My anxiety is a girl, like me. She doesn't have a name yet, but if she had one, it'd probably be something like Heat Stroke or Frenzy, because of the way she makes me feel when I'm with her. We have been living together for the past eight years. She's ruthlessly vicious and finds joy in picking at my insecurities until they fester into paranoia. For a long time, I've tried everything to make my relationship with her work—by reasoning with her, trying to incorporate more positive thinking into my life, and, of course, by going to therapy. And on days when she demands all my attention and drains my energy, days when none of my efforts can get her to shut up for even a little bit, I've tried taking her out for a drink or two to calm her down, and, at times, sure, indulged in her wild beliefs and theories.
Needless to say, living with my anxiety is exhausting. And last year was one of the most taxing years we've spent together. Thanks to dramatic changes, both political and personal, it seemed as unlikely as winning the lottery that I'd get a grip on my anxiety.
But for the last two weeks, thanks to one little trick, I have gotten more control over it, and have not been beating myself up over little things and figuring out how to sleep better at night. The trick is that instead of trying to work with the chaos in my head, I decided to do something I'd never tried before: nothing. I simply stopped trying to make the waves of panic, ache, and fear disappear; I chose just to ride out the episodes—both big and small—as they came. And it's been working. But this change wasn't made with the help of my therapist, nor under the advisement of self-help books. It happened after I came back from a wellness trip.
For one week at the beginning of the new year, I said bon voyage to the frigid East Coast, packed my bags, and left to explore the Mexican state of Baja California with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, and exhale. The trip, which featured a ton of, you know, totally casual activities like snorkeling with sea lions, kayaking, beachside bonfires, and wellness programs like core fusion barre, power yoga classes, mindfulness hikes, meditation classes, and more, got me excited about waking up in the morning. You're probably thinking, Well, with an itinerary like that, who could possibly be anxious anyway?
But you haven't met my anxiety, which made a pretty strong showing upon my arrival in Mexico when I found out my luggage had gone missing, and all my excitement turned to dread. Even for someone without anxiety, spending a couple of days without clean clothes or toiletries, while on a cruise with no access to stores, is going to take its toll. I felt like a miserable hermit yearning to go home. The irony of suffering from panic attacks and anxiety while on a wellness trip was not lost on me, thankfully, and it helped teach me the most important lesson I've learned about myself yet: I need to let go of things over which I have no control. And so, soon enough, I threw on a pair of swimming shorts that a kind cruise member offered me and enjoyed myself, despite the voices in my head telling me not to. And, luckily for me, the trip couldn't have been more perfectly set up to deal with what I considered to be one of the most stressful moments in my life.
"Lindblad’s wellness program is the embodiment of our belief that nature is vitalizing and that wildness, as Thoreau famously said, supplies a tonic," Lindblad Expeditions CEO Sven Lindblad says. "We wanted to accomplish several things: to create short getaways, to create a highly active experience, and to incorporate an imaginative wellness component which takes full advantage of the landscape."
Annbeth Eschbach, founder and CEO of exhale, echoed this sentiment, stating that these days, more and more people are taking vacations for wellness. "People are looking for ways to unplug from their day-to-day. Onboard, guests will now have a whole new way to experience the beauty of these islands, with [workout and wellness] activities and options offered each day and led by an exhale teacher/therapist." And unplug I did. By the third day of my trip, when my luggage had finally arrived, I was too focused on living my best life to be bothered with my persistent and demeaning thoughts that plagued me earlier in the week.
Eschbach also notes that those who suffer from anxiety are perfect candidates for taking these wellness excursions: "The extraordinary solitude of nature serves as the platform for the trip which calms the mind. A place of pristine beauty, with a shimmering sea, bays and beaches, wide open space to explore, and not another soul in sight—just birds, fish, and marine mammals."
I know "just going with it" isn't the easiest solution for most, and it's not always a workable one. But knowing that it is an option has served as a vital reminder for me to simply let things be when I feel myself teetering on the edge. A wellness escape, then, can be the perfect place to unwind and clear your mind of its external stresses. But, like, only if you bring a carry-on.