Has flight anxiety interfered with your professional or personal life? Here are some suggestions to keep in mind before your next flight:
7 Ways to cope with Flight Anxiety
- Cope ahead: Coping ahead is a DBT strategy that allows you to practice coping effectively with an anticipated difficult situation, such as experiencing flight anxiety. Spend some time ahead of the flight to describe the feared situation in honest detail- be specific, what is it you fear happening? Use your calm mind to develop a plan for how you will cope with the emotions, sensations, thoughts and urges that will likely show up as a result of the flight anxiety. Next, envision the situation in your mind and imagine yourself successfully utilizing your coping strategy to navigate your feared situation. What will you do? How will it feel to do it? Finally, practice relaxation techniques following rehearsing the scenario in your mind.
- Get comfortable: if the circumstances allow, wear comfortable clothing and dress in layers to prevent feeling restricted and adjust to temperature changes accordingly. Creature comforts from home, within reason and per airline regulations, can act as physical grounding tools. Think of comforting objects you can bring that appeal to all of the 5 senses. Pillows, blankets, fuzzy socks, essential oil blends, moisturizing hand lotion, gum or mints, noise canceling headphones, or an eye mask are some examples. Get creative!
- Diaphragmatic breathing: if you have flight anxiety, it is likely you are experiencing the physical sensations of fast heartbeat, irregular breathing, dizziness, sweating etc. This is your body telling you something is wrong, which can increase the negative spiral of anxious thoughts. Taking control of the breath is a simple way to slow down that physical response. Start by making yourself comfortable, placing a hand on your belly below your ribs and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in the nose for a count of 4, allowing for your belly to press up against your hand (your chest should not move). Hold the breath for a count of 7 and exhale through the mouth for a count of 8. Repeat these steps until you start to feel calm.
- Grounding techniques: speaking of grounding, practice grounding strategies ahead of time so you can utilize them prior to boarding and during the flight. Grounding strategies are designed to help us detach from emotional pain (such as anxiety or panic) in the moment. Grounding strategies are most beneficial at the first sign of flight anxiety or panic- which is why it is helpful to practice them ahead of time during a state of calm. An easy one to remember is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique that incorporates the senses. Acknowledge 5 things you can see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. If this is too difficult in the moment, focus your mind on a place you have visited that you associate with safe or calm. Use your senses to ground you in that memory (what do you feel on your skin? what do you smell?) and repeat a calming statement such as “I am safe. ” Utilize deep breathing skills listed above throughout this technique.
- Meditation: many meditation apps, such as Insight Timer, offer the option to download meditations to use while in airplane mode. Download meditations specific to flight anxiety, breathing, body scans and/or progressive muscle relaxation to use during flight. Combine the meditation with deep breathing, calming statements or imagery techniques listed above. Use the meditations when you notice the most anxiety, such as takeoff, landing or if turbulence arises.
- Hydrate: Being dehydrated can mimic some of the same physical sensations as flight anxiety- such as dizziness, shakiness, and rapid heart rate. As a result, your brain will likely interpret those sensations as a reason to panic. Planes are notoriously dry so arrive prepared. Bringing a refillable water bottle is an easy way to ensure you have water on hand. While you’re at it, skip the alcohol and caffeine. Not only are both going to dehydrate you, but they can also exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.
- Move your body: anxiety and panic release an excess of cortisol and adrenaline in the system. These chemicals are released to prepare the body to fight or flee, both of which are quite active. Getting up and stretching or walking around can help reduce some of the excess amounts of those hormones in your system, as well as any tension you may be carrying in your body.
By Jodi Randle, LPC, CADC