Whether it hits you as you step onboard or as your flight takes off, plane-related anxiety can overcome you at any time. Manage your symptoms before it becomes a full-blown panic attack with these surprisingly calming hacks.
Flying can derail even the most resilient individuals. For some, it may be during the booking stage: ‘to book, or not to book?’. Then there’s the day-of dilemmas: ‘What if my bag weighs too much?’, ‘What if someone plants something in my bag?’, ‘Have I filled in all the right forms?’, ‘What if they don’t accept my visa?’
But for those who are particularly susceptible to flying-related anxiety, stress and panic attacks, the sheer thought of the journey is enough to derail the entire experience.
Now, we can’t promise any cures—a phobia is a phobia after all—but if you can take measures to alleviate an uncomfortable situation, why wouldn’t you? Read on for our calming tips to address your plane anxiety…
QUESTION WHAT TRIGGERS YOUR FEAR
Coming to grips with which part of the process brings about your anxiety allows you to prepare for a mental shift when that trigger is set off. When our breathing shallows, our palms get clammy and our chest gets tight, our thoughts become irrational and we tend to play out the worst case scenarios in our head. Coupled with elements specific to a plane – confined space, many people, the journey being out of your control – these symptoms of anxiety can feel extremely heightened.
Paul Dolan, PhD, economist and author of Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think, combines the practice of economics and psychology to illustrate that a primary reason for things bringing us unhappiness rests in the attention we give it. Furthermore, achieving happiness over time is balancing our actions of pleasure with actions of purpose. Categorically speaking, we know that flying reduces our pleasure but gives us a massive dose of purpose via destination, experience, etc.
DO focus on the outcome of your flight (purpose)
DON’T pay more attention to what triggers your anxiety than you need to
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Try to use the days leading up to your flight to remind yourself why you’ve booked your flight in the first place. Get the basic flight prep all organised in advance so you can focus on a curating a list of reasons why you’re looking forward to your trip to refer to when moments of stress kick in.
Read next: What to pack in your carry-on luggage
If it’s good enough for professional high-performance athletes, it’s good enough for you. Visualisation combines the power of managing your expectations with a healthy dose of self-belief. You know, if you can dream it, you can do it etc etc.
“Imagine yourself walking through the steps of taking a trip,” says Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. “From arriving to the airport to stepping off the plane after your flight, spend some time visualising yourself successfully getting through it.”
Contrary to what every article has ever written on this topic (usually written by someone who doesn’t have a fear of flying, we’ll bet), do not read the statistics on flying. Despite them working in your favour, by the way, trolling the data on what could happen, or statistically won’t happen, isn’t going to soothe your mind. If anything, it gives you more scenarios to contemplate in moments of stress even though they are almost certainly NEVER going to happen.
A reminder to acknowledge the ideas raised in point one: happiness, or unhappiness in this scenario, is derived from how much attention you pay to it. The more attention you give it, the more unhappy/fearful you will be.
DISTRACT YOURSELF AGAIN
Reading a good book, listening to your favourite music, flicking through a solid magazine or tuning out to watch a film can be the perfect vehicle to consume your mind and occupy your thoughts. Enter, the art of distraction. It’s these forms of entertainment that can transport you to another time or place and bring you joy when you’re feeling most vulnerable to derailing thoughts. While some flights won’t allow technology to be used during takeoff (which can arguably be one of the most stress-inducing moments), distracting yourself by focusing on your breath, what someone a few rows ahead of you is wearing, or even trying to remember every meal you had the past three days, can pass the time until you can pop on your headphones.
RECITE YOUR MANTRA
When the art of distraction fails you, whip out your list from point two and recite your list of reasons—or mantra if you have one—and bring them to life. You are okay. You’re smoking this fear like a boss. You have so much to be grateful for. You’re super lucky to be travelling. You will get through this and you will treat yourself when you land. (Hey, a little incentive never hurt nobody!)
OWN HOW YOU FEEL
At the end of the day, flying makes you anxious, that’s part of who you are. You can’t force yourself to be a calm flyer but that doesn’t mean you should let feelings of stress or anxiety overwhelm you. Feel what you feel, take calculated measures to manage your feelings and accept it. Some people fly regularly and never fully ‘get used to it’. They’ve merely accepted that in order to get the job done and achieve what their travel has set out to achieve takes a short-term of hard work for a long-term reward.