Six Anxiety Settings Every Medical Traveler Can Relate To

April 16, 2019


Stephanie Goraczkowski

Medical travelers are no strangers to experiencing anxiousness. Whether they’re helping a patient treat their anxiety or grappling with their own forms of anxiety, there are a lot of aspects in medical traveler jobs that can trigger anything from panic attacks to OCD.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (18%) have an anxiety disorder. Medical traveler assignments can bring on stress, not only from your job but from traveling as well. In fact, the number one issue with travel anxiety is a fear of flying, according to Calm Clinic.

Maybe you’re totally fine soaring in the sky, but you experience anxiety from engaging with your fellow airplane passengers. Anxiety wears many hats and comes in different forms and situations.


Six Anxiety Settings Every Medical Traveler Can Relate To


To start, there are six main types of anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety Disorder. Any form of anxiety can completely change how you interact or behave with other people and the environment around you. I am not a mental health expert, so I’ve compiled research from actual mental health professionals to help break down the differences and the most common questions from medical travelers who are experiencing anxiety.




Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

How common is it? More than 3 million U.S. cases per year.

GAD can be similar to panic disorder, OCD and other types of anxiety, and it usually presents itself with severe and ongoing anxiety symptoms that can get in the way of your everyday life. If you have GAD, you may be restless or nervous a lot, constantly worry about the small things, and have a hard time sleeping or concentrating on tasks.


How GAD can affect a medical traveler…

GAD can be hard to narrow down and recognize, because sometimes medical travelers don’t look at themselves as worried or anxious people. You chalk it up to everyday stress, because with a career as a medical traveler, everyday stress can already be pretty prevalent. It’s “just part of the job” right? GAD can lead to cognitive distortions, meaning it’s hard to see the scenario as-is. Instead, you’re focused on the inevitable, exacerbated mess that comes with the scenario. It’s called “catastrophizing” and it means you can’t see a stressful event getting better, only getting worse.

So if you work in a medical field where there are constant stressors and big events (like, people’s lives and health) to deal with, learning to recognize cognitive distortions can help you cope in the day-to-day. Seeking cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help treat your anxiety in the long run.




Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

How common is it? More than 200,000 U.S. cases per year.

OCD is a common and chronic condition where you experience reoccurring, uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts that can lead to compulsive behaviors. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the U.S. experience OCD. Many people with OCD already recognize that their compulsions are not rational, though they still feel the need to go through with the behavior. OCD cannot be cured, although there are treatments that can help ease OCD symptoms.


How OCD can affect a medical traveler…

Some of the most common obsessions for those with OCD are: the need for symmetry, and concerns about contamination and cleanliness. Fear of germs is a very common OCD theme, so if you work in the medical industry and with patients where contamination and cleanliness are key factors in your profession on a day-to-day basis, OCD can truly affect your performance as a medical professional when untreated. Because OCD is a compulsion disorder, the need to perform ritual-based activities can get out of hand and affect your ability to work, socialize, and travel.




Panic Disorder (PD)

How common is it? Nearly 5 percent of the U.S. is affected.

Panic Disorder is diagnosed when someone has a spontaneous panic attack and is very stressed about a reoccurring attack happening. Although a panic attack is very common in several people, reoccurring panic attacks are rarer. There is a myth and hype around the wording that panic attacks are a reaction to stress and anxiety. For instance, when someone says, “Oh I was so scared I almost had a panic attack,” this implies that a person with PD has control over their panic symptoms, which isn’t true. Because PD is a disorder in which someone has random attacks with out warning, there’s simply no way they would have control over experiencing them.


How Panic Disorder can affect a medical traveler…

“What happens if I have a panic attack while flying?” Flying or traveling in general can cause a lot of stress on its own. But remember- PD isn’t brought on alone by stress and panic; it’s the fear of reoccurrence that causes PD. If you’re experiencing a panic attack, it doesn’t automatically mean you have PD. Panic attacks are only a symptom of PD. In fact, panic attacks are symptoms of other conditions too, like GAD, various phobias, OCD, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and depression. If you’re experiencing a panic attack while flying, you might have a fear of flying or another phobia from the conditions of being on a plane or traveling.

Although PD is basically a merry-go-round of panicking, in which you are panicked about having a panic attack, it really is manageable. Panic attacks may not totally go away, but you can learn to cope with your attacks as they come or handle them in various environments so they are less debilitating.




Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

How common is it? More than 3 million U.S. cases per year.

PTSD develops when you have difficulty after experiencing or seeing trauma or a terrifying event. PTSD can trigger nightmares of the event you witnessed or experienced, and it can trigger memories relating to the event. Anxiety and depression can also occur when you experience a new event that mimics the trauma or triggers memories of the original trauma.


How PTSD can affect a medical traveler…

Although all medical practitioners are at risk of developing PTSD, there is an increased chance for PTSD in medical professionals who work in emergency medicine or the ER. If you’re working in emergency medicine, you’re frequently and regularly working in trauma situations. You’re exposed to illness, violence, tragedy, and death outcomes far more than an average person and you’re expected to help make difficult, life-changing decisions within seconds. There are a lot of telltale statistics for PTSD among medical emergency professionals. Emergency physicians experience higher rates of burnout during their careers, around 65%. These stats have led a movement to improve mental health among healthcare professionals with more resources to help medical professionals treat their PTSD and identify the symptoms.





How common is it? More than 200,000 U.S. cases per year.

Agoraphobia is triggered from being in large open spaces, crowds, or with traveling. The triggers and anxiety very person to person. It can be heightened by the fear of social embarrassment from the actual panic, since a panic attack can occur from these triggers and make one appear upset to others in public. This basically puts you in a sort of merry-go-round of anxiety, similar to PD.


How Agoraphobia can affect a medical traveler…

The key operative word in this anxiety disorder is TRAVEL. Agoraphobes have a fear of situational circumstances where they feel trapped or helpless. As a medical traveler, traveling is part of the whole operative, but for an agoraphobic medical traveler, going anywhere from the grocery store to Greece could be an issue. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage panic attacks, travel anxiety, and reshape your thoughts surrounding spaces that trigger your panic.



Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder

How common is it? Nearly 7 percent of the U.S. is affected.

Social anxiety is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today. When you have social anxiety disorder, interacting with other people can be difficult. Even everyday conversations can be triggering, depending on the severity of the anxiety. Some of the main triggers include being introduced to new people, criticism, being the center focus of attention, public speaking, and being observed during a task. Social anxiety is common with a lot of medical travelers when first starting a travel assignment.


How Social Anxiety Disorder can affect a medical traveler…

Medical travelers with social anxiety have their own challenges when learning to cope with this type of anxiety. Some medical jobs, like nursing, are some of the most people-focused jobs you can have, so struggling with social anxiety disorder as a nurse can affect the way you work with patients. Additionally, hospital settings are operative on teamwork and communication. If chatting with your colleagues and patients triggers anxiety, it’s important to recognize that your anxiety is rooted in feelings. This can help you start to navigate your nervous emotions easier, helping to lessen the affects of your social anxiety. Additional help from cognitive behavioral therapy can help you engage in slightly anxiety-inducing settings so you can learn new ways of coping and problem-solving.

Joining groups to flex your social and professional muscles can help you deal with social anxiety disorder. Professional organizations like, APTA, AOTA, and NSNA are good ways to dip your toes in the water and control just how much you want to socialize in your environment.

“Can I be a travel nurse with social anxiety?” LTC RN travel can be a very stressful job and social anxiety doesn’t make that any easier. However, social anxiety can build up over time while you’re in a specific environment, so travel nurse jobs can actually help you find a new city, hospital or location to improve your anxiety.




The last thing you need to worry about is worrying. Calm Clinic has a lot of resources, articles and other info you can read to understand several different types of anxiety and how they could be affecting you.

They even have an anxiety guide with a built-in anxiety test so you can see how your anxiety compares to others, and how you can alleviate it. If you think anxiety is causing a bump in the road to pursuing your goals and passions, reach out to a professional for help.


All images are part of the 2016 #acknowledgeanxiety project and are illustrated by Pranita Kocharekar.

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