As much as I love to travel, one thing people don’t really know, is that I actually dread it as well. Yup. The traveler has travel anxiety.
Statistically, we know that flying is the safest form on transportation. Hence the reason as to why there is such much taboo about this topic. And it is something I’ve been quite hesitant to write about, but then I thought to myself “Heck, you experience this EVERY TIME you travel, why not talk about it?”
It’s something that, no matter how many times I do it, how well each flight goes, there’s this one little trigger in my mind that tells me that shit MIGHT just go wrong.
I, for one, have been told that “you’re fine. It’s all in your head.”
Take note people: this is the WORST thing you can say to someone having a full-blown panic attack 10,000 feet in the air.
So I am here to break those barriers for those who do experience this, just like I do. Or if you don’t, hopefully to help open your mind in ways to understand those who do experience this fear and how to help.
Everyone who has flight anxiety has a story to tell— that one instance that ruined flying for them.
It wasn’t always like this. I used to LOVE going on a plane. And the funny thing is that this is when I would travel LESS (maybe once a year?)
Mine was an extremely turbulent flight coming out of Chicago.
It was a 4 hour flight from Chicago to SFO in the winter. All was fine, until we hit an air pocket. One sudden drop on the plane, and then all hell broke lose. This was the first time I had ever experienced turbulence. And boy was it NOT mild. It was pretty bad. I felt like I was being shaken in my Vitamix!😮
I was sweating, my heart was racing, and I was praying. It was a full blown panic attack. My first one, at that! It was the worst place to have a panic attack, let alone the first for someone! it was so bad that the flight attendants couldn’t serve us food or drinks during the flight. Now, I'm sure it wasn't as long it actually was, but it being my first time, It felt like it lasted forever and a day. There was nowhere I could go, and nothing I could do. I felt helpless.
Was I hurt? No. But had I not had my seatbelt fastened, I would have probably been tossed up to the ceiling like popcorn. Never had I ever fastened my seatbelt so tightly in my life.
This is when I realized my trigger: turbulence.
After this, I was so traumatized that I actually steered away from traveling by plane for a solid year. And this was probably one of my biggest regrets. So much time and places to have seen wasted. But this was the time it took for me learn about myself, face my fears, and get on a plane again. But after this, I promised myself that I would never let this fear stop me from seeing the world.
So here area my 10 tips to face travel anxiety:
1. Know your trigger
By knowing what it is that causes you to break a sweat when traveling is an important step in tackling your way as you face your travel fears. There are many aspects in traveling that can cause fears: take off/landing, turbulence, claustrophobia, the idea that you are sharing the air in a tiny space with hundreds of other people, the thought of things just going bad overall. It helps to do a bit of research in realizing that some of these fears may just be irrational.
For example: When I realized my huge fear of turbulence, I went ahead and started to read about it. FACTS about it. After that, I realized how normal of a part of flying it is. Now, I am not going to say that I am perfectly fine every time I get shaken up by turbulence in the air. But I can say that I feel a lot better knowing that this is a normal thing, and that planes are made to withstand conditions far more severe than just turbulence; that even though it feels like it's going to fall apart and crash. It's NOT going to.
2. Be prepared
Now that you know your trigger, prepare yourself that it may or may not happen during your flight. If you are one of those who fears take off, or landing, you know that those will have to happen, hehe.. So being aware of this, and having a plan with coping skills ready beforehand will help ease your fears.
For example: Whenever we hit turbulence, and i feel myself getting nervous, I visualize myself being in a car. Because I know that turbulence is as normal as hitting a bump while I'm in the car, I start to calm down.
Also, being prepared by making yourself as comfortable as you can during the trip is a great way to relieve anxiety (comfortable/breathable clothing, your trusty travel pillow, noise cancelling headphones, etc).
3. Familiarize yourself with airplane facts
Much of flight anxiety originates from not knowing the facts, thus causing the negative "What if?" thoughts.
A big thing that people get nervous about are the noises they make. Airplanes are highly complex machines with many moving parts that make various sounds. This can be quite unsettling for the nervous traveler (like me). Just like the above, sometimes a little bit of knowledge on the in's and out's of flying can help reduce the tension in your nerves.
This link has helped me a lot in learning the noises that planes make, and has made me less nervous.
Also, know that your drive to the airport is the probably the most dangerous part of your travel day. Your chance in being in air disaster is approx. 1 in 5 MILLION. That's WAAAAY more than if you were in a car. Yet we are still afraid. Makes no sense, right? Nope. That's why I always ALWAYS have to remind myself of this.
Also, knowing other facts such as the fact that those huge wings don't snap off! Planes can run on one engine (they have two), so it will NOT just plummet from the sky.
4. Check the weather/turbulence reports
I know, the idea of a plane shaking 30,000 ft in the air can be quite unsettling. But having an idea why/when it may happen, can help reduce the anxiety. Turbulence can be caused by changes in weather conditions. Certain weather/wind patterns can cause more turbulence, or a different kind of turbulence. So knowing what you're going into, can ease the nerves. However, it is also important to know that not all turbulence can be predicted. So just try to be prepared, as much as you can. Pilots will adjust speeds/altitudes to weather patterns. They also, will usually, give you a warning. If they are aware, they will announce what you can expect from the flight.
Just make sure to wear your seatbelt at all times :)
5. Don't fight it
Believe it or not, fighting your feelings can actually exacerbate it. If you are on a flight and you start to feel these emotions of anxiety, acknowledge it. Take a moment and tell yourself that these feelings are here; and even though it will be tricky, you are going to go through it.
Once you've accepted that you are in the moment of anxiety, it helps to say to yourself that the feelings will pass, and that you are safe.
Say "This will pass. I am safe" Breathe. Repeat.
This one probably sounds like a no-brainer to many, but it' actually not.
People in high levels of stress tend to hyperventilate, and if not managed well, can faint. Avoid this by focusing on your breathing pattern.
Start by taking a deep long, deep breath. Then purse your lips, to allow slow release of air as you exhale. Pay attention to each breath: count, and be mindful of your effort. Feel your diaphragm descend, lungs and stomach fill with air, and slowly release.
Doing this will help you feel being in control, and reduce your heart rate(another sign of stress).
Practicing this before getting on your flight is essential, as it can sometimes be difficult to start doing when already in a high level of stress.
One of the oldest trick in the books, but definitely works for me. Whenever I start to feel my palms getting sweaty, I think about my destination. I think about where I'm going and what I am going to do in that destination. By focusing on something that is positive, you keep your mind from wandering.
Focusing your energy on something else is one way to help manage your anxiety. Bring your attention to other activities such as games, movies, or good reading material.
In an article from The Telegraph, a pilot gives advice stating that writing your name on a piece of paper over and over with your non-dominant hand is a great way to distract yourself from noticing the sudden changes in altitude. The thinking behind this is that by focusing on a task that is extra hard to do, especially because it crosses over the motor function in the brain (unless you're ambidextrous) helps disrupt the thinking.
9. Travel with someone
Having another person to travel with is quite important if you are a nervous flyer. Just having that person to be there to acknowledge your feelings, make you feel comfortable, and help calm you down is a huge help in reducing your anxiety.
Not many people have the luxury of being able to have someone to travel with. So if you are traveling alone, have a little chat with the flight attendant beforehand, and let them know that you do get anxious. More often than not, they will try to accommodate your needs.
10. Relaxing remedies
Contradictory to common practice of drinking alcohol to reduce nerves, it is actually advised not to drink alcohol prior to or during a flight. Drinking can leave you more dehydrated. However, if you really do plan on having a drink, go ahead. Just don't get plastered, as you still do have to think about the thereafter of your flight---a hangover while still in mid-air, traveling to your destination, or trying to find your luggage? No thanks.
Have a good meal and some relaxing tea.
I personally like to use CBD to relax myself prior to a flight.
CBD is chemical found in marijuana. It doesn't have THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that causes the feeling of a high.
The nice thing about using CBD is that you don't feel high. I just feel more calm, and am more patient.
Warning: do your research, and find out if CBD is legal in a place you are traveling to/from.Sold in liquid tincture bottles, it can be put in food or drinks. However, if you don't want to bring them around in bottles, they do come in other forms: cookies/tea.
Also: Don't make the day of the flight the first time you try it. Try it first on a low stress type of day. See how your body reacts.
11. Seek help
If you feel that your anxiety is severe, you don't have to do this alone. Seek some help: from a therapist, or your doctor. Seeking help from a therapist can help you identify your stresses and your needs for coping. Having discussed my concerns with my doctor, I have gone to the point of having to use medication in order to calm my nerves during a flight. Being that I am aware that medications needed to calm nerves can be quite addictive, this was a last resort type of thing for me. This is also why I prefer to have someone to travel with, given the effects of my medications.
Living with this disorder can be very challenging. But you shouldn’t let it be so debilitating that it holds you back from getting out there.
For some others, it gets easier the more they travel, but some others this may not be the case. However, being able to reach my destination, seeing the world, and experiencing beauty, is what makes the challenge very much worth it.
I hope these will be as helpful to you. If so, please share this article to help others deal with their travel anxiety.
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So what's your story? Learned any tips to reduce anxiety? Please share, I'd love to hear your experiences as well :)