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10 Tips for Anxious Flyers

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“I’m sitting on my flight home about to take off. Is my heart beating too fast? What if I can’t get out of my seat when I need to? What if I vomit? Oh my gosh, I’m going to vomit. I feel so sick. Oh wait, am I just feeling sick because I’m anxious — or am I really sick this time? OK, don’t think about being sick — thinks about being sick. Wow, we’re going really fast. Is it more bumpy than usual? Are the wheels on properly? Can people tell I’m anxious? I need to shop shaking. Stop shaking. Oh, that’s making things worse. I feel sick. What if I vomit? I’m going to catch something. Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe. Breathe, Veronica, breathe. Remember planes are safer than cars. If you’re sick, it’s not the end of the world, it happens to people all the time. You’ll never live it down though. You’ll be such a nuisance for the cabin crew. Just don’t think. Don’t think. I feel so dizzy. What if there’s something waiting to burst in my brain when we reach altitude? No, your brain is fine. But how do you know for sure? Is there a doctor on here? I hope there is. Only 55 minutes to go. That’s only 11 lots of five minutes. Just go five minutes at a time. That’s actually a while. What if I have put something bad in my bag? What if I’m a terrorist and I don’t even know about it? That doesn’t make any sense — or does it? Am I bad? You haven’t done anything bad. You haven’t. You know you haven’t. You checked your bag five times before you left. You should have done that again…How did you get through security then?… This is just your obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) speaking. But what if its not?Am I bad? Oh my gosh, what if I’m sick. Distract myself. Don’t think about flying. Just concentrate on your book — thinks about flying.”

You can probably see I’m a bit of an anxious flyer. Im anxious at the best of times, so being stuck in a plane isn’t exactly my forte. I’m writing this on the plane right now, trying to distract myself. It’s funny how situations make you think of things to write. I have been stressed about flying for a while and I don’t know where, when or how it started. Plenty of panic attacks have happened in the bathrooms of airplanes and in my seat when the seatbelt sign comes on and I become “stuck.”

Here are 10 things that I find useful to help keep myself calm when flying:

1. Square breathing.

This is one my psychologist taught me. It involves breathing in for the count of four, holding for four, breathing out for four and holding for four. While doing this, use your finger to trace a square on your leg or with your eyes on something in the room — maybe your tray table. I think this is a good technique because it gives you something to do and calms your breath down.

2. Grounding exercises.

Five, four, three, two, one. This is perhaps my favorite anxiety reducing strategy in every situations. Find five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you are looking forward to when your flight lands.


3. Mindfulness.

Describe the people around you — noting the details of their clothes and their actions. I even like making up stories about the people around me. It’s a great game and you can be as imaginative as you like.

4. Keep yourself occupied

I like audio books. They’re a great distraction. As are puzzles and activity books, films, podcasts, your favorite books and a good game on your phone are fabulous, especially when you can’t concentrate or are getting ready to land.

5. Try and get a seat that suits you.

For me, this is an aisle seat. It makes me feel like I can get out more easily and reduces my level of panic. It might not be the same for you, but see what works for you. Get there early to reduce the stress of missing the flight and to get a good seat.

6. Bring lollipops to suck on.

I think this is a great one when you are taking off and landing, as well as if you feel a bit anxious or nauseous throughout the flight. It’s a good distraction and also helps with “plane ears.”

7. Wear comfy clothes.

This is especially important on long flights. I tend to feel a bit rubbish, and comfortable clothes help when you feel like you’ve ballooned up in the air. Wear layers to make sure you’re comfortable in any temperature.

8. Bring any meds you need.

If you take a regular prescription, make sure you’ve got some in your carry-on luggage in case something happens to your baggage. If you are prescribed anti-anxiety medications, these are great to have too. I often find if I know I’ve got it, I don’t need it. There is comfort in knowing it’s there and that I am prepared. Also, make sure you’ve got any other sorts of things you might need; like pain reliever or something for a sore throat, as well as tissues, a toothbrush, deodorant and face wipes.

9. Pack food that you know you can stomach when you’re feeling anxious and nauseous.

I think it’s always good to have some healthy snacks on hand and ones you know you like. It’s so important to eat. Everything’s worse when you’re “hangry!”

10. Bring a neck pillow.

This really helps to get even a little sleep and stops the awful waking up every time your head drops as you relax. You’ll feel so much better and it will be totally worth it.

Let me know what helps you when you’re flying!

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Thinkstock photo via AlxeyPnferov

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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