A few weeks ago I almost had a full-on panic attack in an airplane. However, I combated my fears by remembering some important tips for keeping calm when flying. This was a new experience for me; in my childhood and teen years I had flown to multiple destinations in Europe and taken the nine-hour flight to New York from England without a problem. However, on my most recent trip I hadn't flown for eight years, and it was a totally new (and scary) experience for me.
Thankfully I can count on one hand the number of panic attacks I have experienced but they're still an unpleasant memory. According to ABC News, 25 percent of all Americans suffer some nervousness about flying. The same article also reported that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, aviophobia (flying phobia) affects 6.5 percent of the population, which equates to over 20 million people — so I am certainly not alone in my fear of flying. If you've ever experienced sheer panic at 40,000 feet and/or the irrational, vertigo-induced feeling that you might fall through the floor at any second then you know what it's like. I felt unsafe, afraid to move from my rigid position, and my heart was racing. With the help of my fiancé and what I will now deem my "flight essentials" I was able to return to a fairly normal state within about 30 minutes.
1. Pretend You’re On A Train
My mom swears by this trick. She just pretends that she's boarding a train with one destination and she refuses to look out of the window otherwise the illusion shatters. I think that's what did it for me; I was fine on the flight out but on the return flight I watched the plane take off and I slowly observed the world getting smaller and smaller. Then I panicked. If you'd prefer a boat or a car, pick whichever imaginary mode of transport makes you feel more at home and stick to the golden rule: Do not look out of the window.
2. Fly With Friends
When you're feeling a little nervous, it's always great to have your friends around to distract you from your fears with a joke or a bit of TLC. If you're new to flying, a first-time flyer, or afraid of flying I would highly recommend flying with friends or loved ones. My flight was made a million times better by playing a word association game with my friend and knowing that my fiancé had my back if I were to have a panic attack.
3. Play A Game
I honestly don't know how I would have gotten through that return flight without my Nintendo 3DS and Mario Kart. The key to staying calm when flying is to totally distract yourself from your surroundings (go back to number one) and completely immerse yourself in something else. I was able to calm myself down by putting all of my attention into playing Mario Kart and I even managed to complete the game. Score!
4. Complete Your Craft Project
If you're not really into video games, crafting could be the perfect distraction tool for you! Be aware of things you're not allowed to take on a flight, which differ on a country by country basis. While knitting is allowed on some planes, be sure to research knitting advice for flights before you take off. Experimenting with origami and completing adult coloring books are great alternatives too.
5. Take An Herbal Remedy
These little babies worked a treat for me. Kalms are completely natural, herbal remedies which claim to relieve stress and worry. My mom used to give me Bach's Rescue Remedy which serves a similar purpose but is in liquid form rather than a pill. Perhaps they are placebos, but frankly I don't care because they worked for me. Obviously, though, it's always best to consult your doctor before trying any new medicines, herbal or not, so get some advice from your doctor before using any natural solutions.
Kalms Herbal Sedative Tablets — 200 Tablets, $14.73, amazon.com
6. Listen To Relaxing Music
If you listen to relaxing music while flying you can close your eyes and imagine you're elsewhere such as lying on a beautiful beach or at home curled up in bed. In her article for Greater Good which appeared on the Huffington Post, Jill Suttie informed readers how she listened to classical music whilst giving birth to her first child as she thought it would calm her and distract her from the pain. Suttie also reported that listening to music with a slow tempo and low pitch can have a calming effect on people experiencing highly stressful events. If you're anything like me, after my experience I now consider flying to be a highly stressful event, so plug in those headphones next time you fly.
7. Get A Little Merry
Now, I'm not saying you should do an Annie from Bridesmaids and calm your flying nerves by getting absolutely smashed on your journey, but speaking from personal experience, a couple of drinks may help to calm your nerves. Don't take anything else while drinking alcohol (including herbal remedies previously mentioned), because you don't want to get kicked off your airplane like Annie, plus sedatives can have dangerous interactions with alcohol. You do however want to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride, in which case a small amount of alcohol may work for you.
However, there are some who oppose drinking while flying, such as Matt Meltzer who wrote an article for Thrillist entitled, "11 Reasons You Should Never Drink On A Plane." Meltzer argued some worthy points including your motion sickness could be made a lot worse and you may feel more intoxicated than if you were steadily on the ground. However, Drizly reported that Mythbusters found you don't get drunk faster on airplanes, but instead people tend to drink more in a shorter period of time while flying. IMO, as long as you're sensible and don't pre-drink at the airport bar or nervously binge your way into the realms of intoxication then you should be fine; have one and see how you feel.
Take heed of these tips and try to enjoy your next flight by staying cool, calm, and collected. Trust me, a calm flight will make a much nicer start to your vacation or business trip.