Scroll through Jen Gotch’s Instagram and you’ll stumble upon a mascara-running, tear-stained, anxiety-induced photo of her face soon enough. The chief creative officer and founder of Ban.do, a Los Angeles-based accessories brand, has been very open—and we mean very open—about the anxiety and depression she has struggled with since her twenties. In an effort to kickstart and normalize conversations about mental health, she is incredibly candid with her 232K followers—a level of honesty not usually seen on the social media platform. And beyond sharing videos of her previous panic attacks and walking her followers through her lows as often as her highs, Gotch posts frequently about her travel anxiety, a roadblock for the C-suiter and founder who spends much of her time on the road for work.
Things that have triggered her travel anxiety in the past? A fear of hitting unexpected traffic, making it through TSA, finding her gate, getting on the wrong plane (she accidentally almost ended up in Chicago once), and so much more. In an Instagram Story posted last November, she shared how she was attempting to make it through the airport without a panic attack, stray tear, or breakdown. We caught up with Gotch to learn more about how she combats her anxiety on the road—and why she won’t let it get in the way of her love of travel.
When did your travel anxiety first show itself?
I had a really bad fear of flying that developed when I was in college, and I had my first anxiety attack in an airport. I told my parents about it and they say they had no idea what was happening. They thought it was hormones.
Much later, I ran into a friend on a layover. I was a mess—my thought was I had already been on one plane, and that by going on another one I was basically signing my death certificate and that we were definitely going down. She said, “Your odds of dying in your car in Los Angeles are so much greater than dying on this plane.” Immediately, my fear of flying was replaced by that thought. And I love being in the car!
Now, my travel anxiety is all logistic-based: all of a sudden, the feeling of being a little late for my flight, or on the wrong plane, or stuck in security, is very scary, which doesn’t make sense but anxiety sometimes doesn’t make sense.
What misconceptions do you face about travel anxiety?
I feel like there’s a general unawareness that travel anxiety is a thing. The first time I posted about it on Instagram, I was stunned by the amount of people who responded with “This happens to me and I had no idea what it was.” At the airport, I can just look around and see people struggling.
You’ve been really open about your travel anxiety on social media, and in November took a trip to Nashville that you shared was anxiety free. What steps have you taken to counter your travel anxiety? (Ed note: You can watch her Instagram Story here.)
On that trip in November, I started by setting the intention that I was not going to have crippling travel anxiety. The big thing about anxiety in general is identifying that it’s happening in your brain to protect you from danger; I just kept saying to myself, “I’m not in danger, thank you for your help.” Once you have those anxieties, the physical response comes so fast and it’s a really easy thing to indulge. It’s much harder to back out than it is to dig in, and learning and focusing on that really helps.
It also helps if I get to the airport super early. I’d rather be staring at the gate than rushing. I get there two hours early for domestic flights and I have TSA PreCheck, because anything to make me get through security faster and in a less stressful way is great. I highly recommend it: Applying is relatively easy, the lines are always shorter, and I don’t have to worry about taking shoes off or taking things out of my bag.
There are also lots of things you can take to reduce your anxiety, like Natural Calm (a magnesium supplement), CBD oil, and prescription medicines. For me, it’s a capsule collection of things—one singular thing has never worked for me.
The other thing with anxiety is that talking to someone is a huge help, and honestly, especially when its travel related, you could probably put your arm out and find someone. I also designed necklaces at Ban.do [that say “anxiety,” “depression,” and “bipolar”] to open up the conversation about mental health but also to say “let’s stick together.” I usually wear my “anxiety” necklace when I travel and it’s started a lot of conversations, because there’s a sort of safety in numbers, in not feeling alone during this time.
You’re traveling, a lot. It comes with your role at Ban.do. How do you approach your travel schedule for work or fun with your anxiety in mind?
I’ve traveled a lot this year—about a plane trip a month. In fact, I’ve traveled more than I’ve not traveled, mostly for work but visiting my family in Florida, too. And I don’t expect that to taper off. Before I started Ban.do, I was a stylist for many years, it’s always been a part of my existence.
My anxiety has never really stopped me. I feel like I’m a fighter. There’s never not going to be the potential for an episode but the more wins under my belt, the better.
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