How to Maintain Your Calm Before a Flight

Breathe In, Breathe Out

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Photo courtesy of Turkish Airlines

Flying is stressful enough for normal travelers, who have to encounter everything from long lines at the airport security checkpoints to crowded gates. And that stress is multiplied when you're an anxious flyer.

Dr Toby Bateson is the doctor on call for ZenPlugs Ltd., which makes earplugs for travelers and others. He notes that anxiety when flying is common, affecting one in 10 of the population, and some travelers often have anxiety and panic attacks when thinking of flying. He offers some tips to help reduce fear and anxiety before and during flight.

  1. Preparation. Take some time out to prepare yourself mentally. Spend a few minutes every day for a few days before the flight performing the following mindfulness exercise. Imagine yourself being calm in the lead up to the flight. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and visualise yourself in that the flight lounge, on the steps of the plane and then seated on it. Imagine that you are calm. Rather than feeling yourself being railroaded into panic choose the option to be calmer. Realize that this is a choice and it will become one. By imagining this vividly for a couple of minutes you are a step closer to making it reality.
  1. Herbal remedies. Visit your local health food shop and get yourself a herbal remedy to reduce stress and anxiety.  Some people find valerian helpful although there is no proven benefit for everybody. Others highlighted by the Mayo Clinic include chamomile, passionflower, lavender and lemon balm.  It is worth avoiding benzodiazepines, medicines designed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, depression and insomnia, as they are addictive and can be habit forming.
  2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine stimulates the "flight or fight" response by activating the sympathetic nervous system. This can lead to some of the physical signs of anxiety, including a fast heart rate and palpitations. It is best to avoid caffeine for 8 to 12 hours before flying. Many people use alcohol to reduce anxiety. You may feel that it is helping, but sometimes it can lead to disinhibition and can make the response to stressful situations worse. When alcohol is wearing off, anxiety is often a feature.  It is best avoided for 24 hours before you fly as well as during the flight.

    Dr. Michael Brein, known as The Travel Psychologist, says he's the first to  to coin the term ‘travel psychology.’ He feels that instead of fearing and dreading having to deal with all the discomforts of the airport departure experience, be excited about it as part of the travel experience. 

    Brein recommends that anxious travelers create their own comfortable inward personal space. "Induce a sense of peaceful relaxation in this meditative space with your favorite calm, soothing sounds, like your own favorite collection of songs on your iPod," he said. "Or put on your noise canceling headphones. Think of and concentrate on the future: your arrival. Live in, be in the eternal now but focus on the future."

    In the end acceptance of airport departure travel hassles is part of the travel process, said Brein. "Any negative behaviors are much more likely to compound into fears, anxieties and only make the situation worse. Approach the airport obstacles with a sense of celebration," he said. "Finally, keep your eye on the prize. The exhilaration of the travel arrival experience, itself, can only be enhanced, all the more by overcoming the obstacles to getting there."