Your heart pounds in your chest. You can feel your pulse racing through your body. Anything you touch becomes soaked in sweat from you clammy hands. And the need to urinate appears again even though you just went 10 minutes ago.
You’ve tried pacing the long corridor, browsing in the shops and reading your now soaked magazine. Nothing is helping to calm your nerves and fight the disaster scenarios going on in your head.
What if there’s an emergency, a terror attack, turbulence, or god forbid a crash? How am I going to cope/react in these situations? How does it just stay up in the sky? Does that pilot look trustworthy? I’m going to be stuck on the plane with no escape for x amount of time.
If you’re like me, the above thoughts and actions are just the beginning in a long list pre-flight anxieties.
I love travelling, discovering new places and meeting people from all corners of the world. What I don’t like is having to board a plane to reach these places. Just the very thought makes my pulse race and I feel butterfly’s in my stomach.
So how have I managed to travel to over 20 countries in the past four years and board over 50 flights? Well, I’d love to say that it was easy, but truthfully it’s not. I’ve tried lots of different ways to cure my anxiety over the years and I have found that not one, but a combination of things works best for me.
So here they are, my top six tried and tested ways to help you combat travel anxiety.
First things first, get the new agey, sitting cross-legged, saying om om over and over, picture out of your head. Meditation means a lot more these days than just that. There are so many different forms of meditation, most of them are quick and simple things you can incorporate into your pre-travel life and while on the plane to help you stay calm and relax.
- Get an app – There a tons of free apps available that are perfect for beginners. The best ones to start with involve just listening to peaceful music or sounds from nature and breathing. Yes, just breathing, like you do all day, every day. I found using this technique for just 10 minutes a day helps me take control when I start to feel my pulse racing and my breath fastening.
- Mindfulness – This one you can do virtually anywhere and really helps you become more aware of and deal with, the sounds around you and the way they make you feel. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and be mindful. Ponder the sounds you hear in a non-judgemental way. Observe the discomfort at what you hear and feel and let it go.
- Mantras – Slowly repeating simple positive mantras in your mind is an easy way to calm yourself while on the plane. Basically a mantra is a short positive phrase. Repeating it over and over in your mind is supposed to make you believe what you are repeating. For example, my two most used mantras are ‘I am safe’, which I use during turbulence or when I am feeling unsafe and ‘I am calm’, for when I feel panicked or I feel like I’m about to lose control. Feel free to use either of these or make up your own, just be sure to keep it positive.
It is a proven medical fact that a moderate amount of regular exercise can have a significant effect on your anxiety and mood. Exercise reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins. A few months before you travel, or as early as you can, try to form a solid exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be anything overly strenuous and you don’t have to do anything you don’t like.
Just pick an exercise or sport that you enjoy and try to do it 3-5 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. I enjoy swimming, so I do that as often as I can. And when I’m not swimming you will find me walking. I try to incorporate walking into my daily routine so it doesn’t seem like as much of an effort. I walk to and from the train station when going to work rather than driving and at lunch time I try to get out of the office for a walk and some fresh air even if it is for only 10 minutes.
On the morning of or night before your flight go for a big walk. And then while you’re waiting in the departure lounge walk the long airport walkways back and forth and you will feel yourself calm. On the plane make sure you get up and stretch at least every two hours to make sure all of those feel-good endorphins are pumping through your body.
There are lots of ways to distract yourself while waiting to board and while on the plane. I have found most of them don’t work. So many people have told me over the years to just read a book or a magazine and I won’t even realise what’s going on around me. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. I simply can’t concentrate on reading when I am anxious.
For some people this might be all it takes to help them relax. But others, like me, need a little more distraction.
- · Talk – If you’re travelling with someone have a conversation. Before you fly think of some conversation starters that you know will have you both talking long enough to help you relax. Or better still retell the whole story of a great book you have just finished reading.
- · Serial Sevens – This one is simple. In your mind starting at 100, minus seven and then seven again and keep going until you get to the end, then start all over again until you feel calm. Unless you’re a mathematician, (assuming most of you are not) it will take quite a bit of concentration to do this exercise hence distracting you from the thoughts of doom in your head.
- · Use your imagination – Look around the plane at the other passengers and in your mind create a life for them. Think about where they might be from, where they are travelling to, why they are travelling and is that lady next to him his wife, girlfriend, sister or just a friend. But don’t stare, just have a quick glance around the plane.
4. Palm Cards
What really bothers you about flying? Is it that you don’t feel it is safe or you don’t understand how such a big heavy plane can stay in the sky? Do some research about flight safety, statistics and how the plane manages to stay in the sky and write these things on palm cards or even just a piece of paper.
Before you board the plane read you notes over and over again. When you’re on the plane, read them again. And keep reading them until you believe them. Keep them positive and read them often until you’re an expert. You will find some of those disaster scenarios running through your head will disappear the more your knowledge grows.
5. Take Control of your Muscles
You will know that when you are feeling tense or worried your muscle tense too. I find that as the plane is coasting down the runway for take-off my muscles become so tense it is almost impossible to relax them. So try taking control of them. Consciously tense your muscles for a few seconds and then let go. Leave your hands open and not clenched tightly to the armrest and try chewing gum to help loosen you jaw and stop you from grinding your teeth.
I never really noticed how tense my muscles were getting until I learnt to take control of them. I use to hold my husband’s hand on take-off so hard he would lose feeling. Now I just rest my hand on his arm and squeeze gently for a few seconds whenever I feel I am losing control.
If you have tried all of the above with no luck then my next suggestion is to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about prescription or herbal remedies that can help you relax. I am NOT a medical professional in any way so I am not going to tell you what you should be taking, but I have used a few different type of medication with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Different things will work differently for each person. When I first set off in 2010 I had a bottle of mild prescription anxiety pills with me which I did use three or four times with little to no effect. Then in London I discovered a very helpful herbal tablet that I still use to this day when dealing with anxiety and mild sleeplessness.
Taking medication of any sort is always my last resort when dealing with anxiety due to fear of flying and I must stress that you should ALWAYS speak with a medical professional before taking anything. If you do decide to go this route, try taking the pills once, a few weeks before travel in case you have a reaction to them. You don’t want to be ill and the reason for your flight being diverted and delayed.
I know that I will never be completely free of my fear of flying. But if I use a combination of the tips I provided above I can be more comfortable and relaxed before the flight, during take-off and turbulence. I do hope that with these tips you can be too. Not only can these tips be used to help you with anxiety from fear of flying, they can also be useful to help combat mild anxiety caused by everyday stresses of life.
Do you suffer from fear of flying? What techniques do you use to help you fulfil your passion for travel?
About the author:
Jen has been travelling most of her life, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the travel bug really started to bite. Images and stories from the adventures of family and friends around the world inspired her to sell her house in Sydney, put her belongs in storage and take off to Europe. This eventually led to a few years living and working in London, exploring Europe as much as she could. Since then she and her husband have visited over 20 countries on four continents with many more trips planned for the future. Jen’s website, The Trusted Traveller, is all about inspiring and informing fellow travellers and travel dreamers to get out there and see the world through destination guides and blog posts of her experiences. You can follow Jen on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.