I remember the day I developed a fear of flying. I was taking a 20-minute flight to Washington, D.C. from Charlottesville, Virginia. We flew over the mountain ridge and there was a lot of turbulence, and from that moment on, I have hated to fly and experience full-on panic attacks even a week before leaving!
A fear of flying can prevent you from traveling the world — believe me; I know! When AJ came up with our travel sabbatical, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on the adventure of a lifetime. And, I knew there was no way to see so many countries like China, South Africa and Australia without having to board multiple planes — and even helicopters. Yet, I wasn’t sure I could handle the flights. I really thought the anxiety would get the best of me and my fear of flying would ruin the trip.
Despite my fear, I have taken more than 200 flights — at least 70 with my child — because my love of travel is greater than my fear. I have so many memories and bonds from traveling with AJ and Aarav that I never would have if I didn’t find a way to push past my fear. (And boy do I have to push through it each and every time!)
If you’re thinking you won’t be able to manage a flight, I wanted to share my tips on how I get through it. If I can help just one person control this anxiety we experience so they get the reward of travel, I’ll feel each flight I take is even more worth it!
Here are the steps I take to get myself through a flight. Hopefully, they can help you, as well!
- Limit Caffeine Before Flying. Caffeine has a high impact on my anxiety, so I limit my caffeine intake a week before a flight, as well as during a flight. Know your anxiety triggers and avoid those triggers to give yourself a better shot of managing your anxiety and fear.
- Get Lots of Sleep. When you are tired, you stress even more. When I am well rested, I am better on flight. Make sure you are getting your full night’s sleep leading up to a flight.
- Stay Healthy. By now we all know that we are healthier when we eat well and work out. I find my anxiety peaks when I’ve had a bad week and don’t get as much exercise as I should or I’ve eaten too poorly.
- Meditate. AJ is especially a big believer of meditation and finding ways to balance your highs and lows. I meditate for 5 to 10 minutes before any flight I take, calming myself before I board.
- Know You Will Be Okay. I use my successes to help me during panic attacks. Once you do something and it goes well, you can calm yourself (somewhat) by focusing on the last good plane ride when fears of “what if” hit. Anxiety is a mental game and by focusing on the good over the bad, it helps me to calm down.
- Travel With Your Children. Most people think that with my fear I am more panicked when I’m traveling with Aarav, but actually, he is a distraction from my fear. I’m so worried about him and taking care of him when we are flying that I don’t have time to think about my own fears. Chalk this up as another reason to travel with your kids!
Of course, fear and panic attacks aren’t always going to cooperate with your desire to travel. I’m not going to lie and say every flight has been a piece of cake, and that all of the above tips saved me. Oh no! There are still times a panic attack has set in, and then I’ve had to find a way to calm down. If a panic attacks sets in during your flight, there are ways I’ve settled my fear.
- Meditation and Breathing. Circling back to meditation, focus on your breathing and take control of your panic attack. AJ will help me with this and will count with me as I focus on taking four or five deep breaths. There are even apps you can download to have with you so when a panic attack hits, you can follow the steps to meditation and calm.
- Chamomile Tea. The soothing qualities of chamomile tea are beneficial for panic attacks. If you are overcome with a panic attack during a flight, ask the attendants for hot water, and carry your own tea, in case they don’t have chamomile.
- Listen to Music. Have your favorite music on a playlist that you can listen to when fear begins to set in. Listen to your music, breathe and find your happy place.
- Look at Pictures on Your Flight. Another happy place for me is reviewing photos on my phone and reminiscing. I especially like to look at past trips and to remind myself the flight is worth it. It’s a calming distraction when I fear an attack beginning.
- Don’t Fight It. I have had panic attacks since I was a teenager and I have found when I would worry about the fact I was having a panic attack, they would get worse. When one hits, don’t fight it. Let it work its way through you.
I am not saying your fear of flying will ever go away; mine hasn’t! But understanding and preparing for your anxiety with ways to combat it can help you board a plane and have a better fight. The reward is when you disembark and get to enjoy a new place with your family!