Traveling, as a concept, is a lot of fun. If you're lucky enough to be able to afford to take vacations now and then, or even if you travel often for work, it can be really rewarding. Plus, taking time off and getting outside of your comfort zone (literally) can be great for your health.
But, as fun as it is to escape everyday life and jet off to an exotic locale, the actual act of traveling and flying itself can be rife with triggers for anxiety. How early do you need to get to the airport? What if your flight is canceled? And, once you get on the plane, how do you get through the fear that comes with every bit of turbulence?
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, says that flying, in particular, is anxiety-inducing because unlike, say, driving a car, you can't swerve away if an accident is about to happen.
"For many people, anxiety about flying on a plane stems from a lack of control," she says. "You’re a passenger on a plane with no control over anything."
It makes sense on a lot of levels: You're not the one in the driver's seat, and beyond being thousands of feet in mid-air without any control should a potential accident arise, you also can't control if a plane will leave without you if you're late.
That being said, a fear of flying doesn't have to stop you from traveling by plane altogether. If you're someone who gets anxious about flying, read on for some tips to help you keep your cool.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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Try a CBT technique
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends trying to overcome your travel anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, such as deep breathing into your diaphragm. If you're focused on your breath, hopefully it will take your mind away from what's scaring you.
It's tempting to down a Bloody Mary before your flight, but you might end up regretting it.
Alcohol is a depressant that relaxes your nervous system, so it makes sense that we associate having a drink with chilling out, but for some people, it can actually increase anxiety. Plus, the last thing you want if you're already anxious about flying is a Bridesmaids-type situation.
And if you're someone who gets anxious after drinking coffee, it's probably a good idea to avoid caffeine and just stay hydrated with water.
Make a list
"Sometimes, the days leading up to a flight are more anxiety-provoking than the flight itself," Morin says.
With that in mind, try to use those days to remind yourself why you're getting on the plane in the first place.
"Create a list of all the reasons why you want to go on the trip and read it to yourself if your anxiety tries to convince you to cancel the trip," Morin suggests.
There's a reason why visualization works so well for athletes — your brain really can be that powerful.
Morin says that it might help to imagine all the things you're going to do to go on your trip.
"Imagine yourself walking through the steps of taking a trip," she says. "From arriving to the airport to stepping off the plane after your flight, spend some time visualizing yourself successfully getting through it."
Seeing it in your mind might help you believe it, and in turn, quell your anxiety.
Don't research yourself into a panic
Unless you really think it'll be helpful, Morin says that it actually probably isn't a good use of time to research airplane safety if you're anxious about it.
"Instead, getting on the airplane and facing their fears head-on is what will really help them feel less anxious about flying in the long-term," she says.
However, if you have severe anxiety and your therapist tells you that it'll help, that's a different story. Your therapist might, based on your individual experience, advise you to research planes to learn more about what to expect on a plane as part of exposure therapy.
Bring a book, download a movie, grab a magazine — you get the picture. Beyond just having something to do on the flight, it helps to have something to distract yourself from any uneasy thoughts.
Tell yourself it will be okay
Mantras aren't just for meditation.
"Create a short script to give yourself," Morin says. "Repeating 'I’m okay,' or 'I’m facing my fears' can help you drown out catastrophic thoughts."
Work towards acceptance
At the end of the day, you might not be able to make your worst fears go away — but, if you can't beat 'em, accept 'em. That doesn't mean giving in to your most catastrophic thoughts and letting them overwhelm you. It just means that you acknowledge that you're thinking them and trying to move past your anxiety.
"Accept that you’ll have some anxiety," Morin says. "Thinking that you should be completely calm will cause you to panic when you realize that you are feeling anxious."