Saturday, 1 August 2015

Coping with travel anxiety

I wrote this post the night before flying and also whilst on the plane, therefore I hope that by writing this as I'm trying to manage my own travel anxiety the tips and advice I have to offer will subsequently be of good use to you too. So sit back, relax and enjoy- don't you just hate it when they say that?!
Copyright: Sian Wootton
I'm lying here writing this waiting, trying to remain calm, trying to ignore that nagging in the pit of my stomach and creeping over my skin. Just trying to keep myself calm ready to travel tomorrow. I have suffered from travel anxiety for a good while now. Getting on a plane fills me with a sense of dread. I was fine for a short while after I started to fly again (I wouldn't do it for a few years) but then one bad patch of turbulence and a panic attack set it right back off again. It's funny because I can sit by the window and look out, especially during take off and landing. It actually fills me with awe every time, seeing the world from above, watching cars move along the roads and when you are above the clouds just looking at such a serene view of fluffy white clouds. 

Fear of flying or travel is incredibley common, however it can stem from so many different root causes. For some it's the fear of not being in control. And I hold my hands up to that one. It's got slightly better as I've had to relinquish a lot of control to my illness and being used to not having the last say but prior to that I very much liked to be in control. A lot of people will tell you at this point that it's much safer than driving a car, however to the person that likes being in control, if they are driving they have the control, the decisions are on them and they can see what's going on. Now I for one would not like to pilot a plane but getting on a plane the fact you can't see where you are going can be a big deal. Especially during turbulence, you can't see those bumps in the air, like you would a pot hole and try to avoid it. But we do have to trust that these pilots are highly experienced and will do their upmost to make your flight as comfortable as possible. And apparently turbulence is perfectly safe.
For others the biggest fear is claustrophobia or fear of heights. Or it is as all consuming as being scared something bad will happen. I know a lot of people think about what they would leave behind should something happen. Getting on a plane confronts us with our fears yet many of us try to cope and deal with them the best that we can in order to enjoy seeing the world and go on holiday. We see it as a necessary evil. Although some simply don't put themselves in that position, and forgo flying all together. In all honesty I can't say I blame them, it's something I've thought about many times. Indeed I did for a while. However in order to begin to face our fears and try to find a way to cope it can be worthwhile to pinpoint exactly where your fear stems from. Get to the root cause of the issue.
Personally as well as having that need to be in control I think it has to do with long standing travel sickness issue. Many a car ride has made me green around the gills and I've never been able to cope with a fairground ride wilder than the carousel. So when I know I have to get on a plane I instinctively think this is going to make me unwell. As someone that is chronically ill and ill enough, feeling more sick makes me nervous. I hate vomit. Being physically sick scares me. I can't even stand listening to someone wretching, it gives me cold sweats. I won't even start on my 14 year battle with IBS. Again leading me down that 'I don't have control' route. And what's worse than when you feel like you're not in control if your bodily functions? Sorry TMI.
This is why when I fly I like to be extra prepared and know that I have everything I need to help me cope should I begin to panic. So below I will list a few of the things I do and the items I pack in my hand luggage that help me to at least attempt to be calm.
* Book a flight time that suits you. I like to fly early so that it's over with and I don't spend most of the day getting more and more worked up. Where as if I fly early I get up and go (not that I have much of that.) Also I've heard that flying early is when the air has less disruptions so you will hopefully experience less turbulence.
* Pick your seat carefully- Of course the main question is aisle or window? But also think carefully about where on the plane you would prefer to sit. If you can book a seat in the middle of the plane as this is the centre of gravity of the plane and by sitting by the wing it is the most balanced part of the plane, so you feel less bumps. Or if you are claustrophobic opt for a seat with extra leg room.
* I find guided meditation, mindfulness excercises and relaxing music really helpful. It's good to zone into and tune out of the panic of your current surroundings. If you know this works for you be sure to download them onto your mobile or ipod for use throughout your journey. By downloading them onto a phone or any handheld device it also means you can listen to them throughout take off and landing if you find those parts the most stressful.
* If you have never tried guided meditation, mindfulness or relaxing music, why not give it a try a few weeks before you fly. See if it helps you to feel calmer and zone out. Find one that works for you. Make sure that with any guided meditation or mindfulness that you find the person's voice soothing. There are some that might grate on you and that's not want you want when you are trying to remain calm. Also some soothing music you might find irritating. The sound of a waterfall might not be what you want to hear when you're confined to a plane seat. And some white noise sounds sound too much like rushes of air, again the last thing you want to hear. So experiment with what is good for you.
* I really recommend checking that you can listen to your playlist or any apps you have downloaded in aeroplane mode. I thought I could as I pay for spotify to listen offline for the very purpose of travelling. Yet here I am sat on the plane (Hi from just above Dubrovnik) and it won't let me play it. So test it out. I think the issue I was logged into Spotify through Facebook, which of course requires being online, not through spotify.
* Another option you may like to try to help you zone out is an audio book. I've recently been testing Audible to see how I got on with it. Apart from it being a bit wierd at first having someone else read a story in your head and it not being your own voice, and also falling asleep and missing half the story I thought it would be a great idea to help me manage during the flight. And I have to say here I am up in the air (Hi from somewhere over the Ionian sea) and I've found it really useful. Download a book that will keep you entertained, engaged but that doesn't have too complicated a plot that should you panic you can't follow the story. As well as any other aircraft noise.  I recommend listening to a sample before you purchase, as again you may not like the voice of the narrator. Having a voice like Mummy Pig from Peppa Pig is a bit wierd to be honest.
* Pack a grab bag. This is one of the most important things I pack. As well as my main hand luggage I pack a smaller clutch bag to have by my side or in the pocket in front of your seat, if there is one. I've learnt that when I start to panic the last thing I need is to be reaching down, trying to grab my bag and find things just makes me panic even more. As well as makes me feel dizzier. However if I have them by my side and easily accessible, I can reach for them as soon as I need them without the faff. Even the thought of knowing it's there is reassuring. So what do I pack in my grab bag?
Copyright: Sian Wootton
1. Face wipes- I use these to help cool me down. When I start to panic I start to feel really hot, especially my face so having these is great to dab at my face like an Victorian woman having an attack of the nerves. 
2. Medication- In particular the tablets I need for the duration of the flight. Put any medication you might need throughout the flight in a little pot or dispenser so that it's easily accessible. That's what the little macaron you can see in the photo is. You may need your regular medication or have pain killers, anti sickness or anti anxiety meds handy just in case.
3. Lavendar roller ball- Although this has to be added after security with it being a liquid. I like to put a little bit of this on the inside of my wrists and inhale if I need to relax. If I get a headache or sore sinuses during the flight, which can easily happen due to the change in air pressure I roll some over my forehead and behind my ears.
4. Sweets and mints- A must for helping your ears cope during take off and landing. Mints can also be good for if you are feeling a bit nauseous. You may also want to try ginger drops.
5. Head phones- For listening to anything you've downloaded to help you relax or keep you entertained. Choose ones that are comfortable. I had inner ear ones as I found the new ones that came with my S6 really comfy, however after 2 hours my ears were quite sore. I think the pressure in my ears meant they became more uncomfortable. If you really want to drown out any other noises, especially if they freak you out, opt for noise cancelling ones. They might be expensive but worth it for the peace. Try to get ones that don't press on your ears but envelop them comfortably.
6. Phone- Simple really, for all your entertainment, relaxation and obligatory plane wing shots.
7. Travel bands- These aren't in my bag long as I put them on as soon as I'm in my seat. I use these to help me manage my travel sickness. Whether they're a placebo or not they have certainly helped me over the years. I even pop them on at home on days where I feel really nauseous.
If you feel travel sick looking out at the horizon can help you feel more balanced. Wearing sunglasses can also be helpful as when you stop looking out the window you can feel a bit dizzy from the change in the light. It's bright above them there clouds. Don't do anything that involves having your head down, like reading, as this will cause you too feel more nauseous. If you feel panicky or nauseous during turbulence don't look at the wings, watching them bounce will only increase your panic. Shut the window blind and focus straight ahead.
The day before lay out anything you will need for the day of travelling. Such as the outfit you plan to wear and toiletries you will need to use. Plus anything you will need to pack at the last minute.
Create a list of the items you need to pack last minute as well as anything else you need to do before you leave. For example lock all doors and windows, and checking one last time if you have your passport. Tick them off your list as you do them for that extra bit of peace of mind. Trying to remember if you have locked the front door because you were in such a flurry will cause more anxiety.
Before you leave check the live departure boards online to see whether your flight is on time. If there is a delay ring your airline for advise.
Be organized about how you are getting to the airport. Prebook a taxi etc. Don't wait until the day. The less stress surrounding the journey there the better. So opt for what works best for you. Would you rather the distraction of driving or would that cause more stress? Remember to check traffic conditions before you set off so that you can be prepared for them.
Finally I'm going to suggest some YouTube videos that are good for helping put your mind at ease before flying.

Watch "Fear of flying help video by Virgin Flying Without Fear on YouTube

Watch "Air Turbulence Tips" on YouTube

Watch "Working Through Travel Anxiety // My Experience +…" on YouTube

I hope that you have found some of these tips useful and they help you to cope with your next flight. Please share your tips too, as I would love to know what helps you.

Sian x


  1. Such a good post! As you know I don't enjoy flying (& turbulence.. urgh) so these are great tips & I will remember them next time if I decide that I will infact fly again haha. Well done on the journey hun xx

    1. I wish could have seen it before you went but I wanted to put them to the test. Flying is so amazing when you think about it but is just so scary. I'm sure you will again. If only to have an amazing time on holiday again. Hopefully you'll be well armed with loads of advice to help you. Xxx

  2. Inspirational and loaded with great ideas!! Must take a very long flight at end of year to see new grandson and I will be studying your post v carefully and taking comfort from it Thanks so much xx

    1. Thank you. I hope you find them useful. I have a travel interview coming up about a long haul trip and a long haul tips post coming soon too, which hopefully will help you. When you are going for such a special occasion as meeting a new grandson it makes it even easier, as you can think about how lovely it will be to see him. Fill your phone and camera full of photos to look through and coo over on the return journey. As well as just to document such a special time of course. Xx