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Travel OCD: Compulsively checking your passport

Compulsively checking your passport may feel like it’s necessary or it will relieve anxiety, but it’s actually a source of anxiety and another particularly disturbing symptom: depersonalization. So it’s useful to cut out checking compulsions like this when you’re traveling (unless, of course, you’d like to start doubting whether you even exist at all). 

When I struggled with my mental health, I would obsess about whether I was really me and my ID was really mine. I share about that experience and the usefulness of cutting out checking compulsions in this video: 

Why does checking your passport fuel OCD and depersonalization?

It’s the same with any compulsions that’s bad for our mental health: the more we react to uncertainty by engaging in checking and control compulsions, the more the brain gives us uncertainties to check. 

This is the same principle that gets us into struggling with panic attacks on airplanes (or trains or buses or rooms or wherever). That checking and controlling naturally leads to more of what terrifies us. If you’re struggling with panic attacks, check out this article: Getting over the fear of panic attacks on planes.

What about checking your passport to make sure you have it?

My brain loved checking for keys, my wallet, whether the door was locked, the taps were off, appliances unplugged, stove not still on, and, of course, whether I had my passport. And then I’d worry that checking for my passport might’ve caused me to drop it. So I would check more! 

You may not be checking that your passport belongs to you, but all of that other checking is going to result in the same problems: more uncertainty, more paranoia, more intrusive thoughts about terrible things happening, and more time spent checking. 

What can you do instead of compulsively checking to relieve anxiety?

The solution is not to do things like take photos of things: Taking photos of appliances to relieve travel anxiety 

Instead, cutting out the checking, throughout our lives, is actually what leads to less uncertainty and less anxiety about these things. It’s also going to make for better travelling.  Whatever we’re practicing on the lead-up to the trip, will be difficult to stop once we’re on it. So if preparation is a whole bunch of compulsions, the brain will be looking for more uncertainties to control when you’re off on your adventure. 

In the days and weeks before your trip, practice embracing uncertainty. A great exercise for this is to practice not checking your phone when you get the urge. Notice that urge to check, catch it, and choose to give your attention to something else. Decide when you will check your phone, but do it on your terms, and try to make it about giving. Send something. Sharing something. As you work on those skills, practice applying them to the uncertainties and urges your brain throws up about your trip. 

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