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  • Writer's pictureEllie Mae

Why I won't let my travel anxiety stop me from reaching my goal of Formula 1

Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms. According to WebMD, travel anxiety is ‘the fear of visiting an unfamiliar place’. Often, it’s linked with Agoraphobia, which is a fear of ‘being in situations where escape might be difficult or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong’ (NHS).


 

Travelling to different UK cities to see The Vamps with my friends was once an escape for me - my safe place. I loved it. I still love going to see The Vamps - and they were actually the first band I saw live in an indoor venue since before COVID (I wrote about that here) - but the only travelling I did was into the city centre. The thought of leaving different cities to come home was actually a bit upsetting - you know, leaving that safe place. Now, the thought of travelling to any city that isn't home - and as much as I hate to admit it - is scary. It only took one bad experience for this to change. This is what travel anxiety has done to me.


And, how is someone who is so scared of leaving their comfort zone, their safe space, ever going to be able to work in Formula 1? A sport which revolves around travelling the world, taking trains, planes, and car rides across countries and continents and being away from home for long periods of time? Honestly, I don’t really know. But I think I’m on my way to finding out.


On social media, I’m really open about my mental health. Have I just had to get off the bus because I was beginning to feel trapped and it became overwhelming? I’ll tweet about it. Have I just woken up in the middle of night in a state of panic over nothing apparent? I’ll tweet about that, too. I don’t think there should be any form of stigma around talking about your mental health. We need to look after ourselves and who knows, my tweet which involves me crying over the bus might help someone without them (or me) even realising it. It might seem insignificant to some people because yes, getting on any form of public transport is a fairly mundane task, but some days are harder than others.


And yes, joking about crying on the bus is a coping mechanism but when it’s actually playing out in real time, I’m crying because I’m a bit anxious.


I feel like I’m always talking about my mental health – in some capacity – online. I take medication daily for my anxiety - and making that decision was the best decision for me - and I’m really open about that, too. I want everyone else in my position to feel comfortable enough to one day be able to talk about what they deal with.

 

What started out as a passion project to coincide with my uni studies has become something quite serious. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but for a few years, I was adamant that journalism wasn’t really for me. Then, I found something I was interested in, and my voice, and that was it. In only 18 months of writing, I’ve been given some amazing opportunities. I’ve had the chance to network and speak to some wonderful people in the motorsport industry. Hearing their stories and what they love about this sport is an honour. But, there are things we probably don’t talk about enough, and those things can be really personal, like mental health. I believe it’s important to create a safe space both in the industry and in the fandom to encourage discussion like this.


I never considered Formula 1 - or any area of motorsport - as a potential career path for me. Working in an area of the media has been a goal of mine since I was a teenager, but sport media became a potential goal for me during the first COVID lockdown in 2020. Barely a goal - more like an idea. I’ve grown up in a household of sport – predominantly football – fans, but I never took that much of a liking to it. Things are a bit different now; I can’t really imagine myself working in anything that’s not sport in the next 10 years. Even if it’s not my place forever, I want to spend some time working in sport.


Mental health has been a topic of conversation in Formula 1 for a while now. There’s still some sort of taboo around mental health, and even more so when it’s mental health in F1. I think the male dominance we’ve seen in the sport for years since its inception probably has a lot to answer for; you know, ‘boys don’t cry’. There’s a lot to unpack from those three words and the harmful stereotypes that come hand-in-hand with them. And, I think in a male-dominated industry like the motorsport one, we need to do more to break the stereotypes down.


I’m lucky to feel comfortable talking out about my mental health. Many people who struggle with their mental health also struggle with speaking out. That’s one of the many reasons I hope reading about my struggles could potentially add to a safer environment for others who are finding it hard to deal with their mental health.


So, going back to the overall premise of this article: my travel anxiety.


It’s not something I want to deal with, but unfortunately, one bad experience changed the way I see travelling, and the sole thought of leaving home is more stressful than exciting. For the majority of my life, it never was that way. Which is why it’s hard to even know where to start to make it all go away, and for everything to be ‘normal’ again. I think it’ll probably be a little while until it’s ‘normal’ at all.


I’ve lived with anxiety for long enough now to know that it won’t just disappear overnight, there’s no quick fix, and different aspects of my anxiety will probably stay with me forever.


It’s not that I’d rather avoid getting on a plane because I’m afraid of flying, it’s more the sensation of feeling trapped and not being able to do anything about it whilst in the air. As a good friend always tells me, it’s not like I’d want to get off the plane mid-flight anyway. It’s a little beside the point, but it’s true. She makes a good point.


There is probably no coherent way in which to express how travel anxiety makes me feel. It’s overly infuriating to wake up one day, knowing that I need to go out, but begin to feel anxious at the thought of being alone on the bus for 15 minutes. And, 9 times out of 10, that bus ride is fine, and very easy. AirPods in, music turned up so loud that the rest of the bus can probably hear whatever I’m listening to, and I’m off in 15 minutes. Then, when I’m off the bus, I think ‘why was I so nervous about that?’. There was nothing to worry about and I’m free to go about my business. The bus home is always easier.


I think – and I’m honestly not entirely sure because in this situation it’s not so easy to figure all the fine details out – that my fear is feeling alone and not knowing how to deal with the more extreme feelings of anxiety. And I know that when you’re travelling the world with Formula 1 – or in any motorsport series – that there’s always someone nearby. Being away for 23 race weekends out of a potential 52 means that the relationships you create quickly become like the ones you’ve known your entire life.


I saw a quote on Instagram which read, ‘a comfort zone is beautiful place… but nothing grows there’; and on the same page another one, ‘don’t let what you’re afraid of keep you from what you were made for’.


 

When I was doing my A Levels and applying for university, all I knew was that I wanted to work in the media. I didn’t have a proper end goal; ‘the media’ is very broad. Then, I started writing for fun and now it’s become a little (very) serious, and it’s like I’ve finally figured out what it is that I’m destined to do.


So, if, hypothetically speaking, I was given the opportunity to fly out to an upcoming European race and spend the weekend working in the paddock, what would I do?


As a young writer at the beginning of her career in motorsport, turning down an opportunity like that wouldn’t be an option. But, right now, saying yes – although this is what I want to call my full-time job one day – would be difficult. It’s not to say that I would absolutely shut the opportunity down without thinking about it, but more that it would be an opportunity to really push myself. Down the line, I’ll be able to look back and see how much I’ve grown. That’s an important part about mental health, and especially for me.


Like we all have physical health, we all have mental health, too. People look after theirs in different ways; ‘self-care’ doesn’t look the same for everyone. We are all human and we are all wired in the same way, whether we work in Formula 1 or not. It’s important for me to be honest with myself and with others – whether that be friends and family (either IRL or online), as well as friends and other connections working in the motorsport industry – as part of my journey.


No matter my struggles, I will not let them get in the way of what I want to dedicate my life to. Working in motorsport is not glamorous – I’ve had many people tell me that – and it’s not something you can just decide you want to work towards on a whim. Working in Formula 1 requires sacrifices.


But when it’s something you dream of doing, even the thought of making those sacrifices feels a little more real. Stepping out of my comfort zone is – right now – the biggest sacrifice I’m going to make. And I’ll be making plenty others on my journey.


This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.


So, I think there’s no other appropriate way to sign off: I’ll see you from an F1 paddock soon, friends.

 

Cover image: Michael Regan, Getty Images

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