And the Art of Relaxation
Six weeks ago I took – another – leap and moved from New Zealand to Bali, where my partner and I will be spending the next five months living, working, and exploring.
Before leaving NZ, my anxiety was sky high. I was about to leave a bubble of absolute safety, to go back into the world. After two years of lockdowns and isolation. I had forgotten what it was like to travel freely, and the list of documents required was sending me into panic mode.
Something that is so evident for me post-pandemic is the fear that has been instilled in us even more. Once so simple activities for me, like flying, were causing me to have sleepless nights. I began to have intrusive thoughts of plane crashes and I was disappointed in myself that something I had once loved so much had become another thing for me to worry about.
Of course, everything went smoothly and I retrospectively realised I was panicking over nothing – as usual. I realised when I got on the plane that the fear was all in my head, and I enjoyed the plane ride as much as I have any other time, which was a relief. We arrived in Bali and I still couldn’t get out of the fight or flight mode I’d been in for the past month, I was mentally and physically exhausted from all of the worrying.
As much as I loved living in the van and travelling around New Zealand, it took a toll on my mental health. I love adventure but I crave stability and having to think about things day-to-day such as where to go to the toilet, or shower, or make your dinner for the night, had my brain working in overdrive. Eventually, I was so excited to sleep in a motel for two weeks before leaving just so my brain would be free of stressing over the smallest details of my day.
The first few weeks in Bali were really hard for me. I was back in a place where I couldn’t get a hold of my anxiety and it was controlling me. I had arrived in a new country where I knew no one, left all my friends behind and was still thousands of miles from home.
I was becoming that person that I didn’t like. I had a lack of free spirit and a need to control every inch of my day. I couldn’t relax for a minute, my relationship was suffering and I was beating myself up for feeling all of this while being in one of the world’s most beautiful places.
Relaxation is, I have recently discovered, one of my core needs – yet something I find the hardest to do. Constantly staying busy is a form of distraction from myself, and my thoughts and it feeds into my need for control. It is detrimental to my mental health as, while I think I have control, it leads to a cycle of burnout, lack of self-care and anxiety. I make decisions from a place of perfectionism and no longer listen to the needs and wants of my body.
Before I left NZ I had already made the decision to start seeing a life coach and my sessions began the week I arrived in Bali. It has been a really positive and grounding experience for me. She has opened my eyes and helped me accept anxiety as one part of me, rather than something separate that I need to run from.
She has allowed me to forgive myself when I feel anxious and given me so many tools to be able to be there for myself in moments of need and isolation. Getting to know myself better, and understanding that while I am a person that thrives from getting up and going I still need space to relax and stay still, has been key to me getting back to the person I know and love.
While the move was hard and anxiety-filled, I have never let that stop me. I refuse to be defeated by my anxiety and, while sometimes I can get complacent and fall into the trap of letting it control me, I am always trying to be a better person and find avenues of growth through struggle.
I learned that I need to give myself grace. Moving to a new country IS hard and stressful and no matter how beautiful it may be, or how many times I do it, I need time to adjust and allow myself to settle in. I set myself small goals every week, to get me into a routine and partake in activities that I know are beneficial for my mental health. These included once-a-week therapy sessions, exercise goals, writing goals and mental stimulation through learning new things.
I have been doing things I never thought I would do and building my confidence back. Trying new things, really working on my communication and voicing my needs, looking after myself and learning to say no, reconnecting with old friends and standing up for myself in situations where I believe I deserve better.
Allowing myself to settle in and enjoy being still has been amazing. I am not in Bali to travel around with a backpack like I did in South East Asia, I don’t need to be on the move constantly or fill my time with activities. I am working and saving money while living at a – relatively – low cost. My nervous system has been given an opportunity to slow down, we stay in the same hotel for around four weeks at a time and are slowly moving around. I still get to explore, it’s just on different terms- my terms. I needed a minute to not rush around and enjoy just being.
My anxiety is at an all-time low for this year, I have even started to enjoy food again which has been something missing from my life for over a year. Looking forward to every meal is bringing me such joy. This was a long process for me and took me slowly building up on portion sizes and trying new things, as well as finding places that sell my favourite foods.
My relationship is better than ever and I am grateful every day to be in a partnership fuelled by honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, support and just wanting to be the best versions of ourselves. The love I have for myself is growing daily and always having the opportunity to be in the sunshine is something I never underestimate and I can feel the energy it is giving me.
What better place to put my self-care first than in Bali? Feeling better than I have in months, I am really proud of all the love I am able to give myself in my times of need. It’s really easy to beat yourself up for your feelings, and we all do it, but the thing that helped me the most was no longer defining myself by my anxiety. It is a part of me and always will be, there will be times that are harder than others, it’s about how I handle those moments and what I do with them. It’s about revelling in the other aspects of me and giving myself everything that I need.
I felt it was important to share this, as I get a lot of people saying to me how wonderful my life is and while I am so proud of the travelling I have done, and the places I have lived, it doesn’t stop the struggles that we have in our head. Travelling has been the biggest achievement of my life, and I love every part of it. I just want you all to know that what you see on social media (this goes for everyone), isn’t everything. People struggle and freedom comes with its own hardships. It’s about being along for the ride and making it count for something.
We are all strong and capable, and following your dreams is the bravest thing you can do.