Facebook_pixel

Life Goals :

Challenge Myself Have Hours of Fun Feel Relaxed

You Can Tackle Flight Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

Don’t let your fear of flying stand in the way of adventure

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
Published:
Updated:
5 min read
1
Great Apps to Keep You Calm For 2020 November Elections
Our breath has the power to change our body and mind.
- Max Gomez, founder and CEO of the Breathwrk app


Traveling is one of the most beloved pastimes cherished by adventurers worldwide. Unfortunately, while many of us globetrotters have defaulted to virtual tours of destinations we can no longer visit this summer – due to the pandemic – others are closely following travel news as countries slowly begin to reopen in phases. In fact, according to a recent and in-depth report published by The Points Guy, destinations in the Caribbean and Asia already have plans underway to allow tourists reentry as early as June, while some regions, like Oceania, are in discussions about “travel bubbles” that allow only citizens of certain countries to travel into others. 

However, if you did not have airplane-induced travel anxiety before the crisis, you may experience a fear of flying moving forward. As we gear up to relaunch the world, take some time to get into the right mindset to ease your thoughts surrounding air travel.

How to Address Your Fear of Flying

New York-based clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and university educator Dr. Stephanie Newman says a general fear of flying has always existed. “Remember the days when the biggest fears centered around the possibility of lost luggage or in-flight turbulence?” she begins. “People have always had a fear of flying – and not the Erica Jong kind. It’s a scary proposition: locking yourself in a steel container, not being able to disembark whenever you want. People feel trapped and uncomfortable about giving up control, leaving familiar turf.”

However, Dr. Newman says that in the past, passengers could talk it out, where therapists could offer a reality check via low statistics and probabilities, provide facts to neutralize anxiety, and prescribe certain medications to complement cognitive-focused therapies, helping those who suffered get on – and through – their flights. “But, everything is different now,” she says. “Getting on a plane feels like taking your life into your own hands – and that’s before takeoff. What happens if the person seated in the row in front of you has a cough? Will the droplets infect you? Is the recirculated air safe?” Now, being in the midst of the pandemic, anxieties have reached greater heights due to worries surrounding COVID-19.

Prior to flying, Dr. Newman suggests working on pre-travel coping strategies. First, label the issue. Pay attention to what is going on emotionally. Look inward and identify your bodily reaction – a pounding in your chest or stomach pain. “It’s important to label the source of your anxiety,” says Dr. Newman. “It’s OK to be afraid of the unknown.” For example, not wanting to share space with strangers due to the crisis, on top of worrying about in-flight safety, are both important identifiers. Next, Dr. Newman recommends generating a rational answer to the labeled fear(s). “Identify each thought and combat it with a rational response,” she suggests. To illustrate, write down each concern on the left side of an index card, and a response to it on the right. If you do not feel safe being far from home, a travel companion is a possible solution. Additionally, if you are afraid of health risks on the aircraft, there is reassurance in knowing the airlines are taking extra measures to prevent the spread of the illness.

In-Flight Reflection & Music

Veteran vacationers like Courtney Drake-McDonough, publisher and managing editor for Real Food Traveler, have discovered effective ways to address nerves surrounding airplane-centric travel. “I remind myself that there are far, far more car crashes than airplane crashes, first of all,” she shares. “Then, when I’m up in the air, I focus on the fact that it’s so amazing that we are all, in essence, sitting in chairs like in our living rooms, up with the clouds, traveling through to our destinations. In other words, I focus on the wonder of it all.” Furthermore, Drake-McDonough spends plenty of time reflecting on the world beneath her – the cars, buildings, homes – and reminds herself that all people around the world are more alike than different. “Of course, COVID-19 has been a harsh reminder of that, as well,” Drake-McDonough remarks.

Beyond her reflection, Drake-McDonough recommends crafting an “airplane playlist” to access via smartphone, on airplane-friendly music-streaming apps like Spotify or iTunes. “I specifically include songs that make me feel happy or calm, or that have really interesting lyrics to focus on,” she shares. “Not only does the music affect my mood, but it also helps me block out noises that are totally normal, but could make me feel uneasy.”

Luckily, Drake-McDonough says she hasn’t experienced much more than a few bouts of turbulence throughout her travels. “When I do experience turbulence, though, I pretend I’m on a roller coaster, and in my mind, I go ‘Weeeee!’”

Download a Therapeutic Breathing App

For those in need of an additional distraction while flying, consider the therapeutic practice of breathing. “I first learned about breathing when I was in my early 20s, struggling with severe anxiety and depression,” says Breathwrk app cofounder and CEO Max Gomez, who also has a degree in neuroscience and a background in mental health. “It was so empowering and changed my life that I made it my mission to help bring it to everyone else’s life, too.”

Breathwrk, which is both free and easy to operate, guides users through powerful breathing exercises with both sounds and visuals. Consequently, the app offers exercises that energize, promote faster sleep, increase athletic performance, and of course, reduce anxiety. “Slow and controlled breathing with an extended exhale has been shown to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure and heart rate,” explains Gomez. “This practice can be done on the airplane, at the airport, anywhere – it is easy to do and extremely effective.”

To start, Gomez recommends combating flight anxiety with “calm breath.” He says this exercise can be done by breathing through your nose and into your belly for a count of 4 seconds, followed by exhaling through your mouth for a count of 6 seconds. Then, repeat this practice for up to 1 minute or more to feel the full benefits. And, to help you breathe better, try placing a hand on your belly and one on your chest. On the inhale, your belly should move out, while on the exhale, your belly should go flat. “Try to keep your chest as still as possible while you do this,” suggests Gomez. “Our breath has the power to change our body and mind.” Pro Tip: A guided version of this exact exercise can be found in the app, right on the homepage.

If you are considering medication to treat your flight issues, Gomez encourages a natural substitute, instead. “There are a lot of associated risks and side effects with medication,” he says. “Breathwrk is a healthy alternative that can be used anytime and anywhere – without a prescription.” Knowing how to calm your body and breathing is helpful for reducing all types of anxiety over time, according to Gomez. “Not only can breathing alleviate anxiety in the moment, but if practiced, it can help prevent it in the future.”


About the Writer

Latest Articles by Tracy Block

Contributors Aubrey Rinehart Cherie Lim
  • Good and may god help us in this nigeria

You Can Tackle Flight Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

1

Comments

Comment
Ask