Michael and I are in London this week for the first time since before the pandemic. While we were excited to see holiday lights and good friends, we were also nervous about traveling. Packing, house sitters, early airport pickup, and winding security lines all used to be familiar territory, but it’s been a while. So, when I searched for a blog to republish this week, I found one I needed. I hope it’s helpful to you, too.
We were dressed up and ready to drive into the city for the first time in more than a year. Our dinner reservation was a little less than two hours away and I looked forward to people-watching, seeing the Boston Public Garden, and enjoying the company of old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time.
As I slipped on heels and brushed a bright color on my lips, something else I hadn’t done in a while, I started to feel anxious and excited, the kind of nerves you might feel on a first date. I wondered what was going on but quickly dismissed the feeling in favor of checking to be sure the cat’s litter boxes were cleaned before we left.
As I scooped the boxes, the anxiety reappeared, this time turned up a notch minus the excitement. Something wasn’t right.
I stopped what I was doing and sat down on the couch to give myself a chance to catch up to my feelings. Eyes closed, hands in my lap while focused on my breath, I noticed a few things right away. I felt nervous about leaving our home. I worried about traffic and whether or not we’d find a parking spot near the restaurant. I wondered if the cats would be okay alone and if we’d be home in time to feed them their final meal of the day.
I know this might sound silly to some of you (it does to a part of me, too), but the anxiety was real. Turns out I wasn’t alone. After bringing up my pregame jitters to our dinner guests, I learned that several of them felt the same way, too.
During the pandemic, most of us were trained to be vigilant – to scan for danger at every turn. For some, this vigilance turned into hypervigilance creating habits that formed deep neural networks. Now, just because the doors of life are opening up, it doesn’t mean we can shut these behaviors off and get about the business of living. It’s more complicated than that.
When we stepped out the front door and headed for the city, I knew I needed to retrain my brain. Rather than ignore my anxiety, I took it with me. I put my arm around it, told it we’d be okay, and put it in the backseat. Each time it tapped me on the shoulder to warn me of a potential problem, I smiled, listened, and turned my attention to wondering about the fun we’d have with our friends. After a few attempts to hijack my good mood, the anxiety settled back into its seat leaving me free to enjoy our new adventure.
The decision to put fear in the backseat and shift from worry to wonder each time it reappeared was a way of weakening the old network developed during the pandemic and building a new one dedicated to joy and curiosity. This was the first leg of a journey back to a more relaxed way of life.
We had a wonderful night with friends and as we drove home I reminded myself of the lessons learned: Stop and be present with your feelings. Be curious and patient with fear. Work with yourself, not against yourself. And stay focused on the good that’s coming your way.
Travel advice I’m taking with me… again.
P. S. – If you’d like to see some of the holiday decorations in London, watch for them on my Instagram account here.