The world: can it ever be our oyster again?



I always found the process of going on holiday, especially when life is very busy just before going very stressful. But lately, a new category of distress seems to be emerging on social media; Travel anxiety! It certainly resonated with me this week. Reports of long queues in airports, flight delays and cancellations, a number of people coming down with covid after travelling and the more general social disarray, it is no wonder that many of us are feeling anxious before travelling. The world has perhaps never been a safe place, but there were certainly enough people around pre-covid who thought that the world was their oyster. Not anymore! The oyster analogy is particularly pertinent for me, as, as much as I used to love oysters, I cannot eat them anymore, I am highly allergic!

The other metaphor that comes to mind when thinking about travel anxiety in the supposed post corona era is that of a whirlwind. Life can feel like having been put in the tumble dryer when preparing to travel. Too many tasks to complete, too many complicated arrangements to take care of in order to facilitate travelling. So, it is no surprise really that so many of us arrive at our destination with our immune systems compromised from the high levels of anxiety that organising a holiday has generated. Our nervous system is not keen on whirlwinds, especially those of the lasting variety!

Attachment theory is largely widespread outside psychoanalysis nowadays, in areas such as parenting and education and others, in an attempt to understand how the formation of key affectionate bonds in childhood affect us for life. In its simplified form, attachment theory specifies four styles of attachment formed in early childhood; the secure attachment style when union and separation from a key caregiver have been emotionally safe and therefore, the person can navigate such events in adult life allowing for a range of feelings, but trusting that they will get help and support; avoidant attachment style, when a child is taught far too early to be autonomous and not to express their feelings, and so they may appear content when separating from their caregiver and indifferent when they are reunited; preoccupied or ambivalent style, when a caregiver has been giving mixed messages to a child, appearing warm and affectionate in some instances, but unreliable in others. As a result, the adult with such attachment style will be both intense and ambivalent about relationships; the disorganised attachment style, when some form of abuse has taken place in childhood and so the child becomes utterly confused, as the adult who has abused them is also the adult they rely on for care; This is an attachment style formed in trauma and so the adult’s mental health is likely to be compromised. They are likely to seek out relationships which are ultimately damaging to them.

Holidays, and in particular the longer summer holidays, the time when many of our friends are dispersed in different parts of the world, bring out our predominant attachment styles, and if these were insecure, they are bound to generate a degree of anxiety. The collective trauma which has been covid though is likely to generate a whirlwind type of anxiety for many of us, resembling the traumatised disorganised style of attachment. Is travel going to help us strengthen our affectionate bonds or is it going to damage us or even kill us? These are valid worries based on the state of the world in the last couple of years. Of course, those who are more secure in themselves can still make thoughtful decisions about what has priority and allow for time to unwind and connect with friends and family. Some will not even attempt to travel, as the anxiety will prove too much. But for most of us, the pertinent question remains: Can the world ever be our oyster again?

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