Years ago, I was on a flight from Seattle to Moscow, Idaho. I had just spent a week away in Minneapolis with my husband getting vetted for cross-cultural work, I was on edge and struggling with feelings of humiliation and disappointment. It was stormy and bumpy and the pilot was forced to return the plane to Seattle because of low visibility. Within an hour we re-boarded the plane in an effort to try again. I was nervous at the prospect of flying in the storm and was beginning to feel unsettled. The turbulence on that flight was strong and I was unable to see anything but grey clouds through the window, so as the emotions from the last week came to a head, I panicked. I had trouble breathing, I cried, I shook and I couldn’t calm myself until the plane touched down.
Since that experience, I have dealt with anxiety while flying. No matter how frequently I fly or how much time I invest in prayer, the anxiety has remained. But we all know how integral flying is to cross-cultural living and multiple times a year I fly internationally. I have, therefore, searched for and applied tools that help my fear of flying and have found some relief. Today, I wanted to share with you those tools that help make flying bearable for me in the midst of fear. They give me the courage I need to know that I will survive another flight and potential panic attack.
- Plan your trip. The less anxiety I feel about the logistics of the trip itself, the better I can handle the anxiety in flight. For me, this means being early for the flight, leaving enough time between layovers, choosing our seats so that my family sits together and having a plan for how we will board and exit the plane. Generalized anxiety can heighten the dread related to a particular phobia. So, planning and prepping the weeks and days before a flight are helpful in lowering the potential for in-flight panic.
- Prep your kids. In line with planning the trip it is also helpful to plan for in-flight child entertainment. Charging power banks and iPads, downloading movies, games or books that will keep kids occupied is helpful. My kids are aware of my fear of flying and have walked through GoZen with me, a program that teaches kids about anxiety relief. This gives us a shared vocabulary and they have an understanding of what anxiety is and how it can affect someone. They check in with me, share their devices, hold my hand and tell me it will all be ok.
- Limit your caffeine. I am a lover of coffee and use it to soothe myself in a variety of circumstances, however, the caffeine becomes a liability on the days that I fly. Because caffeine is a stimulant and can ignite the fight or flight response it is bad news for those of us with anxiety. But if I limit my coffee intake to a cup or two in the morning and switch it out with a nice hot tea, my heart rate has an easier time remaining steady. Less caffeine gives me more control over the physical expression of anxiety and helps me feel better equipped to handle what’s to come.
- Breathe. This has actually been one of the most helpful ways for me to alleviate anxiety and not just for flying. When anxiety hits, our breathing becomes very shallow and the shallow breathing makes us even more anxious, entering us into an unending anxiety cycle. Taking the time to breathe deeply, even for a minute, will be calming, break the cycle, and reduce stress. I use alternate nostril breathing which is a good option for alleviating anxiety and calming the nervous system, allowing the mind to remain in control. While in flight I embrace my inner Yogi, and come up with a mantra to repeat as I breathe, usually a bible verse or phrase that ministers to my spirit at that time, allowing the mind and body to reset.
- Color. There are so many types of adult coloring books these days that have beautifully intricate designs. A set of colored pencils and a good coloring page can help bring peace. It mimics meditation and occupies the mind, letting it switch off to focus on staying in the lines while creating a masterpiece. According to what I have read, coloring Mandalas can help reduce anxiety to a greater degree than other art forms.
- Medication. Once I realized that my anxiety was not going away over time I talked with my primary care physician and he provided me with anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes, no matter how many skills or tools you utilize the anxiety will keep you in a state of distress and medication can be a good option. It can alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety which in turn allows the mind to remain relaxed and makes traveling by air more palatable.
We plan to take a trip back to the United States this summer and the thought of flying for 18 hours has already kept me up at night. I don’t know why my anxiety remains. I do know that I am an honest to goodness lover of Jesus, bought with his blood, saved by his grace and filled with his spirit. Even though the peace he gives to me is muddled in the midst of heart palpitations, shallow breathing and fear, it is still present and I am still loved. God is bigger than my anxiety and he is bigger than my fear.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Does traveling make you anxious? What tips or tricks do you have that ease the travel experience?