especially since I travel with other people most of the time. Travelling has also made me keep things simple, not to over-clutter my day, and to complete things one task at a time.
Great read Chlohemian! 🙂
i’ve always wondered about the emotional endurance it takes to be a nurse! i agree with you – travel teaches us a lot of valuable skills. where’s your favorite place so far?
thanks for reading! 🙂
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Honestly it’s hard to choose, but probably Hong Kong because one minute you’re in a city, and then a bus ride away you can enjoy hikes and trails. And the food, especially the food. I only had a week and I feel there’s so much to see and do there.
but those are the best- you have more to look forward to on your return trip 🙂
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“Someone might be having an off day” huum. I never thought if it that way but you’re so right. I love people but I am quick to say, “I’m a good judge of character from the rip” and usually I’m right but I guess that makes me judgmental. Maybe just maybe I could think what you said first and give people some time.
i try my best – it’s hard. i also consider myself a good judge of character, but it’s true it often means no second chances, which is sometimes unfair.
I always say this when people talk about how they’re scared of solo travel because they don’t like to do things alone and are worried about making friends on the road but to me, solo travel is actually helping me in gaining confidence and talking to complete strangers which I would normally avoid/leave for someone else to do if I were travelling with a partner or in a group. It forces you to be social in a way 😉
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definitely! i notice a huge difference when i travel with my partner and alone. there are pros and cons for both!
It’s interesting to get a window into other peoples experiences and how it’s changed them.
I think experiencing other people environments and cultures, be that in the country or in the community, is fun.
Keeps me on my toes!
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