Anxiety & Flying – My Experience & How I Overcame It

I have experienced anxiety in different forms for most of my life. My earliest memories of anxiety are from flying as a young child. I remember travelling to France with my family at the age of eight, going to Disneyland Paris. Now that’s a child’s dream isn’t it? And you’d assume an eight year old would be extremely excited and happy to leave their house to go on holidays and have such an amazing experience. But for me, it was not without a degree of anxiety, centred around travelling there.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday once I was there, leaving my home and going to the airport was an extremely stressful experience for me. So stressful, that I can remember it clearly, 18 years later. I don’t know what brought it on and I probably never will. Maybe we were running late and in a rush, I’m not sure, but I have struggled with anxiety when flying or going to airports ever since.

I didn’t go on a Leaving Cert holiday because the idea of travelling gave me so much anxiety. Inter-railing was also a no. It’s a real shame as I missed out on some great experiences with friends. Although In the last few years, I pushed myself to go travelling on weekend city breaks with friends and to visit friends who were living abroad. I decided that I would not let the anxiety hold me back anymore, and was determined to tackle it head on. I pushed myself to fly alone to Amsterdam and London to visit friends and although it was difficult at first, this helped hugely with my anxiety around flying and travelling in the long run.

When I started out on this journey of flying on my own, I did get some anxiety reducing medication from my doctor as I was very, very nervous, but I find I have no need for it now.

My recent trip to Asia and Australia has completely changed the way I feel about travelling and flying now. I put this change down to becoming familiar with the process and procedures of airports and being confident about navigating them on my own. Sometimes I will still experience some anxiety, but it’s usually to do with my luggage being overweight or going missing, rather than anything else.

I would urge anyone who has missed out on experiences because of their anxiety, to try to tackle it head on. By doing so myself, I’ve completely changed my view on travelling and now get excited for trips away.

Tips For Managing Anxiety While Flying:

1. Get Organised

I like to make lists whenever I am planning anything or even when I feel overwhelmed. I find writing my thoughts down to be a great tool as it stops you overthinking and putting stress on your mind to remember things. Think about what you need to pack, what visas you need, vaccines etc. and then tackle each section individually. For someone who suffers from anxiety, a long list of things to do for a trip can be stressful and overwhelming though. I find breaking the lists down and tackling one item at a time to be helpful.

2. Speak To Your Doctor

If you experience severe anxiety or panic attacks around travelling, I think it’s best to speak to your doctor. There is nothing worse than having a panic attack in a busy airport where it can be difficult to calm down. I spoke to my doctor and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication for my first solo flight. It helped and gave me some added reassurance. You may not need to do this, but if it is the difference between getting to your destination or not, it is worth it.

3. Natural Calming Remedies

There are lots of natural remedies to help you manage anxiety, as opposed to being prescribed something by your doctor. You can find Kalms and Rescue Remedy products in most pharmacies and health food stores without a prescription. I still like to take Rescue Remedy lozenges with me when travelling, as they have a calming effect and are also good to prevent ear popping when taking off and landing. I find landing the worst for anxiety on flights so these are helpful.

4. Check In Online & Pick Your Seat

This can save a lot of time queuing in the airport. Most airlines have apps you can download on your phone and provide you with digital boarding passes which is very handy. If you are only travelling with hand luggage, it also means that you can go straight to security and make the process of getting to your gate much simpler and quicker.

Picking your seat can be a big help. I feel comfortable flying now, so I will usually pick a window seat for long flights so I can sleep next to the window or if I don’t want to be disturbed by people getting by me to go to the bathroom. Sitting in the middle or by the window can also make you feel claustrophobic or trapped, so I would highly recommend picking an aisle seat if you struggle with anxiety.

5. Breathe

Anyone who has suffered from anxiety will be familiar with the awful feeling of your heart racing or not being able to catch your breath. I practice breathing exercises on the way to the airport and while I’m there. This helps a lot for the plane too. You can download free apps that help with calming your breath which are extremely helpful.

6. Give Yourself Lots of Time

It is so important to give yourself lots of time to get to the airport and get to your flight on time. I like to give myself a lot of time, as my anxiety flares when I feel rushed. If you are travelling with friends, explain to them how you feel about travelling and the need for lots of time.

It is better to follow a time schedule that YOU are comfortable with, even when travelling with a group, so if your friends do not want to go to the airport at the same time that you feel you need to, follow your own plan if you can. I did this myself at times when travelling, as I knew that I would be much more comfortable following my own time schedule than going along with others’.

Remember that your friends may have no stresses about travelling and may not understand the effects that travelling has on you. That’s not their fault, so explaining how you feel about it beforehand is important. Sticking to your own schedule while travelling may not be what they expect, but it takes priority if it makes a difference to your travelling experience.

When I was travelling with a group of 4 friends to Asia, they were very understanding and we came up with times to arrive at the airport that suited us. Some of us arrived earlier than others and there were no issues.

7. Prepare your liquids the night before

Preparing your carry-on liquids under 100ml into a clear zip-lock sandwich bag before you go to the airport saves time and stress looking around your bag for them. I personally find those metal counters where you sort your liquids to be quite stressful as there can be queues and people can be rushing around you. I find that limiting the amount of nervous energy you surround yourself with to be hugely helpful in keeping my anxiety at bay in the airport.

8. Bring Something Comforting From Home

I always like to bring a small blanket or teddy from home as a source of comfort while travelling, especially if you are travelling alone. It may seem childish, but I have found having something soft to hold very comforting. If you’re embarrassed about holding a small teddy or soft toy on a plane, find one that you can keep in your pocket, to hold out of sight.

9. Take it Step By Step

At times, airports can be overwhelming even for people who don’t experience anxiety. Take the process step by step. Getting there, going to your terminal, looking up your flight’s desk, going to security. Once you have those parts done you’re free to relax for a while before boarding at your gate. Before I flew on my own, I was very nervous about navigating my way around the airport, but if you break it down it’s easier, I find. I’m very familiar with it now and don’t think twice about it before going on a trip.

10. Mindset

Mindset is a huge part of tackling your anxiety while travelling. For the airport, my mindset is always as above, taking it step by step and knowing the process.

Now, for the plane this is different. Many people struggle with their anxiety the most when taking off, as you are leaving the safety of the ground. Being in the air can be extremely scary for people also, as there is the mindset that if a crash were to happen, it would be fatal.

You need to try to empty your mind of these negative thoughts and tell yourself that everything will be fine. You will fly safely and flying is in fact, safer than driving or being a passenger in a car. There are thousands of planes flying every day, and you would rarely hear about a plane crash.

A way of thinking that also really helped me is that, there is absolutely nothing you can do once in the air, so what’s the point of worrying. You can’t magically put yourself on the ground again, you are there and you must accept that you are there.

Worrying and stressing about what might happen on the flight is absolutely pointless and you are going to be fine anyway, so all you are going to do is end up tiring yourself. I know this is much easier said than done, as anxiety is not something that any of us choose to experience, but these are thoughts that have helped me cope with flying.

I also like to listen to music I’ve downloaded as soon as I get on the plane and close my eyes. It calms me along with breathing deeply.

I really hope some of this helps with overcoming your fear/ anxiety around flying.

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