Addressing Common Stress Triggers while Touring a City: Part 2

We’ve covered how to manage detours, crowds, and making eye contact with so many strangers.  What else can make you wig out on a vacation, and what can you do about it?

Accidents.  Seeing an accident while touring – whether it involves a slip, trip, fall, or a vehicle – can jar your confidence and make you feel like you’re next to have disaster descend upon you.  Depending on how much you can relate to the person who suffered the accident, and just how bad it was, you may put sudden limits on your physical activities or transportation that can rapidly develop into a phobia.  There are some things to understand about accidents before your healthy precautions build into a cage of fear.

I once saw a middle-aged tourist do a full somersault down the departures escalator at London’s Heathrow Airport.  He was distracted by writing on the luggage tag of his carry-on bag, and lost his balance as the escalator belt hit a bump followed by a small jerk.  The next thing the man knew he’d flipped upside down, and then lay dazed on his tailbone on the bottom step.

Interestingly, about half the people at the scene (the ones who hadn’t seen him writing up his luggage tag, completely oblivious to his surroundings) were shocked and horrified; the others (who’d seen what the man had been doing) had a look on their faces like, “Well, what did he expect?”

The point is that most of the accidents you see or hear about – perhaps of a taxi driver backing into a tourist, or of someone twisting their ankle between cobblestones – are not true “accidents,” but mistakes.  An accident implies that nothing could be done to prevent the incident from happening, when really a lot could be done in most cases – if people were paying attention and taking the proper precautions.   Once you realize this, and understand that it takes two people, places, or things to have an “accident,” the less anxiety you will suffer.  Instead of blaming an elevator or a door or a moving vehicle, you recognize that by being vigilant you not only make up for hazards and for other people’s carelessness, but you give yourself a lot more control over your surroundings.

Perceived sounds of distress.   Anxious people have often experienced a significant trauma in their past.  Certain noises, particularly screaming and shrieking, can cause you great alarm and induce sweating, heart palpitations, and other physiological manifestations.  If you suffer from this phobia, screaming is not an expression of a good time, but a sign of an emergency.  Screaming children at play can make you think someone is hurt, and I know several women who are haunted by images of sexual assault when they hear teenage girls screaming.

To keep your reaction from escalating, take a quick look at what screaming children or teenagers are doing, and observe other people’s reactions to them.  If there was really something wrong, wouldn’t others notice and step in to help?

In general, someone else’s noise rarely has anything to do with you.  If it’s still a significant anxiety trigger, try to stay away from amusement parks, carnivals, and other places where you’re most likely to hear excitement bordering on terror.

Avoiding confrontation when taking photographs.  If you’re a visual person and want to relive many moments of your trip, then taking pictures will be one of the most rewarding and essential parts of your journey.  Unfortunately, it’s the one thing you do in the normal course of touring that can cause some provocation – usually because people are concerned that they’ve appeared in your photo (or video footage).  In general, the more elaborate your camera is, the more attention you’re going to attract using it.  Snapping shots with your cell phone is going to draw the least attention; setting up a tripod with a camera the size of your head will attract a lot more; and walking around with a videocamera constantly raised and pointing will attract the most.

You may be aware of all of this, and have reluctantly resolved to hold back your shutterbug impulses.  However, there’s no need to restrict yourself like this, and later regret what you didn’t get on film.  Here are some tips to avoid confrontation and ease anxiety when out and about with a camera.

Portray clear intentions.  If you want to photograph a famous landmark and there are people constantly milling around, look directly at what you’re shooting and don’t make eye contact with the people around it.  This will reassure others that you’re not interested in them or in invading their privacy.

If someone confronts you about whether you’ve taken a picture of them, or included them in your shot or video footage, offer to erase the photo.  In almost every case they won’t actually take you up on this; they just want some reassurance that you’re a tourist and not a voyeur.  If they do take you up on it, then wait until they’re out of the picture, so to speak, and re-shoot.  It’s a lot faster than arguing with someone and getting yourself significantly distressed.

Watch what others are doing.  If there are signs or graphics around a place indicating that photography isn’t allowed, take a look at whether others are shooting photos anyway.  I have been in museums or churches that officially ban photography (and state so right on the front door), yet people were taking pictures left and right and no one stopped them.  If you want the same picture everyone else is taking, then take it.  The worst that can happen is that a grounds person comes by and chastises the whole lot of you.

The opposite can hold true for military buildings and embassies.  Military buildings can be surprisingly difficult to recognize, and it’s usually understood that absolutely no pictures can be taken even if there are no signs indicating such.  Embassy districts are usually filled with attractive buildings and landscapes that make for great picture opportunities, but keep in mind that they often prohibit photography as well.

In poor areas where local or indigenous people depend heavily on tourists for economic survival, check to see if you’re expected to pay to take a photograph (of a person, place, or item).  Save yourself embarrassment and stress by abiding by the rules.

Don't get stressed out: these Moscow port-o-potties smell as nice as freshly carved matryoshka dolls

Imagine my embarrassment when I stopped to take a quick picture of these cool port-o-potties in Moscow, then thought in horror that the woman to the left forgot to close the door for herself (she was just the babuskha collecting the rubles)

Special Post: Photos of Istanbul, Frankfurt, Rome, Casablanca, Lisbon, and Athens

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year!

Enjoy! 🙂

Beautiful Casablanca

Beautiful Casablanca, Morocco

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Bozdogan Kemeri (Aqueduct), Istanbul, Turkey

Bozdogan Kemeri (Aqueduct), Istanbul, Turkey

Eminonu, Istanbul, Turkey

Eminonu, Istanbul, Turkey

Cruising the Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey

Cruising the Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey

Miniaturk, Istanbul

Miniaturk, Istanbul

A model of the Fortress of Europe, Istanbul

A model of the Fortress of Europe, Istanbul

The smallest mosque in the world lies in Miniaturk, Istanbul

The smallest mosque in the world lies in Miniaturk, Istanbul

The ancient Turkish city of Marmara: larger than (em, in) life

The ancient Turkish city of Marmara: larger than (em, in) life

If you don't eat your hotel's continental breakfast, there are plenty of stray kittens in Istanbul who will!

If you don’t eat your hotel’s continental breakfast, there are plenty of stray kittens in Istanbul who will!

The stunning Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul

The stunning Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Beyoglu, Istanbul

Beyoglu, Istanbul

Looking out on the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Looking out on the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Roemer Square, Frankfurt, Germany

Roemer Square, Frankfurt, Germany

More of gorgeous Roemer Square

More of gorgeous Roemer Square

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany

Not something you see every day... in Frankfurt, Germany

Not something you see every day… in Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt Hbf (train station)

Frankfurt Hbf (train station)

Foro Romano, Rome, Italy

Foro Romano, Rome, Italy

Having fun in Rome

Rome: This is what I look like with no makeup and too much alcohol.  I have no idea who the woman is to the right

The Coliseum, Rome

The Coliseum, Rome
Foro Romano, Rome

Foro Romano, Rome

The Foro Romano

The Foro Romano

The Spanish Steps, Rome

The Spanish Steps, Rome

The view from the Spanish Steps

The view from the Spanish Steps

The Piazza di Spagna, Rome

The Piazza di Spagna, Rome

The Imperial Fora, Rome

The Imperial Fora, Rome

What Rome looks like when you're really jet-lagged

What Rome looks like when you’re really jet-lagged

I have no idea what this is! (Rome)

I have no idea what this is! (Rome)

A final shot of the wondrous Coliseum

A final shot of the wondrous Coliseum

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

Another view of the gorgeous mosque, right on the shores of the Atlantic

Another view of the gorgeous mosque, right on the shores of the Atlantic

Outside the medina in Casablanca, Morocco

Outside the medina in Casablanca, Morocco

The urban scene in Casablanca, Morocco

The urban scene in Casablanca, Morocco

People-watching in Casablanca

People-watching in Casablanca

The beach scene, Casablanca

The beach scene, Casablanca

Suburban mosque, Casablanca

Suburban mosque, Casablanca

Closest thing you get to a boardwalk in Casablanca

Closest thing you get to a boardwalk in Casablanca

Casablanca

Casablanca

The courtyard of Hassan II Mosque

The courtyard of Hassan II Mosque

Casablanca

Casablanca

Fishing off the African coast

Fishing off the African coast

The beach scene, Casablanca

The beach scene, Casablanca

Downtown Casablanca

Downtown Casablanca

Another view of Hassan II Mosque

Another view of Hassan II Mosque

Mohammad V Airport, Casablanca

Mohammad V Airport, Casablanca

Aerial of Casablanca

Aerial of Casablanca

Approaching Lisbon

Approaching Lisbon

The Golden Gate Bridge doppelganger: the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

The Golden Gate Bridge doppelganger: the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

The Monument to Discoveries, Lisbon

The Monument to Discoveries, Lisbon

Baixa District, Lisbon

Baixa District, Lisbon

The Lisbon tram

The Lisbon tram

Jeronimo Monastery, Lisbon

Jeronimo Monastery, Lisbon

Torre Belem, Lisbon

Torre Belem, Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

Aerial of Lisbon

Aerial of Lisbon

View of Athens from Filopappos Hill

View of Athens from Filopappos Hill

You don't really go to "the park" in Athens -- you go to "the rock"

You don’t really go to “the park” in Athens — you go to “the rock”

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View of the Acropolis, Athens

View of the Acropolis, Athens

Here I am after climbing to the top of Lykovittos Hill, Athens

Here I am after climbing to the top of Lykovittos Hill, Athens

Aerial of Athens

Aerial of Athens

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens

A final look at Athens and Lykovittos Hill

A final look at Athens and Lykovittos Hill

Special Photo Essay: How Stress Affects the Way We See Places

It’s no secret that stress and anxiety affect how you perceive your environment — particularly when you’re somewhere unfamiliar.  Your surroundings can look blurry, distorted, dull, glassy, and just plain intimidating when you’re nervous and overwhelmed.  The question is, just how different do things look when you’re under stress?

While in Istanbul a couple weeks ago, I stayed down the hall from a woman who didn’t leave her hotel room for two days because her journey was “just too much” and “not what she was expecting.”   She looked like she wanted to fall asleep in her bathtub with a good book and a glass of wine, and forget all the “adventures” just outside her door.  What did she — and other nervous travelers out there — see that others didn’t?  Here’s an exploration — and a reminder that our mind creates our own reality.

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1. People with a fear of flying can feel lightheaded and suffer blackouts, particularly during landing and take-off.  The world below can look dark and out of focus.  The reality?  Your plane window isn’t that dirty — and although it’s a lot to take in, that wonderful first view will be one of your longest-lasting memories.

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2. Surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar skylines, we may not get the full detail in front of us even if our vision is 20/20.  Why?  Our minds tend to “blur things out” to protect us from sensory overload.

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3. We tend to view people and our surroundings in more simplistic terms when we don’t understand the culture of the place we’re visiting.  Even though we know it’s not accurate, we can see only the outlines and colors of the unfamiliar instead of “the full picture.”

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4. Buildings we’ve never seen before can be intimidating and look distorted to us, while strangers may seem larger than life.

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5. We can struggle to bring even the most relaxing scenes into focus, and see only a clutter of dark objects in our ship’s path.

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6. We may be oblivious to detail even in less distracting environments — and may barely notice the sun shining down on us.

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7. Exotic locales can have a two-dimensional, mottled quality to them, like something we saw in a book long ago — and not quite real in front of us.

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8. We can revert to tunnel vision, especially when we see something that looks too precarious to be true.

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9. When we’re a bit turned around getting back to the hotel, we can literally feel pushed back or pulled forward by our surroundings — and we don’t even notice our reliable landmark in the distance.

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10. If just being at the airport stresses you out, you may see a tube of dread waiting out on the tarmac instead of the full picture.

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11. Know you have a stunning view outside your window? Look too hard, and you’ll see yourself staring back; relax, and you’ll be floating above the clouds.

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