I hate flying. It doesn’t make sense how you can enter a metal tube with a bunch of strangers and then get flung into the sky at 200 miles an hour. You are putting your life in the hands of a pilot you don’t know anything about. It could be his first day on the job or he could have had a few drinks before getting on the plane. The thing I hate the most is the lack of control.
If we are halfway between Philadelphia and Florida and I am having a major panic attack I want to be able to get off. If we are sitting on the runway for an hour and I start to feel my anxiety rise I want them to open the door and let me out. I hate that once the plane detaches from the gate I am giving up all my control over the situation. There is no turning back and that is the worst part for me.
I have had some serious panic attacks on planes but luckily I have never lost my shit and caused a scene. The person sitting next to me probably didn’t even know I was having a panic attack. I am able to mostly keep it all in my head. I focus on deep breathing and distracting myself. It is hard because the one thing I really like to do when I am anxious is get up and walk around. I might leave the situation or start to pace somewhere. Since this isn’t an option on a plane it makes the anxiety even harder to deal with.
Here are my tips for flying with your extra baggage of anxiety.
When I book my flight I always chose flights after 10am. I find that I am more anxious in the morning, so waiting until this time is better for me. Also, when I have to get up early for a flight I don’t sleep well and the lack of sleep increases my anxiety. I once took a 6am flight because it was very cheap, however it was a big mistake and I had a panic attack when I got on the plane. I would have gotten off the plane if my husband wasn’t there talking me into staying.
As I am booking my flight I look at the seating chart and pay extra to sit in the front of the plane and in an aisle seat. I feel more comfortable in the front of the plane because the view in front of me is usually only a few people and the wall separating first class. I think it is better for me to only see that as opposed to a whole plane full of people. I also like knowing that I am close to the exit when we land. I hate the feeling of being stuck in the back of the plane waiting for everyone to get off. Same thing with the aisle seat, I like having the easiest exit strategy. I feel anxious trapped in the middle or window. I have no desire to look out the window because I am afraid it will just make me more anxious.
On the day of the dreaded flight the first thing I do is take a Xanax when I am on my way to the airport. It takes about an hour to kick in and it lasts for 3-4 hours. I always have back up on me in case I need another pill, but so far I haven’t needed two. I try to arrive at the airport an hour and 30 minutes before my flight. I don’t like to get there late because rushing will increase my anxiety. I also don’t like to be there too early and have too much time to sit there feeling anxious.
Once I am at the gate I try to walk around and go buy something at the convenience stores. I always get a bottle of water to stay hydrated since it’s good for anxiety and I make sure to avoid caffeine that day. I also pick up a little treat for myself like a good gossip magazine or candy. Lots of times I will walk back and forth around the gate and call my mom or husband. I like the distraction of talking to someone. I usually wait to be one of the last people to board so I don’t have too much time waiting on the plane.
When I get on the plane I get distracted trying to find room for my luggage since I am one of the last people to board the flight. I sit down and set up my anxiety calming kit. I have different stress relief toys and calming items (Click HERE to go to my Etsy store selling Anxiety Calming Kits). You can also read my blog post about my kits HERE. Then I get out my gossip magazines and stare at them like the flight attendant is going to test me on my celebrity knowledge. I sit there with about 20 things to try and distract myself and I pick whatever I feel will work best at the time. My focus is to distract myself as much as possible (Click HERE for my blog post on distraction).
Besides the items in my kit I also listen to relaxation music on my ipod (I like this one HERE). Honestly, sometimes I don’t even follow the relaxation techniques but I think it is helpful just to listen to the calming voice. There have been times when I am really anxious and I leave this on during take off even though you’re not allowed to.
One main thing I focus on is my breathing. I practice my 5-5-5 breathing exercise. I wrote a blog post on it HERE. It is easy to remember, just take a deep breath and count to five, then hold it for 5 seconds and then release your breath while you count to five. This is a great way to relax your body and bring you an instant sense of calm. Try to also breath in and out through your nose. Do abdominal breathing and hold your hand on your stomach while you breath and feel your stomach rise and fall as you breath in and out.
I also like to focus on something I am excited about in the future. One flight I spent a lot of time drawing out my dream kitchen because we were about to remodel our kitchen. If I am going on a vacation I try to focus on the fun and exciting things I will get to do on vacation. I also think about something I will buy myself as a reward for flying.
The worst part is being on the plane before take off. The absolute worst part is when the doors shut, the flight attendant tells you what to do in a crash, the brakes release, and you start to roll backwards. I am either having a panic attack or on the verge of having one until we take off. Surprisingly, I usually feel some relief after we take off because there is no turning back after that. There is no more uncertainty. We are doing this shit and my only option now is to freak out, get restrained, get arrested and end up on the news. The bastards probably wouldn’t even do an emergency landing for me. Thankfully I have never actually come close to this scenario and deep down I know I never will. I ‘m pretty sure it only happens to celebrities that mix drugs and alcohol.
Since I know I won’t freak out and get arrested on the flight I wish I could just stop feeling anxious on the plane. Unfortunately, I have never been able to master this. At times in my life when I have flown more frequently I have gotten pretty good at it. There have been flights with very little anxiety. I flew without Xanax once and I only had one small panic attack. I didn’t want to be drug free for the flight but the choice wasn’t mine because I was pregnant.
I haven’t flown since that flight. It has been 4 years since I have been on a plane and it’s time to get back in the saddle. I have a flight booked to Nashville for my cousin’s wedding in one week. My stomach feels queasy and my palms sweat just thinking about it. Later this week I will be writing another blog post on how I am practicing visualization to prepare myself for the flight. Hopefully there will also be a blog post about my successful flight 🙂
To recap, here are my 10 tips for traveling with anxiety
- Take a Xanax before arriving at the airport – if you can’t or don’t want to, look into natural remedies like Rescue Remedy Rescue Plus lozenges.
- Book your flight for a good time of day for you. Do you feel more anxious in the morning or at night?
- Look at the seating chart and pay extra to sit on the aisle and in front of the plane. Or anywhere else you will be more comfortable.
- Don’t arrive to the airport too late or early. You don’t want to rush and you don’t want too much time waiting around.
- Keep active while waiting at the gate- walk around and browse the shops and restaurants. Talk to someone to distract yourself. Call someone if you are travelling alone. Drink water and avoid caffeine.
- Have an anxiety calming kit – lots of things to distract yourself on the flight. You can buy one of mine HERE or make your own.
- Listen to relaxation music. Practice this before the flight so you are familiar with it.
- Take some deep and slow breaths. Try my 5-5-5 breathing exercise.
- Focus on something you will buy yourself as a reward for flying.
- Concentrate on something positive you have to look forward to in your future.