I spoke with experts, doctors, and spiritual teachers.
I asked these high achievers about their fears and how they move through them to live the life they love. -------------------------------------------------------------------
Expand your horizons into the sunrises and starscapes of far off lands.
Aaron has been working with youth in either challenging settings or internationally since 2004. This means he has 13 years of experience. He told me that at this time he has witnessed a dramatic increase in students with anxiety.
In fact, he estimates that students with anxiety on Dragon's trips has increased from 1-2 out of 12 students up to 6-7 out of 12.
That means OVER HALF the students now present with some sort of anxiety and it is one of the most common challenges they see in their programs. This is to say, you are not alone.
When I asked, he attributed the rise in anxiety to social media and several other factors.
"There seems to be a self-consciousness that comes with curating an online presence," he said.
"Youth is a time of figuring out who you are. Online, you can re - define your identity and get immediate feedback. This can create a hyper awareness of identity. Awareness of how they are putting 'the self' into the world is heightened because everything is documented."
This creates a paradox of fluidity and rigidity. Leaving both little room for exploration and a LOT of room at the same time. The result? Tension.
He also noted the availability of information, having an overwhelming amount of options, normal parental pressures, and the TOTALLY UNIVERSAL desire to be loved and liked as contributing factors.
Aaron, What are three concrete ways you help students learn to thrive in the face of anxiety?
((He gave me FOUR ways! Check out the wealth of information below))
Aaron said, the benefit of travel is that we end up asking,
"When all my identity markers go away, who am I?"
It is an opportunity to learn and grow outside of the context of the normal self that often makes us feel in control and safe.
This feeling can be, "scary but powerful..".
It's a chance to "embrace ambiguity and give up control - I think a lot of anxiety centers around control. You are very vulnerable when you travel." Thus your sense of being out of control is heightened.
Here are his tips:
1. The power of vulnerability and embracing ambiguity...
"I talk a lot with students about mindset - I help them understand where they have control and where they dont have control," he said.
Then they can start to make certain empowering choices, but they can also relax into where they do not have control. This limits options, which can help the mind and body relax.
2. Boundaries - scheduled check in - with a set amount of time...
We had one student who was very anxious. She went through 12 journals on her trip!
Her thoughts were very intense for her. She had the capacity to write for three hours at a time on a thought loop that kept re-stimulating the anxiety she was experiencing.
((Just imagine if that energy were pointed in a creative direction rather than a loop - there is a LOT of power there))
"We needed to set up structured times for her to check in for her sanity and for ours."
*You can do this for yourself with friends, family, or a coach if you choose to travel outside a program, or, request this if you choose to travel with a program.*
Structured check ins soothe the nervous system by helping you see that someone is there to support you in the future - where your anxiety lives - and that the anxious feeling is not actually an indication of an emergency.
Over time, you begin to trust this. In part, this is how coaching and therapy can work. First, you learn you are safe with a mentor, and then you are able to self-contain until the set time.
Now this student LIVES in Indonesia with her BOYFRIEND!
I would say that strategy worked.
3. Breathing and mediation techniques...
"This is a preventative strategy that I use with ALL my students. This way, when the stressors arrive or panic attacks happen, I can help them recall a skill that they are already cultivating. Additionally, they don't feel singled out or like something is wrong with them. Meditation and breath work can benefit everyone."
These morning sits ((ROUTINE!)) create a common framework for all the kids.
((Routine can go with you everywhere))
This also creates AWARENESS ((woot woot!)) of when they are caught in a thought pattern.
They can begin to see where they do not have control over the outcome of a situation and are just ruminating. Once we are aware we can make a change.
Aaron says this an an opportunity to explore self identify. He asks students how they get into their body and provides some options such as social connection (eye contact, talking etc), breathing practices, writing, physical activity and other tools to get out of the pattern.
4. The capacity to think through self criticism...
Often people with anxiety are sensitive to subtle cues from people around them.
((This can come from trauma, but often people with anxiety ascribe negative facial or mood cues to themselves and become self aggressive)).
They think that the other person is thinking something bad about them. Many students with social anxiety assume that their host family doesnt like them.
((Oh hey! Self love is the antidote my loves)).
Aaron suggests the student walk themselves through the thought pattern and look for alternate reasons for the host family's response. This can be helpful to do with another human.
Ultimately, travel will change you.
It will open you to potentials far greater than your sense of self at this time.
However, you have to be willing to surrender that old self in exchange for something new, something unknown. The unknown is often where we find the sharpe edges of our fear.
At the end of our discussion, I said "Wow, you have had so many success stories here." And he said, "There are failures too. Some kids go home."
It occurred to me then that going home is always an option and it doesn't necessarily mean failure, although it might feel like it in the moment...
Aaron's job is create a WORLD of compassion, connection and awareness.
When you step outside of your comfort zone into more awareness you are doing yourself and the world a great service. Your willingness to learn with eyes and heart open from other cultures will only serve to create humanity rooted in peace and compassion.
Do you want to travel? You can.
These types of programs can provide a HUGE amount of support while helping you to feel a little safer while pushing your edges to grow. Reach out to me too, if you want support. We can get you there.
Aaron Slosberg is Director of Programming for Where There be Dragons.
Dragon's has adult, gap year, and youth travel programs that will expand your horizons and have you learning and growing in ways that will surprise and delight you.
Aaron’s love of learning has brought him to over 25 countries around the globe as a student, teacher, and traveler. Aaron has spent over 600 days in the field as a Dragons Instructor in Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Indonesia. His current passion is discovering ways to integrate positive psychology research into experiential education. He is a Wilderness First Responder, avid surfer, and believer in the power of travel to transform us into a more just, compassionate, and awake world.
B.A., Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Study of Religion and History; University of California–Los Angeles. M.A., History; University of California–Los Angeles.