How to Keep Airport Anxiety in Check

Keep Calm and Fly On

Woman with head in hands sitting on airport bench
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You expected to be a bit apprehensive about flying but you didn't think it would be like this; your head is throbbing, your stomach is churning, your legs are cramping.

You're emotionally and physically exhausted and you haven't set foot on the plane yet.

Preparing yourself mentally and physically for the added stress, however, can help you stay calm and collected during the extended check-in process. Here are several tips from the Pennsylvania Medical Society that should help you avoid airport anxiety.

  • Know what to expect. Get information about the new airport rules from your travel agent, the airline, or online travel sites.
  • Don't prime the anxiety pump. Why work yourself into a frazzle before you even reach the airport? Give yourself plenty of time to get there, allowing for normal delays like traffic jams and road closings, as well as new ones like restricted airport access so that you arrive well before takeoff.
  • Accentuate the positive. Instead of resenting the delays and bother, consider the upside.
  • Come equipped to wait it out. If you or a traveling companion has trouble standing for long periods, lighten the load with a walker or foldout canvas seat, or arrange with the airport to provide a wheelchair.
  • Pack snacks in a carry-on bag to appease the munchies, which can stoke irritability. If you need special dietary snacks because of low blood sugar, diabetes, or other medical conditions, be sure to have these on hand. You may not be allowed to scurry easily from the check-in line to the food court.
  • Carry your prescription medications with you in your carry-on bag or luggage. That way, if you get delayed or your luggage is lost, you can be sure to have your medication with you.
  • Kid-proof your planning. Air travel can be even more disquieting for youngsters than adults, so prepare them for the realities. If they pack their own bags, make sure they don't bring along items such as a water gun or Scout knife that might alert security.
  • Don't forget to take along snacks and activities for the kids to prevent boredom and keep them occupied.
  • Get physical. Instead of sitting the whole time before reporting to the check-in line, take the opportunity to get up and walk around. You'll feel more relaxed and less confined. Once in line, tighten various muscle groups and periodically stretch to keep the blood flowing and relieve fatigue.
  • Replace stewing with chewing the fat. Use the wait time to talk with fellow passengers about your occupations, avocations, and destinations.
  • Use appropriate prescription drugs if necessary. If you can't cope with anxiety any other way, talk to your doctor. For some people, medication may be appropriate. For those who may benefit from medication, prepare for possible reactions such as grogginess and impaired coordination. Be sure to ask your physician about interactions between prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, such as those taken for airsickness.
  • You can also seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist to learn relaxation exercises and other techniques that reduce tension and worry.
  • Channel your energy. You may feel better knowing that you have some control over your situation at the airport, so be alert. Keep an eye on your bags and, more importantly, your children. If you spot any unusually suspicious activity, feel free to report it to airport authorities.
  • Check fear with a reality check.
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