For some people, flying is exhilarating, fun, and an opportunity to meet new people. For others, it’s absolutely terrifying and paralyzing. No matter how you feel about flying, it’s an unavoidable part of life for a lot of people.
Personally, I’ve always had anxiety pertaining to flying. Anxiety before my flight, anxiety at the airport, anxiety during the flight, anxiety during my trip because I’m anticipating the flight back…etc. It’s overwhelming, debilitating, and makes necessary travel so difficult. It also discourages me from traveling for fun or leisure because of how afraid of it I am.
While I don’t think I’ll ever be any less of an anxious flyer, over the years I’ve found a few ways to better manage my flying anxiety and airport anxiety.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional; any and all advice given should not be taken as medical advice. If you feel you need professional help, please seek out a mental health provider in your area.
How to Deal with Airport Anxiety
A good portion of my anxiety arises days or weeks before my flight. Usually it starts off as a small nag in the back of my mind; then it gets increasingly worse as the departure date looms closer.
DECIDE BEFOREHAND WHAT YOU WILL DO ON THE PLANE
I like to get a Sudoku book or crossword puzzle book to work on because it forces me to focus on something. I personally also enjoy video games, so I also take my Nintendo Switch. If you’re flying with a friend, partner, or family member, check with them beforehand to see if there’s an interactive activity the two of you can do together. A lot of people also like to read; I find reading on a plane usually gives me a headache, but I know several people who prefer it.
Basically, avoid activities that might encourage your mind to wander.
Make sure the music you want to listen to is actually downloaded to your phone. The last time I flew, I realized on the plane that I had no music downloaded because I use data for Spotify. I didn’t even think about it until I found myself with no music on my flight. Luckily it was a short flight. But it would’ve been better if I actually had my music on it!
MAKE A PLAN FOR YOUR LUGGAGE
I’m terrified of accidentally breaking TSA rules for carry-on luggage. I don’t want to make it to the airport and then have to throw away makeup, shampoo, etc. because I didn’t pack it properly. So I always just check one bag that has all my liquid stuff, plus my clothes, extra shoes, etc. If you check the bag, there’s no regulations for how those types of things are packed, so it alleviates a lot of anxiety to just be able to put it in the bag. My checked bag is easily recognizable, and I always make sure I have a tag on it with my contact information just in case.
However, I do know people who don’t like to check their bags because they want to have that piece of mind that their luggage won’t be lost, don’t want to waste time going to baggage claim, or are flying an airline that forces you to pay for checked luggage and want to save money.
You are allowed one quart (same measurement as a liter) plastic zip-top baggie to allocate all your liquids you take on the plane, except baby formula and medically necessary liquids. Your liquids must be placed in containers that are 3.4 ounces or smaller that fit within that one quart baggie.
As far as your carry-on bag itself, different airlines may have different restrictions for bag size and weight. Check your specific airline’s policy to make sure your bag will fit on the plane.
DRESS APPROPRIATELY FOR SECURITY
The airport security line is another experience that majorly triggers my airport anxiety. It’s the worst part of the experience other than the flying itself. To combat that anxiety, I try to be as prepared as possible. I always have my identification ready and my boarding pass ready for the officer to process before going through the screening process.
When going through the screeners, you usually have to take off your shoes, belt, watch, pullover/jacket… try to choose clothes that will allow you to go quickly through security. I usually wear leggings, a pullover, and shoes that I can easily take off but still allow me to wear socks.
How to Deal with Anxiety while Flying
The best way I’ve found to handle anxiety on the plane is to have as much control over your situation as possible; I think feeling out of control is one of the scariest things about flying.
Take deep breaths and be consciously aware of your breathing. Make sure you aren’t holding your breath, and relax your body as much as you can (despite uncomfortable plane seats). It might seem obvious, but it helps. If you are worried about having a panic attack, breathing management is a good way to combat one.
STAY UPDATED / USE MILESTONES
Some airlines show information about the flight status such as estimated arrival time, plane speed, current location etc. either in-flight or via their app. I find that paying attention to those helps me with my anxiety because I know where I am (and how close the flight is to being over). If you don’t have that option, remember what time your flight will land and calculate accordingly.
For example, if your flight leaves at 12pm Eastern Time and arrives at 1pm Pacific time, that’s a 4-hour flight but if you’re keeping time with your phone or watch, it’ll say you’re arriving at 4pm. Keep track of the time and how long you’ve flown, and how much time you have left. It’s helpful (for me, anyway) to pay attention to how far along in the flight I am.
KEEP YOUR MIND OCCUPIED
Remember all those things you figured out you’d do on the plane ahead of time? Go ahead and pull out that crossword puzzle book or your favorite music. If one activity isn’t keeping you distracted enough, switch to a different one.
I personally can’t sleep on planes easily– even without anxiety, they’re just too loud, and earplugs do nothing for me. But if you’re the type of person who can sleep anywhere, the plane will be back on the ground in the blink of an eye.
WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS TURBULENCE
I try to remind myself that some turbulence is unavoidable, and doesn’t mean the plane is going to fall out of the sky. And also, that every tiny little bump is not considered bad turbulence. It’s difficult to avoid small bumps on a plane!
I also try to remind myself that pilots have to go through a lot of hours and training to fly a plane and that they’re doing their absolute best to get us safely to our destinations. No plane’s crew wants anything bad to happen. It might sound silly but taking the time to stop and remember that calms me down a little.
Do you like to fly? What are your favorite tips for handling airport anxiety? Let me know in the comments!
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