I’ve been lucky enough throughout my life to have jetted off to different parts of the world from a fairly young age and therefore got used to flying and airports since before I can even remember. That being said, since before last year, I’d had a gap of not going abroad for three years and had the horrible experience of a bad panic attack whilst flying.
I’d never really experienced flying nerves up until this point so didn’t expect to suddenly get them, but on a flight returning from France I felt extremely panicky and spent the whole time trying to talk myself out of thinking the plane was about to drop out of the sky, to which every little sound and bump soon led to a full blown panic attack. It was truly one of the worst experiences of my life, I was shaking pretty badly and had a completely dry throat but felt too scared to even move my arm to drink from a water bottle. The whole thing only lasted a couple of minutes until the flight attendant made me feel much better but for the next bunch of flights I went on I would worry for days in advance about the same thing happening again.
I have a ridiculously wild imagination whenever anxiety creeps in. Before getting on one plane, a news crew were filming in the airport and all I could imagine was it being used as footage about our doomed flight. I’ve also convinced myself before that spotting water dripping off the bottom of the plane was fuel leaking and even worried that we were going to crash into another plane midair simply because I could see it. The only real way to not get worked up is to recognise that all of these silly stories are coming from an overactive imagination and just to laugh them off as works of creative genius.
Since then, I’ve had quite a crazy year and have been on 10 flights in just 12 months. With each flight, I learnt new tips and tricks to keep anxiety at bay, and although on some I still felt waves of panic, I’m now at a point where I’ve finally learnt to enjoy flights rather than be terrified of them.
Always pay a little extra and book a seat next to the window and towards the front of the plane | I had my first ever flight away from the window last year, and truly hated every minute of it. I’m the kind of person who needs to see what is going on and being able to look out of the window is essential for me to feel relaxed. I also find that my favourite place to be is towards the front of the plane, as at the back I feel like I’m being dragged along by the plane and in the middle I feel penned in by people. My little secret, seat number 10a is the place to be.
Have a pamper night the evening before you fly | Nothing calms the nerves quite like a long soak in a hot bubbly bath with a mug of hot chocolate. My weapon of choice to fight anxiety and trouble sleeping is Neroli Oil which I burn just before bed in my Neal’s Yard Oil Burner. Trust me when I say it will soon become your best friend.
Take photos above the clouds | The main reason I do this is to remember back to the flights I’ve been on and that they all went absolutely fine. It’s also a great way to learn to appreciate how beautiful it is to be above the world and to stop relating the experience to fear.
If you feel a panic attack coming on, tense your muscles as hard as you can for a few seconds at a time | This is by far the best tip for panic attacks that I’ve ever come across. It works at bringing your mind back to reality rather than drifting off into anxiety.
Have a big bottle of water handy | A bottle of water is a security blanket for anyone prone to panic attacks. It’s so important to keep hydrated while flying, as often feeling dehydrated and lightheaded is where a sense of loss of control and panic can start.
Divide your time up and use a reward system for each hour that you get through | I’ve become quite the pro when it comes to playing off anxiety against itself. For every half hour on a short flight or hour on a longer flight that I get through, I have in mind something that I will do so that I’m constantly reminding myself of how quickly the time is going. Usually it will be something like, getting a cup of tea, starting to watch my film, listening to an album and so on.
Avoid sleeping for short haul flights | I’ve tried so many times to fall asleep so that the time will go faster on a flight, but always end up waking up half asleep and feeling completely disorientated which is an ideal way to start off a panic attack. Plus, if you want to learn to enjoy flying, you will first have to get used to all of the sights, sounds and feelings of being on a plane, rather than sleeping through them all.
Take a cosy pashmina with you | Having a cosy airport/travelling outfit is absolutely invaluable and a cashmere scarf that doubles up as a blanket once you’re on the plane is honestly one of the best things money can buy.
Watch a film or listen to an audiobook | I recently read an article which referred to anxiety as a small child trapped inside your brain that is in need of distraction. This is why you will find that the more you allow yourself to get lost in a film or give your attention to anything other than the noises and bumps of a flight, the less chance you have of getting nervous in the first place.
Make use of the air con | The moment I get sat in my seat on a plane, I make sure that the vents of air con are all open and facing in my direction. The feeling of fresh, cool air does wonders for stress and instantly starts to relax me for the flight ahead.
See your time on the flight as your escape from the hectic rush of people at the airport | For my last few flights, I began to realise that most of my anxiety with flying is actually associated with the stress of the airport more than actually being on an airplane. A couple of weeks ago, I had the worst experience of being ill at Marrakech airport and standing in line for passport control whilst feeling faint for what seemed like a decade. Once I’d hopped onto the plane, I felt a sense of relief that I’d done all I needed to at the airport and all I had left was to just sit back and relax.
Plan what you are going to do at your destination | On your outbound flight, take some maps and guidebooks with you onto the flight. You can then use the time you have to plan each day and get excited about landing. For on your way home, check the world map on your phone and plan all of the places you want to next visit!
All said and done, it’s so important to realise just how common flying anxiety is and that you absolutely will learn to overcome it and to enjoy flights, should you keep taking steps forward. If you feel so overwhelmed by a fear of flying that you just simply cannot get on a plane or endure the experience, consider booking yourself in for a Fearless Fyler course with EasyJet (#notsponsored). I fully believe in the power of the mind and that absolutely any fear can be cured simply with subjecting yourself to it over and over again until you eventually get so bored with it that you learn to let go. Stop labelling yourself as a nervous flyer and start convincing yourself that you are a capable flyer, and soon to be confident flyer.