For many, traveling on an airplane is exciting and adventurous, but for some, it’s a nightmare come to life. And, especially in 2020, with the addition of face masks and social distancing in airports and on planes, you might be more nervous than ever to travel. Flight anxiety can hinder your personal life, your career and your peace of mind. The good news is, there are some actions you can take to help lessen your anxiety when faced with anxiety-inducing situations like hopping on a plane or booking a flight.
Flight anxiety is the fear of flying, and it can be caused by a number of triggers that you encounter from the moment you book a flight, to the moment you get off the plane at your new location. According to an entry in the Journal of Travel Medicine called “Anxiety and Health Problems Related to Air Travel,” some known anxiety triggers related to air travel are relocation, in-transit worries, delays, airport congestion, security procedures and many more. Also, just the thought of being away from your home and family can make some people anxious. Traveling can make you feel very vulnerable and helpless, which can only make your anxiety and fears worse, but it is important to remember that if you do suffer from flight anxiety, you are not alone. You should not be ashamed to talk about your anxiety and identify ways to help yourself.
“I like to remind clients (and myself) to ‘acknowledge and allow’ whatever it is that we’re feeling,” said licensed mental health counselor Kelly Gregory M.ED, Ed.S. She suggests that instead of trying to shove down the anxiety, you should allow yourself to feel it, experience it and meet it with compassion. Deep breathing could also help at this time to help you concentrate and relax.
“Another thing I would recommend is, either with a trusted professional or on your own, work through a guided visual meditation of seeing yourself go through the triggering events,” Gregory said. “Notice what moments produce the most anxiety, and see yourself responding effectively in those times.”
Gregory also explains some helpful practices you can use to help yourself when feeling anxious. She likes to think of this as “building a toolbox” that you need to get different jobs done. For example, “grounding skills,” or skills that help us connect to our senses, can be very helpful when coping with anxiety.
“So, think sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, essential oils, music, deep breathing, a cold drink, hot soup or literally ‘grounding’ oneself by feeling your feet on the ground,” Gregory said. “All these things help remind our bodies that we are here and now and that we are safe.”
Calling or talking to a friend when you begin to feel anxious is almost always a great practice as well, according to Gregory. “Sometimes we need someone else to help reassure us, ground us and give us some perspective.”
These “grounding” techniques can be easily achieved on a plane ride or even outside your gate before you board. Ordering a hot coffee, listening to some music and calling your best friend before you board can all lessen your anxiety and hopefully make your flight a little smoother.