Does the thought of flying alone make you feel anxious and lead to symptoms popping up? This used to be me! I was 23-years-old when I flew on an airplane for the first time.
When my husband (then boyfriend) told me that he had booked a flight for us to go to NYC, I thought… Oh, heck no! Adam chose NYC because it’s only a 1 hour flight from Maine (where we live). But it didn’t matter to me how short or how long the flight was, just the thought of flying and being “trapped” on an airplane for any amount of time was terrifying. And then there was the thought of having to get around the city via trains and Ubers, and then there was the thought of being so far from home, and then there was the thought of not being able to handle it all… I could go on and on.
Once he told me that he had booked our flight, I immediately started to jump to worst case scenarios. What if I have a panic attack on the plane? What if the plane crashes? What if I freak out in front of a bunch of people? What if we get there but then I can’t fly back because I'm too scared? I dreaded this flight for a solid month!
Was NYC (the largest city in the US) the perfect choice for my first big trip? No, probably not! But you know what, I did it! It might have been hard, draining, and full of ups and downs, but taking this trip had proven that I was capable of flying and everything in between. And this trip sparked the adventurous side of me that I’ve always had and had been longing to bring back.
Since my flight to NYC, I have been on many flights, including a handful of international flights (even a couple with Amelia when she was just a baby!). Were there moments of anxiety and panic? Absolutely! Were there tears and moments of self-doubt, anger, and frustration? Yup! Were there moments when I wished that I hadn't gone on the trip? Heck yes! But I kept taking uncomfortable action because uncomfortable action is what proves to your brain that you are safe and capable!
Let me share some tips with you that helped me immensely and will help you too!
Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel anxious about flying. Just because you struggle with an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel anxious. Many people get anxious about flying! It’s okay to feel anxious. Allow yourself to feel it and don’t beat yourself up for being anxious!
Focus on the right now. Instead of filling your brain with all of the what-ifs, especially about a trip that you’re taking in days, weeks, or months from now, what is something that you can do right now that will help you for when the day actually comes? It’s truly about consistently taking the small steps and practicing healthy habits that will help you to reach your goals.
Take healthy action in advance of the trip!
Write down your thoughts and fears and work to challenge them.
Talk through your thoughts and fears with someone.
Take a trip to the airport (and/or watch videos about flying!). This one is especially helpful if you’ve never been to an airport before. It’ll help you to be able to see, hear, and get familiar with the sights and sounds of the airport and flying. This will give you some exposure without throwing your full force into the situation. I did this and it helped me tons!
Avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to and during the flight. Sometimes we use things to help us cope with hard things but they actually end up creating anxiety, the symptoms, and panic. Caffeine will typically mimic symptoms of anxiety, and so if you often feel anxious after consuming caffeine, it’s best to stay clear of it before and during your flight. And alcohol often provides short-term relief for in-the-moment, but once it wears off or even soon after you consume it, you’re typically hit hard with the anxiety and the symptoms. And alcohol often messes with your mood, and not in a good way!
Tell somebody you’re anxious! When you get on the plane, share that you struggle with anxiety when flying with somebody (like a flight attendant!). It might sound like an embarrassing thing to do but you’re definitely not alone! Trust me, it won’t be their first time hearing it. Just getting it out and knowing that you have support if you need it will help to relieve some of the anxiety.
Acknowledge the facts and your realities. Flying is safe. Turbulence happens and planes are built to withstand it. And you aren’t trapped. Sure, you can’t just get off mid-flight, but you don’t need to. You’re safe right where you are. YOU are your safe place. And there's truly no difference between you experiencing panic on the ground versus on the plane, don't try to convince yourself otherwise!
Acknowledge and practice what you have control of.
What you tell yourself (your self-talk).
Your response to your thoughts and your anxious feelings.
The actions you take.
When you ask for help.
Bring items that will make you feel comfortable!
A good book or magazine.
Your favorite music or podcast.
A cozy travel pillow.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations. It’s important not to tell yourself that you won’t experience anxiety while flying. Remember, it’s okay to feel anxious. You’ll probably feel anxious while at the airport, before boarding, while boarding, and while on the plane, and you may even experience a panic attack, and that’s okay. You can still do hard things WHILE feeling anxious, you’ve proven this many times before.
Don’t minimize your skills for working through hard things! You have faced many hard things before and have always come out the other side of them. And remember, you have always successfully worked through every anxious moment and panic attack (no matter where you were, what you were doing, or who you were or weren’t with).
Medication is an option! Medication is a really helpful tool that works for many people. If you’re interested, connect with a clinician that can have a conversation with you about potentially using medication to help you during the flight. There’s no shame in using medication! And just because you may need it now doesn’t mean that you always will.
Don’t avoid flying! Avoidance will only make the fear stronger. Facing your fears and the things that make you feel uncomfortable will help you to push past them!
You are capable of flying (and peacefully)! These tips will help you! Remember, it’s all about taking small (healthy) steps often.
And the next time you take a trip, I want to hear from you! Feel free to send me a message over on Insta and let me know how it goes! I'd love to hear your story.