Vacation time is here! You're ready to relax, unwind, explore and just leave all your stress and cares behind. There's only one problem - you have a long flight standing between you and your amazing adventures. Recently I took an informal poll on my Facebook page asking friends what they do to help with flight anxiety. Here are a few of their responses - maybe you can identify with some of them:
Watch a movie, work or sleep
Chew mint gum and listen to a book or play word cross
Crown and Coke. A few to be exact.
Valor (essential oil blend)
Listen to the Calm app
Klonapin and vodka
I have always envied those who can just hop on a plane, fall asleep, and wake up refreshed once they reach their destination without a care in the world. Not me! I get sweaty palms and feel tense each time I fly, even though I've been traveling for basically my entire life (since age 1) and have now been to 36 countries. If it's a smooth flight, I'm generally able to relax, but when it's bumpy or has a lot of turbulence, I have a hard time calming down. I'm still not at the point where I can say that I enjoy flying, but I feel like each time I fly I'm able to manage my fears a little more effectively. Here are some things that have helped me get through flights without feeling as scared as I used to!
Come Prepared With Entertainment
For me, there is nothing more disappointing than boarding a plane only to find out that your 8+ hour flight does not include any seatback screens for entertainment. After being tired of that letdown, since then I have always made sure to download movies, TV shows or podcasts for my flight ahead of time so that I have plenty of things to keep me occupied. For me, the more immersive the entertainment, the better. The more I can be distracted by something during the flight, the less anxious I feel. I like action movies and thrillers that keep me engaged, but comedies can also be helpful!
If possible, bring your laptop or pen and paper to let your creative juices flow. You'd be amazed how much you can get done with a little bit of nervous energy. I love journaling or writing blog posts while flying because it's not often I have such long periods of uninterrupted time to put my thoughts on paper and to work on my to-do list. Whether you're writing for pleasure, answering emails, working on a budget project or anything else, it's a great time to be productive, so try to focus your energy on what you want to accomplish during the flight and you'll find that you won't be dwelling on your anxious thoughts as much. Maybe you don't journal or write blog posts - flights are also a great time to write a letter of gratitude to those who you appreciate or even just a nice letter or postcard to those you miss.
Talk With The Crew
Share your anxiety with the flight attendants. They are trained to assist and reassure you and will be glad to spend a little extra time with you or check on you more often. On our last flight, I was seated next to a group of elderly ladies who were incredibly fearful during the flight. It was nice to see the flight attendants coming by to make sure they were alright and to ask if they could do anything for them.
If you can book far enough in advance to have a lot of seating options, always opt for seats closer to the front of the plane. Not only will this allow you to de-plane more quickly, but it will also help you have a more comfortable experience. I have experienced FAR more turbulence and movement of the plane sitting in the back, so I always try to choose a seat in the front when I have the option. Also, I find that sitting on the aisle allows me to feel less claustrophobic.
If you're able to, sleeping is a great way to avoid flight anxiety and fear. Some people can easily fall asleep on planes, but I've only been able to sleep with the help of full-spectrum hemp oil (my favorite brand is from Ned). Even then, it's still really tough for me to stay asleep on a flight because the hemp oil provides more of a subtle relaxation feeling rather than a heavy sleep-inducing effect. Natural supplements like valerian root, magnesium and melatonin can also be helpful in promoting sleep, so those may be good options to look into if you're not interested in trying more intense or addictive sleeping aids that may require a prescription. Side note: alcohol definitely helps to put me to sleep, but I always end up feeling pretty crappy and dehydrated when I get to my destination if I have a drink on the plane. For that reason, I'm trying to avoid that and use healthier methods to help me relax and sleep.
There are several apps developed by pilots that will provide you with a flight model, expected weather and even a turbulence forecast so you know what to expect for your flight. The ones I like the most are called SkyGuru and SOAR. The knowledge provided by these apps gives me some peace of mind knowing what the outlook is for the flight.
You can use apps or create your own playlists before the flight with calming music or upbeat music - whatever helps you feel most relaxed. I like using noise-canceling headphones for music, watching movies, and when trying to sleep so I can drown out the noise from fellow passengers or from the engines.
If you're fortunate enough to be traveling with a friend or significant other, bring a deck of cards, a travel-size game, or good old fashioned pen and paper to play some old favorites like MASH, the dot game or even tic tac toe! My husband and I like to play Scrabble with each other while on the plane (you can download a pass and play version for your phone) I see plenty of people playing Sudoku and most of the time the in-flight magazine in the seatback in front of you will have a crossword puzzle you can complete if you didn't bring anything of your own.
Be Mindful And Pray/Meditate
Being mindful probably means different things to each person, but I remind myself that ultimately the outcome of the flight is out of my control, so worrying about it isn't going to help direct the plane to a safe landing, as much I wish it could. Try taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself that in just a few hours, you will be enjoying your destination. Also, take the time to pray for those in your life and take the focus off yourself and on lifting up the needs of those in your life instead. Meditate on Scripture verses that will help you emphasize peace, calm and safety.
It's true what they say - knowledge is power. Take some time to learn about turbulence and how common it is. Though it can be unsettling to feel the unexpected bursts of rough air, remember that planes are made to withstand all of this and the best thing you can do is to obey the fasten seatbelt signs in case turbulence does occur. Especially if you're a first-time flyer, there are some helpful videos on YouTube where you can watch a Pilot explain the typical noises during a flight from start to finish so you will know what to expect.
If you're traveling alone and the passenger next to you seems interested in talking, try striking up a conversation. You might make a new friend and at the same time, help to take your mind off feelings of anxiety. I'm not someone that typically likes to talk to someone for an entire flight, but it can help to break up the monotony especially if you find you have things in common.
by Emily Adams
Emily Adams is a travel consultant and creator of The Planking Traveler. She provides guidance on budgeting, off the beaten path travel guides and ways to incorporate enjoyable movement into your travels She resides in North Carolina with her husband and rescue dog, Sasha. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.