Traveling Like a Champ with PTSD: 15 Tips for Navigating Large Crowds, Noise, and Anxiety
Sunlight Retreats founder Brittany Catton Kirk recently traveled back to the country where she was raped. She had not been back in 6.5 years but knew it was an important step for her exposure therapy to return to close that chapter and triggers to further her healing. Traveling can be challenging to those with PTSD but essential for work and relationships. Dealing with crowds, loud noises, surprises, limited personal space, and rude people can trigger survivors. Plus there are everyday travel challenges like sleep disruption and poor eating habits. So here are 15 ways survivors can prep for a successful trip, from a survivor’s point of view:
1. I spent days packing so I could see things I needed around the house that I could add gradually, since memory and remembering can be hard.
2. I drank Natural Calm magnesium powder to help take the edge of my PTSD and sprinkle it in my water daily.
3. I packed a sleep mask, melatonin, old travel blanket and travel pillow and my husband’s pillow from his deployment to Iraq, which is sentimental, an added bonus to help me sleep and feel comfortable away from home.
4. I took lots of video and photos of the kids and people I love to scroll through when I get anxious and I asked the grandparents, husband and daycare to send lots of photos of the kids while I was on the work trip.
5. I packed lots of scarfs, sunglasses and hats, it’s a way to add layers of protection and give myself some privacy if I need it.
6. I brought extra gallon size Ziploc bags and end up using all of them to stay organized, store extra food, paperwork and everything else that accumulates on travel. I am not an organized packer but this helped me feel more in control.
7. I made small things easier for myself, like packing a small roller bag with wheels as a carry on instead of lugging around a heavy duffle bag.
8. I packed healthy snacks, nuts, bars, and electrolyte powders so I would not hoover a Cinnabon at the airport and suffer a shame spiral where I beat myself up for hours. I tend to be harder on myself when I mess up since the attack. Small things can seem bigger.
9. I packed an empty water bottle and a carafe for tea to up past security and bring on the plane to stay hydrated and save on single use plastic. You should drink 8 ounces for every hour you are in the air according to the Aerospace Medical Association.
10. I packed a “smart book”, How Change Happens to stimulate my mind, work on creating new neural pathways, and inspire my desire to scale Sunlight Retreats as a Social Enterprise.
11. I downloaded cheesy Bravo reality shows when I need to chill out on Netflix.
12. I downloaded lots of free books from the Libby Public Library app.
13. If you don’t feel like chatting with strangers, that’s OK. You are not required to engage, put in headphones, pull your hat down, or you can say that you have “something pressing your working on and sorry you have to focus.”
14. I packed work out clothes and sneakers to help motivate me to work out and take away my excuse. Physical activity releases brain chemicals like Serotonin and dopamine that play an important part in regulating mood.
15. If you can, delete your social media apps and refrain from posting if on vacation. By posting, you might keep checking back to see your feedback and Likes. What you are thinking and how you are feeling is all that counts. I was able to feel my feelings in the moment, acknowlege them and let them pass. I think it would have been harder to be present if I was scrolling through Instagram.
16. Know that if any crime happens to you overseas, you can contact the US Embassy, who can help assist and protect your interests with local police.
I wish you sunlight and safe travels
Brittany Catton Kirk
Sunlight Retreats for Survivors of Rape