I’ve been meaning to jot down my thoughts on this for a while, but I keep running into things that tweak my mental model about stress.

Recently, I watched some old home videos. Twenty years ago, my parents moved us into the home we still live in today. Around this time, my dad filmed a video of my brother and I walking the quarter mile from our house to a canal that runs through metropolitan Phoenix. It’s about a ten-minute walk that probably took us thirty as we stopped for a snack on a small berm of grass, waddled around with empty backpacks that hit the backs of our knees and ran at my dad fists clenched screaming “Power!” for some reason.


Over the last few years, I’ve done this walk, probably, several thousand times. Walking, which I previously thought was only for old folks or people with nothing better to do, is something I now cherish and serves as my focal point for both learning and introspection. The walk to the canal hasn’t changed much over the last two decades, in fact, barring new people moving into the neighborhood the most drastic change would be me. Now an unrecognizable twenty-four year old strolling down the side-walk, sometimes still with my father.

I’ve become quite accustomed to this walk; it’s a routine for me, and for better or worse I like routines. Sometimes I switch it up, try a different path, walk to a different neighborhood; I like to pick out things that I’ve never noticed before each time to keep myself present. I’m comfortable; I find myself slipping into this state of comfortability, time passes by quickly. Walking in a new place alters time for me, my normal walk feels smooth I know where to go, I don’t even think, and before I know it I’m home again. A new place ‘slows’ down time.


Over the last year, I’ve suddenly begun to struggle with new places. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in this period and, for the first time in my life, primarily by myself. Instead of taking on the whimsical nature of four-year-old me carelessly walking to the canal, I’ve become rigid. I have an underlying level of stress I can’t shake. Dealing with crowded places, meeting new people, taking in new sights; in my head I’m certain these are valuable moments. Yet I can’t shake the tension in the back of my neck, the nervous thoughts of what if I get sick, what if a lose my passport, what if I twist my ankle. These thoughts culminate in a panic that ebbs and flows coming to peaks in enclosed spaces where I have to sit for a while (restaurants, airplanes, etc…). Instead of enjoying these experiences, I usually just want to go home where I feel safe.

My initial reaction was that I had some kind of disease. The nervousness, loss of appetite and sweaty palms felt like I had a stomach flu. Yet the consistent pattern these symptoms lead me to believe I was just panicking. My concern for my health quickly turned to anger, why are you ruining this for yourself? Why can’t you just sit through a nice dinner with your family? Why are you shaking in the Uber to the airport? Just snap out of it. Shaming myself was not a successful strategy and did nothing to address the root cause of the problem.

Root Causing

Part of the reason I’ve struggled to write this is because I’m still working through it. I have a better understanding of what’s going on, and I’m much kinder to myself and can calm myself down. However, I’m still unnerved when I’m traveling and I’m still figuring out a root cause(s).

  1. I’m doing a lot of new things fully on my own and assuming the risk and responsibility in doing so.

  2. I think I’m social and outgoing, but I did spend 18 months between 2020 and 2021 almost completely isolated from social interaction outside of my parents.

  3. During those 18 months, I would rarely leave home outside of going for my walks or bike rides, spending the rest of the time studying.

  4. I put immense pressure on myself at work, currently, my work is one of the few avenues I have to get approval from other people I respect, and I value approval/recognition more than my monetary compensation.

  5. A sense of urgency around staying up to date with new technologies and everything that’s going on in the world; I feel that taking time to relax is causing me to regress and will be detrimental to my long-term happiness (I know this is wrong but struggling to shake it).

I’m trying to find a middle ground between the happy, curious, unknowing toddler and the ridged, white knuckled, and loss-averse adult that I’ve found myself becoming.