You know the feeling. You think about your upcoming trip, and you can literally feel your heart rate increase. Or you are walking down the jetbridge to board the plane, and you walk slower and slower because you dread getting on the plane. Or once you are on the plane you start feeling like you have to, must get off immediately. Travel anxiety can happen to everyone, from seasoned travelers to the occasional vacationer. Sometimes when I have been traveling a lot I can’t stand the smell of the air on airplanes, and getting close to the door makes me shudder. Once I remember flying back to Texas from California at night, after hours of delays, sitting in the back of the plane. I have never really been claustrophobic before, but right then I thought I might scream if I didn’t get some room. It happens to everybody.
I have a friend who is about to go on a fabulous vacation to Playa del Carmen with her family, but the idea of flying there makes her break out into a cold sweat. She asked me for suggestions on how to overcome this. So first (as always) I did some research. Basically, even though it’s possible to experience the anxiety in a physical way (shortness of breath, increased heart rate, cold sweats, etc) you are not actually experiencing physical distress. So the main thing to do is to calm yourself down. There are multiple ways to do this.
- Yoga/breathing techniques. Closing your eyes, taking deep breaths, and visualizing whatever calms you down is a great way to dispel anxiety. Taking a few yoga or meditation classes before you go will help, but really, slow, deep, conscious breathing will slow your heart rate and calm you down. I actually will listen to yoga podcasts and imagine myself doing yoga positions (especially child’s pose!) to calm down.
- Reframe. Any time you catch yourself starting to freak out about flying, consciously choose to think about something else. The amazing beach you will see on vacation, room service, the friends you will visit, etc. If stuff starts going wrong on your trip, don’t focus on the bumps. Focus on the people who are helping to fix it, and thank them for doing their job.
- Focus on something besides flying. Knitting, reading, and listening to music are great ways for me to get out of my skin and into my head. They actually make me forget I’m flying. I read a lot of mysteries, nothing really deep, because the point is to make me forget I’m stuck on a plane with 150 people. Until someone wants to bring me some wine. Other things that work are movies, games like Sudoku, helping or playing with your kids, or even working.
- Take care of yourself physically. Make sure that you are hydrated, that you’ve eaten, that you are wearing comfortable clothes, and that you’re not too cold or too hot. Any physical discomfort will enhance travel stress, so make sure you feel as good as possible. Wear layers, have a bottle of water, take a snack with you, and bring a pashmina to cover up with if necessary.
- Take the aisle seat. If you have claustrophobia issues (like one of my coworkers does) an easy way to take care of it is to sit in the aisle. This way if you need to get up and walk around you can, and you don’t feel closed in.
- Research. If the reason you’re anxious is because of fears of crashing, do some research. Find out for yourself what the statistics are. Just so you know, you have a higher risk of dying by stumbling while you’re walking than by an airplane crash.
- Wine. If wine relaxes you at home, have a glass while flying. Don’t get tanked, that won’t help, but enjoy a glass of wine or your favorite cocktail. Make sure to drink some water afterward though.
- Therapy. If you have serious travel anxiety and none of these tips help, it’s not a bad idea to talk to someone about it and see if you can get to the root of the issue.
Don’t obsess about this!! If you have travel anxiety, you can still enjoy vacations or travel for work. Just take steps ahead of time to deal with it. And enjoy yourself when you get there!!!