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Fight or flight: flight anxiety

Does your heart race at the thought of having to endure six or more hours on a plane? Do you jump out of your seat every time that weird ‘ding’ sound goes off? Stomach thuds at the slightest bit of turbulence? With air travel being the second most common fear after public speaking, you are most definitely not alone.

Whether you are a keen jet setter or not, a fear of flying can be enough to put you off travelling anywhere further than a quick car or train ride away. Whilst we all should be cutting down our carbon emissions by flying less, the truth is that if you want to travel to distant places, flying may sometimes be your only option.

As a seriously bad flyer, I have had to find ways to manage flight anxiety. While an eight-hour flight to Toronto by myself may not have been my favourite experience, a few things stopped me from being an anxious ball of stress on the journey.

My first piece of advice is to stay away from the caffeine and alcohol. The temptation to chug three cups of coffee when you have a 5am flight is strong, but caffeine stimulates your ‘fight or flight’ response and can make you feel more jittery. I can say from experience that trying to consume enough wine to convince yourself that you are not actually about to be 38,000 feet above the ground before getting on a plane is not a good idea. Alcohol has a greater effect at higher altitudes, making you dehydrated, groggy and disoriented.

While being cramped inside a weird metal flying tube with a load of strangers might not be the most natural of scenarios, knowing a few facts about plane safety can help make the experience less disconcerting. More than 44,000 flights take off and land safely every day, carrying more than 2.7 million passengers across over 29 million square miles of airspace. While imagining the worst-case scenario is easily done, considering the numbers of safe flights does put it into perspective how unlikely accidents are.

When flying to Canada to see my best friend, I downloaded an app called VALK. Described as your ‘personal in-flight therapist’, this app contains information on weather forecasts, flight safety statistics and more. I found this app particularly helpful as it divided the flight into ‘before departure’, ‘take off’, ‘landing’ etc., which explained what was happening at each stage of the flight. So that weird ‘ding’ sound? It’s actually just the cabin crew communicating with each other. Even if you don’t need such in-depth information to feel safe, the app provides essential facts and exercises that reduce anxiety levels.

If you can, try and invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. I cannot recommend this one enough. Having headphones that shut out or reduce the noise of the plane engine helps distract you from the flight. My main tactic for flying is to try and sleep through as much of the flight as possible. Having a playlist of songs that help you keep calm can really help you relax. It’s important to have anything else that might help distract you – films, books, sweets, chewing gum – ready or downloaded before you set off.

Looking after your health while abroad is so important, so don’t neglect yourself on your journey there and back! Make sure you have any medications that you require to hand, and a travel pillow or something similar to help you get comfortable.

For more on mental wellbeing and travel, visit the Gov.UK website. Follow @TravelAware on Instagram or visit their website for lots more travel related hints, tips and inspiration.

Tags: flight anxiety, planes, travel, TravelAware, Turbulence

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