If you suffer from any kind, shape or form of anxiety, you don’t need an introduction to this topic. You are already very familiar with the racing heart, racing thoughts, and overall icky feeling that comes with it.
If you have never experienced anxiety: I’m afraid there is no appropriate introduction for you either. If you’ve not felt it, on your own skin, bones and soul, no one can describe it to you.
It is estimated that over 15% of the adult US population suffers from anxiety, making it the most common mental health challenge we face. Pre-travel anxiety is just one of its guises, and no, it’s not the same as a fear of flying. You can be afraid to fly, yet never step one foot into anxiety-land.
If you are, like me, an inhabitant of this unpleasant space, I sincerely hope that my little guide on the subject can make your next trip just a bit less scary. Because none of us should be robbed of seeing the world, no matter how anxious we get.
Find a calming routine, and make it mobile
One of the first things my therapist taught me was to find something that would calm me when I start to feel anxious. For me, this is listening to a playlist on Spotify that I never listen to, except when I need to calm myself down. There is a fair amount of jazz on there, a lot of B.B.King, some soul. It gets the job done.
If you are suffering from any kind of anxiety, try to find a way to keep yourself grounded: a meditation app, a playlist, a deep breathing technique. Anything that will make you feel a bit better. Once you have that down, practice taking it with you on the plane, train, bus or wherever.
Tell your traveling companions everything they need to know
Depending on what you need from fellow humans when you get anxious, make sure those you are traveling with know what you are going through, and know how they can help. If you need someone to talk you through breathing exercises, train them to do just that. If you need to have alone time, make sure they are aware that you’re not being moody, and that your brain is just sending you signals you need to focus on first.
It might also be useful to tell the flight attendant you have travel anxiety, and what your triggers are (if you know them), just so they can keep an eye on you, and not be surprised by any of your potential reactions.
Write your thoughts down, and reverse them
Reverting to my therapist: the most important thing she’s taught me is that anxiety is caused by our thoughts, not by what is happening in the world around us.
When we write them down, we will become more objective in getting rid of them. We’re not actually crashing, are we? Once you have the negative spiral written down, write down the positive of it – yes, we’re in this flying tin can, but once we land, we’ll be in this glorious place I’ve always wanted to see.
After all, there is no gun to your head – you don’t have to take this trip, you most likely want to.
Be comfortable above all else
And pack for comfort. Airports are unpleasant places for everyone, but you’ll feel better if you make yourself comfy. Find a really comfortable pair of travel pants, and look forward to wearing them during the flight. Wear that jumper you love so much. And your favorite pair of sneakers. Do your makeup if you want to, look nice for yourself. If you feel good in your own skin, you’ll have one less negative thing on your mind.
I used to go to flights dressed my worst, just because I hated the experience. And then I learned I was making it even worse, by treating it as such a negative experience from the get-go.
Accept it and move on
The thing with panic attacks and anxiety is that they will most likely happen again, especially when you focus on how much you don’t want them to happen. But remember – you’ve been there before. You’ve had this feeling before, it was horrible and you never want to go there again. But that’s the worst of it – it’s just a horrible experience, it won’t do you any actual harm. You can go through it again, and you’ll come out of it on the other side. If you have an anxiety attack mid-flight, once it’s over, don’t dwell on it. Accept that it has happened, and move on.
You are not your anxiety, and anxiety is not your life – even when it feels just like that. You are so much more than your worst experiences. Treat your anxiety as a learning experience, and focus on making yourself stronger through it.
Remember, there is a person walking down the street towards you having it just as bad. You are never alone, and you won’t feel like this forever – the right therapy and relief systems can get your life back just where you want it to be – only if you try.