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Packing Anxiety

suitcaseAs I write, we are leaving for a trip this weekend overseas. The weather could be raining and cold or hot and muggy. I planned to start packing today. However, I decided to clean microscopic soap scum off the shower door instead. It feels much better to use a toothbrush to clean those tiny crevices in the shower than to contemplate packing. Nothing like a bit of obsessive compulsive behavior to ward off anxiety!

I don’t know about you, but after thousands of trips, I still dread packing. Even though most of our trips involve travel to the civilized world where you can buy most anything that you forgot—I worry about what to bring and then worry about what I possibly forgot. Did I pack the right connectors to my electronic devices? I have to bring a phone and a charger in case we get stranded in an airport in the US. Then I need to take my iPad with its charger and an adapter to use in another country. Technology adds complexity to packing.

In recent years, the challenge has been made worse by the current state of my wardrobe (guys can stop reading now). I’ll confess—for the past three years I have been a stay-at-home worker. Today, like most days, my career clothes include a 15 year old XL t-shirt with New Mexico Psychological Association written across the front. I have on an old pair of workout capris and a pair of plastic clogs. That’s pretty much what I wear most days. My clothing purchases over the past three years have been mainly limited to finding the perfect tennis shorts with pockets (to hold three balls in each), athletic shoes, and clothes to wear to the gym. So now, I am supposed to be packing for a 12 day trip that involves wearing “elegant casual.”

Well, I can do casual very well—but elegant? The thesaurus offers these synonyms of elegant: sophisticated, smart, stylish, well designed, well dressed, chic, classy, refined. Those adjectives do not match my wardrobe. And I hate shopping. Okay, how could I, as a cognitive behavioral therapist, deal with this dilemma? I would ask questions to help me discover a more adaptive way to deal with this problem.

Question: If you look back and try to remember all of your trips, how many outfits of other people do you recall?

Answer: None. I can’t think about any outfit worn by someone else even when I think about times that required dressing up.

Question: How important is it that you have a new stylish outfit for everyday?

Answer: Not very. I’d rather spend my money on something else.

Question: Can you find enough in your closet that will get you through this in a presentable manner?

Answer: Sure, I have some black pants and brown pants that I can wear a nice jacket over. I have enough jackets and shells from when I worked at an office to get by.

Question: When you get back from your trip what will you remember?

Answer: Certainly not what I wore. I’ll remember the fun of seeing new things, talking to interesting people, and experiencing a different culture.

Note to self: Thanks. I’ll go off and pack. I know that in terms of building happiness, it’s the experience that counts.

Photo by Lasse C, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Packing Anxiety

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2011). Packing Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Aug 2011
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