The idea of driving to the airport, checking-in, making my way to the departures lounge and get on that flight used to send my excitement levels through the roof. Going to the airport and just seeing someone off was such an anti-climax. As a girl I secretly wished I had a surprise trip waiting for me, if a family member was travelling. But that never happened and off I went on the M25 back to my home.
Now in the midst of adulthood I’ve had chance to hop on flights more frequently, and with higher frequency comes the realities of actually getting on a flight. Okay I’m going to be frank, Yes it’s still a mystery to me that planes even stay in the sky, although the physics prove otherwise. But my urge to travel has always been far greater than the fear of a crash landing. Having said that post 9/11 and more recently the issues with Air Malaysia did knock my confidence. But I choose to not live in fear. We all know the chances of a car accident are far greater than being in a plane accident and that doesn’t stop me driving, being a passenger or crossing the road, even having been a car accident.
So if it’s not the flying itself that produces the anxiety what is? Well here are some of the things that have made flying an anxious experience for me and some tips on things I have done to alleviate the stress and anxiety.
THE OTHER PASSENGERS
In economy (which I’m usually flying… ok ALWAYS flying) it can be the luck of the draw when it comes to who you are sat next to if it’s not your travel companion or you’re flying alone. Majority of the time my flight neighbours have been very cordial. And then there’s the minority. Things that irk me include:
Constant chat…to myself or other passengers, that is loud and especially on long haul flights.
Bad smells… I mean some smells are unbearable.
Snoring… I’m a light sleeper so this just makes it worse.
Children disturbing…. I feel bad for saying this one, but a screaming child, or hyperactive child really is the opposite of relaxing.
An unwanted conversation can be resolved with little cues like popping your headphones on, picking up a book to read, or simply not engaging in a way that will produced further chat. This may seem rude, but a simple smile instead of words does the trick. Now if the passenger is not getting the message, simply just ask them ‘if they mind, you just want to rest on the flight with your film, book etc.’
Loud conversations between other passengers… asking nicely really might not do the trick, so in this case, focusing on what you are doing helps. Something that calms my irritation is listening to an engaging podcast or audio book. One that helped me in this very situation was Shonda Rhimes year of yes, as it was uplifting and I was fulling engaged.
Bad smells… I make sure to carry a relaxing or calming essential oil that smells great and can aid that feeling of calm. But a scarf can be useful to create a barrier between you nose and the smell.
Snoring can be a barrier to nodding off. Earplugs can help slightly. But I am interested to see what help noise cancelling headphones can be. If you use these let me know if they help and which brands you swear by.
Children disturbing can really be stressful but in this moment the child is probably being hyperactive because they feel the discomfort on the flight and is just expressing it in a different way than you. I try to keep myself active be being engaged in something. I find journaling a great way to shift the focus from the child to being engaged in my thoughts.
Getting sick ON or OFF the flight
As I have become older my health can be really sabotaged by flying. As a person dealing with a longterm health condition there are quite a few elements that effect your immune system which are in the air. These are some of the issues I have dealt with whilst flying. And these are more likely to occur on long haul flights.
Dehydration…Feeling parched, even after asking for 10 white cups of water. Dry tight skin all over. And as a women with Afro hair, dry hair is at an all time high.
Germs… To be honest most planes aren’t wiped down spotless between flights, grime is everywhere, even the windows people have been breathing on as they stare at the clouds. It’s in the air. The oxygen is circulated, so we are stuck breathing in each others infected microbiomes.
Rehydrate… Now I make sure the first thing I buy after passing the security gates is TWO 750ml bottled water. You can’t rely on having enough teas and water provided by the airline. And limit coffee and alcohol consumption if possible, as this will dehydrate you further.
Germs… My wellness and health is something that I address on a day to day basis, but with being on a plane and my body adjusting to unfamiliar elements, it just goes into the stress mode.
Before flying I make sure to be on top form when it comes to eating well and taking additional supplements to protect my immune system.
Vitamin C is great, but to go that extra step I carry ginger and turmeric shots with me. They are small enough to take through the security gates, but I’m sure Boots or any drug store will have a juice or smoothie that provides similar benefits.
Losing Your Baggage
Making it to your destination without your belongings. This can be resolved fairly quickly, but this could also result in lost baggage never to be seen again.
To avoid someone else taking your luggage I try to buy suitcases that can be recognisable. They don’t have to be garish but trying to spot a plain black suitcase is just a lot of work!
I also make sure to pack some essentials and treasured possessions in my hand luggage. Usually my camera and one to two pieces of underwear.
And I try to remember it’s just STUFF. It is stressful but keeping perspective after the initial anger is important.
Being unsure on what is really happening and whether the pilot has it under control.
Depending on how rough the turbulence is I may have to actively engage in something to calm me. For you that might be music, or talking to your neighbour to distract you.
Sometimes I have found it useful to do something meditative like saying a prayer, breathing exercises or listening to a guided mediation.
Lack of sleep
Finding that perfect position… in economy of course
Noise… Plane engines are noisy
That perfect position…it doesn’t exist. Well not in Economy. However getting to sleep can be made a whole lot easier with a good neck pillow. I love the ones that you can adjust the shape from a U-shape to a straight pillow.
I also get chilly on the flight so I make sure to bring a shawl or pashmina to use in addition to the ones provided in the flight.
Noise… Again Earplugs or even better noise cancelling headphones.
A relaxant… Some people use strong sleep aids which I say go for it if it does the trick. I use a sleep tea and a good book to set me off. It’s so calming that within 10 minutes my lids start dropping.
Leg Cramps or Swelling
It isn’t normal to be sat down in one position for more than a couple of hours, let alone 11 hours plus. The blood is not circulating around your body which can cause swelling, cramps and sickness.
I really utilise my toilet breaks (I’ll be having lots of them with all the water I’m drinking) to have a walk, stretch my limbs and my back. Obviously there is more space outside the cubicle, so I have stopped feeling weird or self conscious about this as I know it’ll do me good.
This is usually the result of feeling overwhelmed or sick on the flight. Feeling stuck on the plane and checking the planes location has been something I have experienced far to often. This is a horrible feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant to provide you with paper bag if you need to breath in to it, or even ask to be moved to a more comfortable seat, if you feel restricted in you current one. This doesn’t have to be first class, but a more spacious area with a free seat next to you. First class would be perfect though!
The biggest thing is try not to feel too self conscious about your situation. I once had a panic attack because I was extremely sick on a flight. I just let the tears flow, but this was also induced by watching tearjerker ‘If I Stay‘ featuring Chloe Moretz. The film was so sad especially in my circumstance, but it helped me to shift my focus for a bit. I just had to release the tension I was going through and hopefully your neighbours will be understanding, or not bring attention to it, like mine did.
I hope I’ve given you food for thought about dealing with anxiety on flights and some tips on how to get through it.
If you have any other recommendations or have experienced a form of anxiety whilst flying please feel free to share in the comment box below, as sharing is healing.