Paralympic champion Anne Usher recently cycled around the world on a tandem with her husband Simon. You can read about her travels and see her amazing photos on her blog. Here, she writes about what she has learned from her travels. 

For me there’s a ‘change paradox’: I dread change. The anticipation of leaving my familiar routine is scary and stressful. The process of getting to where I am comfortable again is emotionally draining. But at the same time – and this is the paradox – I absolutely love spontaneity and new experiences because l know that what happens at the end is exciting; I know that it enriches my life and brings personal growth.

This adventure was my choice. The decision to go through a country change nine times was self-imposed. But I have had change imposed on me in the past, as I guess most people have. Learning how to handle change on this journey has been fascinating and a skill I will try and take with me into other situations. I’ve learnt that my ‘border anxiety’ follows a predictable pattern and in working this through I have identified some top tips to remind myself of every time change is looming.

These are my top tips for getting through the ‘border anxiety zone’ to the ‘smile zone’ as quickly as you can:

  1. It’s normal to be anxious: know that anxiety before change is normal. Try not to let it make you run the other way. Understand that it’s simply your brain trying to keep you safe by pointing out things that might go wrong. But remember that disaster isn’t inevitable, so aim to keep anxiety in perspective. Remember too that change can be exhausting, so avoid tiredness before a change.
  2. Be open about what makes you anxious: don’t hide your anxiety or get lost within it. We are all individual and we get anxious about different things. Know when you are worried and don’t pretend to be ok when actually you’re not. It’s only when you articulate what you’re anxious about that you, or those around you, can help you to work through those issues.
  3. Do your homework: prepare as well as you can, but don’t use unreliable sources or expect to know everything before you start. Preparation before you go is great but actually getting on with it and experiencing the ‘new reality’ is the best way to learn.
  4. Mentors are invaluable: find a trusted and experienced mentor or coach who can help you to navigate through the change. That could be formally or informally and sometimes it might be more than one person
  5. Comfort zones do expand: know that you will have both ups and downs, and that the downs won’t last forever. The anxious part of change will end as you become more confident; at which point you will be back in a new (albeit different) familiar place. The best bit is knowing that you will have grown and expanded your comfort zone through the process.
  6. Be nice to yourself: try not to make all the changes at once. Try to take something familiar with you, such as part of your old routine, which you value into the new place. For me in Cambodia I drank out of my favourite mug that I had been using for the last eight months and also tried to chose places to stay that had an English speaker and a workable bathroom. This makes sure it’s not such a culture shock and gives you a safe space to relax and recover.
  7. It’s easier with a friend: having Simon with me was brilliant. We learned new things together and picked up on different issues. We could also be there to point out the funny side of things, or rehearse the things we were learning in a safe space.

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