If you’re familiar with my story, you’ll know that I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for fifteen years. And so many of my fears were centered on losing control, being stuck, and being far from safety. And because of this, flying was always especially difficult for me! My flying anxiety had little to do with the safety of the plane (like turbulence or the plane crashing), but had lots more to do with these things:
Being stuck and trapped on an airplane and worrying about experiencing lots of anxiety and panic. Once that plane door closes, you can’t exactly get off, right?
Worrying about having a medical event on the plane. I would think... What if I pass out? What if something happens to my heart? Because, you know, it’s never “just” anxiety when you’re having a panic attack!
Worrying about freaking out in front of everyone on the plane and embarrassing myself.
Worrying about having to go to the bathroom while on the plane and not being able to get to it if I needed it.
All of the anxiety that comes before even stepping foot onto the plane. Driving to the airport, going through security, waiting in lines, waiting to board. All of this anxiety was just as bad as the anxiety I experienced when boarding the plane!
The anxiety that comes along with worrying about whether or not I’d actually be able to get back on the plane and get back home if I needed to, or just when we were supposed to.
If you can relate to any or all of this, this episode is for you! In this podcast episode, I’m sharing my journey with flying anxiety because I’m proud to say that I’ve fully recovered! Since overcoming flying anxiety, I’ve flown dozens of times with much more peace and ease. So let’s get into my story and the tips that can help you!
My Journey With Flying Anxiety - With 5 Helpful Tips!
My Journey With Flying Anxiety
When my now husband Adam and I were dating, he surprised me with plane tickets to New York City. At the time, I was really struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, but Adam was confident I could handle the 45-minute flight. And, he was kind of wrong and kind of right! As soon as I got on the plane and the doors shut, the panic began to set in. I felt like I was trapped and losing control, and the flight was really hard for me. Even though I did it, I felt embarrassed and ashamed that the flight was so difficult for me.
After that, I was sure that I’d never want to fly again. But just under a year later, I moved across the country, from Maine to Utah, with Adam. Yeah... crazy, huh? It still amazes me that I did this. Once in Utah and the holidays approaching, I just wanted to be home with my family for Christmas. Adam had to work, and so my only option was to fly home… alone… across the country. And I did it, luckily with the help of some medication! At the time, I wasn’t taking any daily anxiety medication, however I did have Ativan to take when needed. And I carried it with me everywhere, but never actually took it. Well, for this cross-country solo trip, I took it!
I flew from Utah to NYC, then from NYC to Boston on an overnight flight. And I don’t want to give all of the credit to the Ativan, but it was definitely helpful. Just a quick note here - if you take a daily anxiety medication, or if you take something like Ativan or Xanax when needed, it’s okay. Medication is just another tool that can help support you, and you won’t always feel you need it.
After this solo trip home to see my family, I took a bit of a break from flying. Instead of flying, I would convince Adam to take road trips and drive everywhere (even though it was never practical and driving long distances was nearly just as hard for me). And then I remember feeling like - this is silly. If it’s going to be hard, I might as well get back on a plane and really go on the adventures I want to go on!
Over the upcoming years, we took flights all over. We went to Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, back to NYC, and I even took a solo flight to Maryland. And I’m not going to lie, so many of these flights and trips were hard. I hated flying. I hated feeling trapped. I hated that I always braced myself for a panic attack and inevitably experienced one, or two. But, I also have many really good memories from these trips - they weren’t all shit just because anxiety was very present on them.
I began taking lots of healthy steps in my day-to-day life, and this all helped me for when I would fly. I finally started to realize that experiencing panic didn’t mean I was in danger, and that I didn’t always need an escape plan. I could be stuck, experience panic, and still be totally safe. And I know you can experience that same shift, friend. So let's jump into the tips that will help you!
5 Practical Tips for Overcoming Flying Anxiety
01. Let yourself feel anxious about flying. Just because you struggle with an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you can never feel anxious. It makes sense to feel anxious when flying and traveling! Flying can be overwhelming and stressful. So please, don’t tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t feel anxious. Instead, tell yourself, "Yup, I’m going to feel anxious and it makes sense that I will. I’m going to let anxiety come along and we’ll just see what it looks like!"
02. Stop putting flying on an airplane on such a pedestal! One of the ways you can do this is to recognize that stuckness is created internally, not externally. Sure, the reality is that you are stuck on an airplane and you can't just get off once the plane door closes, but how is this different from all of the other aspects in which you feel stuck and anxious in your day-to-day - like in your car, or in meetings, or at the grocery store?
The truth is, you feeling anxious and panicking on the plane really isn’t going to look any differently than you panicking off of the plane! And when you practice changing your response to your thoughts and feelings and to the stories you’re telling yourself, you become unstuck. This is the stuff I teach you in my masterclass!
03. Recognize the realities. Yes, you’re going to feel anxious and you may even panic on the plane, but you can’t and won’t panic the entire time. The reality is that you'll likely feel lots of anxiety before boarding, during boarding, and during takeoff, but after that you'll likely just experience waves of anxiety. And you are capable of working through waves of anxiety, you've proven this to be true many times before!
And I'll say, I've worked with many students on overcoming their flight anxiety, and I’ve yet to hear of one story where somebody panicked the whole time, or went running up and down the aisles of the airplane, in full blown panic mode, begging to get off.
04. Don’t wait until right before the flight to take healthy steps. Consistently taking healthy steps in your everyday life and working to regulate your nervous system is going to be the most helpful thing for you for when the time comes for you to actually get on the flight and take the trip! This is why I talk so much about taking healthy action consistently!
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the key to overcoming flying anxiety is to just take more flights - because that's not how it works! Yes, taking more flights gives you more practice, but the best time to practice having a healthy response to anxiety is in your day-to-day life - and this is something you can practice often!
05. Choose your values, feel the fear, and do it anyway! I know, easier said that done, right? Right! But when it comes down to it, you have to choose to be courageous and do the things you want to do while letting anxiety join you. And yes, it'll be hard, but anxiety won't be the only emotion on the trip. You'll also experience many moments of joy, happiness, and excitement. And you deserve to experience it all!
Overcoming Airplane Anxiety Masterclass
Stop waiting until you feel ready or confident to take the trip - because if you wait for this day, you’ll be waiting a very long time! Take my masterclass on overcoming airplane anxiety and learn simple and practical tips and tools that will actually help you to book the flight and experience more peace and freedom while traveling.
In the class, I'll teach you:
How to relieve the anxiety you experience before getting on the plane
How to relieve the anxiety you experience while on the plane and actually experience enjoyment on the flight
What to do with your thoughts so that they don't cause you to spiral and lead to the symptoms and panic
What to do when the symptoms or panic pop up, especially when you're feeling stuck or trapped
Practical steps that will help you to book the flight and actually feel confident (and excited) about it
And so much more! If you’re wondering if the course is actually helpful, you can read the testimonials of my previous students to see how far they’ve come!
Don’t forget to listen to the full episode filled with goodness! And until next time, keep taking healthy action.