This month it is Mental Health Awareness Month in Australia. I wanted to publish a post relating to mental health every day of the month so that I can personally raise awareness. You can find all posts, posted & upcoming on my schedule. This is a guest post written by Jess – it was not written by me!
Hi! I’m Jess. I’ve been coping with anxiety for more than a decade now. I refuse to let it stand in my way! Visit me at the Brave & Strong to create stronger, braver mental health- every single day. And grab your free essential packing list to smash through airport and flight anxiety as well!
Travel is incredible for our mental health. Blogs like bexcapades.com show just how much we can learn and grow through travel, even if we have a mental illness like anxiety or depression. The thing is, travel is also inherently stressful. It can really challenge our mental health- particularly our anxiety levels. So, if we want to enjoy travelling and get all those amazing mental health benefits, we need ways to cope with anxiety before, during, and after we travel.
In this post, I’ll help you create one part of an anxiety-busting mental toolkit for your travels. We’re going to focus on the beginning and end of many journeys: the airport, and the flight. Of course, most of these tips apply to travelling by car, boat, or train as well. And, you can use them throughout your travels!! (pst: you can download my essential packing list to smash through airport and flight anxiety here for FREE! Grab it now!)
The anxiety-inducing experiences of airports and planes
Does anyone actually enjoy airports and planes?! They’re not exactly relaxing places, after all! But when you have anxiety, these experiences take on whole new levels of stress. You know what I mean: lugging baggage around, running late, checking in, customs, flight times, waiting, lines, crowds, noise! It’s awful. And some of us have additional phobias such as flying or security to contend with.
I’ve traveled a lot in my life, and the beginnings and ends have always been the worst. I’m going to be really honest with you: my airport and plane anxiety has never gone away, and sometimes, it’s been…very bad. But, I have definitely developed a lot of clever (well, sneaky) ways to cope. We shouldn’t let our fears stop us from traveling: instead, we should prepare for them, and support ourselves while we face them. Easier said than done, right? Well, read on for my 8 sneakiest tips and tricks for overcoming that awful airport and flight anxiety.
1. Anti-Anxiety Mindset
The most important thing you can bring on your travels is a positive, healthy, anti-anxiety mindset. And by that, I mean a mind that is prepared to face anxiety and is confident in overcoming it. The thing is, all kinds of things can go wrong at the beginning and end of your travels: missing your flight, delayed flights, visa trouble, getting lost, having items confiscated, unpleasant seat neighbours, etc. You can’t just tell your anxious mind that none of this will happen- because it might.
I’ve travelled so much that literally all those things have happened to me (I’ll tell you about my visa misadventures in Japan some other time). None of it was fun, but I survived, and you will too. Don’t tell yourself that “everything will be fine”. Tell yourself that if something does go wrong, or if you face a challenge, that you can- and WILL- cope with it. Tell yourself that whatever you face, it will be worth it.
2. Be EARLY
Seriously. Find out how long the airport or airline recommends you allow for getting to the airport and checking in- and then add at least an hour to that. You might have extra time at the airport, but it’s so much better than the alternative. Don’t feel stressed when you get caught in crazy lines or if you get lost. Allow yourself time to get to your boarding gate and relax a bit, before the flight.
3. Pack well
There’s a lot of advice out there for travel packing, including for us anxiety-prone folks. But here, I mean specifically packing for the airport and the flight. Of all my tips here, this one probably seems the most boring, but for me has been the most effective! Seriously, packing for my pre-travel nerves has made a massive difference. It means I know where everything is, and I’ve got whatever I need to calm down.
I make sure I have all my airport-critical items in their own carry bag, and then I have my specially prepared flight kit in a small and unobtrusive bag. I’ve actually put together an essential packing list that you can download here; be sure to check it out! It’s the exact packing plan I follow to keep my anxiety in check.
4. Flight attendants are your best friends
I once had an anxiety attack on a plane because I ran out of motion sickness pills. Another time, I had (an even worse!) attack because I was squished between two weird strangers and melted down. In both these incidents, once I (hysterically) communicated the problem to the flight attendants, they took amazing care of me: calmed me down, moved me to a new seat, brought me blankets, pillows, tea, ice, etc., and monitored me throughout and after the flight.
(Singapore Airlines even gave me a little toy bear once. It was super sweet. And um, I was 29 at the time, ahaha.) Flight attendants have never made me feel embarrassed or ashamed of my anxiety. They have simply identified the problem, and helped me cope. Please seek their help, if you need it. They are there to make everyone- including YOU- more comfortable. You’re not annoying them or being a burden. Be nice and respectful, and they’ll be super nice and respectful in response.
5. Sneaky ways to hydrate
Staying hydrated at the airport and during the flight makes a huge difference to your physical and mental well-being. And yet, it’s a pain getting to the toilet, especially during the flight if you have to climb past strangers. Don’t avoid water, like I did for years. Drink smarter water. I take electrolyte/isotonic tablets and dissolve them in a bottle once I get through security. That way, I can drink less water (therefore need the toilet less frequently), but am staying hydrated. (Search for “electrolyte tablets” on Amazon or visit a pharmacy to find something suitable.)
6. Stomach issues
Speaking of the toilet. Ahem. It’s a stressful experience, so many of us get constipation or diarrhea. I’m in the diarrhea camp, and so I start taking Imodium (aka Gastro-Stop etc.) before I even get to the airport, and regularly during and after the flight. I don’t wait to feel sick- I assume it will happen. The same with motion sickness. It’s already too late to take the pills once I’m nauseous, so I take them well in advance (and I include the journey to the airport).
The food you eat before and during the flight matters as well. Explore what calms and stabilizes your stomach, and what upsets it. Bring along snacks that you know you can tolerate when anxious. I personally eat rice, vegetables, and lean protein before the flight, and bring muesli/oat bars, dry crackers, and chocolate as flight snacks.
7. Comfort and self-care
If you’re living with anxiety, you may already know what soothes and comforts you. Try to plan how your soothing routines could work when traveling. You could also plan a few ways to treat or pamper yourself during the flight: new fluffy socks, fancy cream, an old favorite book. It’s a great form of self-care and also gets you in the mood for travel.
I have a few comfort items I always travel with: an oversized, cuddly sweatshirt or hoodie, a small, soft cushion scented with lavender, and hand-cream with calming essential oils. Both the scent and the act of massaging my hands is super relaxing.
8. Headphones and distractions
Headphones- and something to listen to/watch- are a lifesaver. Whether you’re weaving through crowds, waiting in line or to board, or on the flight, you need something to ground you and distract you from your anxiety. Even if you aren’t actually listening to anything, headphones stop people- seat neighbours etc.- from talking to you, and block out external airport and flight noise. Noise-cancelling headphones might work even better for you.
When I’m anxious, it’s super hard to concentrate. The in-flight entertainment doesn’t hold my me for long. I switch my focus often, and something needs to be really compelling to calm me down. Fill your phone/tablet/laptop to the brim with music, movies, TV, audiobooks, hypnosis tracks, etc. You can delete them at your destination if you’re worried about storage. Also try silly app games- just ensure they don’t need a wifi connection.
Make sure you’ve got your power cords and a back-up power source just in case, and charge devices at every opportunity.
Pro tip: before a holiday, I start a few new movies, shows, books, and app games, and if I love them, I stop. I save them for the upcoming flight. It gives me something to look forward to, and means I’m not scrambling to find something I think I’ll enjoy enough to distract my anxiety.
- A flexible, well thought-out mental tool-kit can be the difference between a positive and negative travel experience.
- Putting a little extra thought into your pre-travel plan can turbocharge your ability to cope with airport and flight stress.
- I hope you find some of the above tips and tricks helpful, and can make them work for you. Happy travels!
Remember to grab your essential packing list to smash through airport and travel anxiety here for FREE before you go!