How to Calm Your Travel Anxiety
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
With air travel back in full swing again, some of my clients have reported experiencing new travel anxiety. Understandably so: many of us haven’t flown in some time and are flying under new conditions, such as having to wear a mask. Whether or not you expect air travel will be a source of anxiety for you in the future, 25% of people have at least some fear of flying, stemming not only from a fear of aviation accidents but broader fears of being out of control, of the unknown, and of heights. Claustrophobia commonly compounds this anxiety. Others report discomfort with the process of flying, including navigating airport procedures and crowds.
Indeed, it’s relatively common to feel sick shortly before takeoff or while airborne. In addition to panic attacks, air travelers sometimes experience symptoms like rapid heart rate, nausea, lightheadedness, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, chest tightness, restlessness, decreased concentration, and insomnia prior to or during flight. If you have intense travel anxiety, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor or mental health professional before you depart to consider whether therapy or medication might be right for you.
Keep reading for my top tips on how to calm yourself and your companions when travel anxiety strikes. And always remember, you’re not alone.
Arrive Early: If navigating airport procedures and crowds causes you stress, arrive at the airport with an extra 30-minute cushion to give yourself plenty of time to check in, pass through security, and find your gate. If you’re particularly anxious about security, consider enrolling in TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry to streamline the screening process. Educate Yourself: You’ve probably already heard that driving is far more dangerous than flying. But would it surprise you to learn that you have a mere 1 in 11-million chance of being involved in an aviation accident, and even then, 96% of passengers survive? Air accidents are so uncommon because of extensive safety testing. Check out National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration data to fight your fear with knowledge. And pay attention to the safety demonstration before takeoff so that you can reassure yourself that there’s an emergency plan, and you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, even though it’s highly unlikely to arise.
During Takeoff & In Flight
Breathe: Anxiety can cause shallow and rapid breathing or breath holding, amplifying your sense of panic by activating your body’s fight-or-flight response. If you focus on relaxing your body, you can in turn relax your mind. This is especially important in the current conditions in which you’re expected to wear a mask during flight. Focus on deep breathing techniques, taking deliberately slow and big breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Meditate: You might also consider relaxing your mind by meditating, thereby grounding your body. Preload your phone with a meditation app like Breathe or Headspace and follow their short guided meditations when your anxiety creeps up on you. Distract Yourself: Plan a schedule of your favorite distractions, which will allow you to refocus your attention from your anxiety to a specific task at hand. Come prepared with downloaded episodes of your favorite TV show and relaxing music playlists. Take advantage of in-flight entertainment or read a book. Consider earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to drown out natural plane noises. And if you run out of things to do, strike up a conversation with the people seated around you or rely on the company of your travel companions.
Visualize: Visualize yourself having successfully arrived at your destination, or imagine yourself somewhere particularly calming or pleasing to you. Immersing yourself in the image will allow you to remember the positives of travel and your trip, reminding you of where you’re going and what you’re going to do when you get there.
Hydrate: While it might be tempting to have a cocktail or a cup of coffee, avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can amplify your nerves and lead to dehydration. Instead, drink lots of water to combat the low humidity in airplane cabins. Doing so will mean you arrive at your destination feeling relaxed and refreshed.
I hope these tips for reducing travel anxiety make you feel empowered to plan your next vacation. If that’s the case, please reach out to me so that we can get started planning today. Wherever your travels take you, as always, I’m wishing you smooth and pleasant skies.
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