Fear of Flying or Driving
Whether it is caused by a fear of flying or different mental health conditions, many people experience panic attacks when traveling by air. These attacks may be challenging enough on the ground, and may seem more difficult when you are in flight. Here are some strategies for managing panic attacks while traveling.
Practice relaxation techniques
Practice other relaxation techniques in advance. These strategies can help you get rid of anxiety and stay calmer on your next flight. Exercises you can practice beforehand include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and meditation.
Looking for healthy distractions
There are many things you can do to help you get rid of the fear of flying. Bring books, magazines, music or podcasts, and/or crosswords or other games that keep you busy to refocus your mind. You may also want to enjoy your favourite snack during the flight. Simple actions can help you release the tension that accumulates in your body due to anxiety.
When allowed, try to get up and do some stretching exercises every once in a while.
You can even get up and walk a few times in the aisle to stretch your body. Many nervous passengers find that the loud noise of the plane can trigger anxious thoughts. You may find it helpful to bring earplugs to reduce these sounds. You can also bring headphones and listen to your favourite music or relaxation guide to help you feel calm. How to keep yourself away from panic disorder
Take a fearless flight lesson
Frequent travellers or people seeking long-term help because of fear of flying may want to consider taking courses or online courses that solve this problem. These courses contribute to skill development and cognitive behavioural interventions that help change fearful thoughts and behaviours. Similarly, you may consider treatment with a specialist who can help you manage this fear.
Seek support on the plane
Let your travel companion know that you are nervous about flying. Sometimes speaking frankly about your fears can calm your nerves and make you less worried about how others will react if you really have a panic attack. You may also want to let the flight attendants understand your concerns. Pilots and flight attendants understand that many people are afraid of flying, so they often strive to provide a great experience.
People with panic attacks are usually susceptible to irrational or negative self-talk and thoughts, which can cause symptoms and fear. Even if you feel scared, remind yourself that thousands of flights are traveling safely. Assure yourself that you will also reach your destination safely. Tell yourself that if a panic attack does happen, you will be able to control it. Also remind yourself that the physical sensations you experience only indicate that you are anxious, not that you are in any actual danger.
Before Your Flight
Before your flight, be sure to prepare with a visit to your provider, practicing coping mechanisms, and doing your research.
- Visit your doctor. Several weeks before your flight, visit your doctor and therapist. Even if you don’t normally take medications for your phobia, your doctor might want to prescribe a short-term anti-anxiety medication. Pay careful attention to any instructions, which might include starting the prescription a few days in advance or avoiding alcohol consumption.
- Learn ways to cope with symptoms.Your therapist can teach you coping strategies to use in flight. Guided meditation, breathing exercises, and other techniques can be used while in your seat and may help head off a panic attack. Practice any new techniques in advance, as they may take a while to feel natural.
- Be up-to-date on airport security protocols. Airport security regulations seem to change on an almost daily basis. Visit the TSA website a day or two before your flight to be sure you know the latest rules regarding both carry-on and checked luggage. Pack carefully to ensure you are within the rules.
Flying: Air travel can be difficult if you have claustrophobia. To make yourself feel more comfortable, accommodate your fear by making smart choices. For example, if you have a fear of heights (acrophobia), choose an aisle seat. If you have a fear of being stuck on the plane, choose a seat towards the front so you can disembark quickly. Anti-anxiety medications may help.
Driving: If you have claustrophobia, long road trips can be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, driving gives you the opportunity to stop and get out of the car when needed. Taking frequent stretch breaks, dividing long drives into shorter segments and carefully choosing your traveling companions can help you relax while on the road.
On Flight Day
The day of your flight, take steps to ensure your comfort.
- Allow yourself plenty of time at the airport.Official guidelines state that you should arrive at least two hours before a domestic flight, and three hours before an international flight. However, you may want to expand that window a bit. The stress of a crowded airport and invasive security screening could put you at risk for a panic attack, and wondering whether you will make the flight will only increase your anxiety.
- Be hydrated. Once you are through security, you will be able to enjoy the restaurants, shops, and amenities inside the secure area of the airport. Drink plenty of water and try to eat a small snack. Maintaining hydration and blood sugar is important for staying calm.
- Check in at your gate at least 30 minutes before the flight.Giving yourself plenty of time for this last step of the process will help you stay calm and focused.
On the Plane
Once you’ve boarded the plane and you’re ready to go, take care of yourself and do your best to manage any symptoms you may experience.
- During your flight, keep yourself distracted as much as possible. Bring an iPod, DVD player, or laptop or purchase headphones and watch the in-flight movie. If you are traveling with a relative or friend, engage in conversation. Slip off your shoes and relax with a pillow and blanket.
- If you have a panic attack, let your traveling partner know. They may be able to help talk you down. Otherwise, focus on your coping strategies.
- Practice coping strategies.Get up and walk around if the seatbelt light is off. Go to the restroom and splash cold water on your face. Take anti-anxiety medication according to your doctor’s recommendations, but avoid self-medicating with alcohol. Drinking may actually increase your anxiety.2
- Ask for help if you need it. Flight attendants can handle all sorts of in-flight emergencies including anxiety attacks. Although not trained therapists, they can provide different types of assistance. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
Your feelings are valid, not irrational, you are doing your best. What could you do today to help reassure yourself and support yourself through the fear?