Managing Panic Attacks While Flying

Tips for Getting Through Your Next Flight

a woman panicking on a plane

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Whether caused by a fear of flying or by a different mental health condition, many people experience panic attacks while traveling by airplane. These attacks can be challenging enough to manage while on the ground but may seem even more difficult when you are on a flight. Don’t let panic attacks put an end to your travel plans. Here are some tips for managing panic attacks while traveling.

Schedule Early With Your Doctor

If you want to try a medication for panic attacks, you will need to get in to see your doctor well in advance of your next flight. Many physicians are booked in advance and may not be able to see you on short notice. Additionally, your doctor may want you to try a medication before a flight to determine how you react to it, so again it is better to get in early.

Have Your Medication On Hand

Anti-anxiety medications can provide you with quick relief from panic attack symptoms, providing you with a tranquilizing effect that can minimize the physical and mental associations of feeling fearful while flying.

It may seem obvious, but you will want to make sure that your medication is with you in your carry-on instead of in your checked luggage.

Be certain that your prescription is up-to-date, including your name, prescribing doctor, and prescription number. If you only use this medication when you occasionally fly, you will want to be certain that it is not expired, and that you have the appropriate amount for your round trip.

Visualize a Smooth Fight

During the weeks leading up to your flight, use the visualization technique to envision a smooth flight. Put aside some time each day to work on this strategy. Begin by getting into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Use your imagination to see yourself going to the airport. Imagine getting onto the plane, feeling calm and relaxed about your flight.

Take in all your senses, noticing how the plane sounds as it takes off, seeing the clouds in the skies, and feeling steady as you remain in your seat. Breathe deeply as you continue to visualize your flight. When you are ready to come out of your visualization, remind yourself how calm you feel, and then slowly open your eyes. If practiced regularly before your next flight, you may feel less anxious about traveling on an airplane.

Be Prepared With Relaxation Techniques

To stay calm during your next flight, be prepared by having regularly practiced some relaxation techniques.

Exercises that you can practice beforehand may include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and meditation.

These strategies may help you let go of anxiety and remain more tranquil throughout your next flight.

Find Healthy Distractions

There are many things you can do to help keep your mind off your fear of flying. For your next flight, be prepared by having a list of things that you can refocus your thoughts on. To feel less anxious, you can bring along books and magazines, crosswords or other types of games that will keep you occupied, or your favorite snacks to enjoy throughout the flight.

A few simple movements can help you release tension that has built up in your body due to feelings of anxiety. When permitted, try getting up every so often to do a few little stretches. You can even get up and walk the aisle a few times to allow your body to stretch.  

Many nervous flyers find that the loud noises of the plane often trigger anxious thoughts. You may find it helpful to bring along earplugs to reduce these sounds. You can also bring headphones and listen to your favorite music or a relaxation guide to help you feel calmer. 

Take a Fearless Flying Class

More frequent fliers or those seeking long-term assistance for their fear of flying may want to consider taking a class or online course that addresses this issue. These classes help in skill development along with cognitive-behavioral interventions that assist in changing one's fearful thoughts and behaviors. Along the same lines, you may also want to consider getting personal therapy by a specialist who can assist in developing ways to manage this fear.

Seek Support on the Plane

Let your fellow travelers know that you feel nervous about flying. Sometimes just opening up about your fears can calm your nerves and make you feel less worried about how others will react if you do have a panic attack.

You may also want to let flight attendants know about your concerns. Pilots and flight attendants understand that many people fear flying and often strive to provide a great experience.

Think Realistic Thoughts 

Panic attack sufferers are often susceptible to experiencing faulty or negative thinking that can contribute to their symptoms and fears. Even if you feel fearful while traveling by plane, try to remind yourself that thousands of flights are traveling safely. Reassure yourself that you too will make it to your destination safely. Tell yourself that if a panic attack does occur, you will be able to manage it. Also remind yourself that the physical sensations you experience only signify that you feel anxious, but are not an indication that you are in any actual danger.

Plan Ahead

The best way to deal with panic attacks on your next flight is to come prepared with a plan. Taking steps early on and planning ahead of time will help you have a better experience on your next flight. Be certain that you are scheduled to see your doctor, have been practicing your relaxation skills, and are prepared to bring along anything that can comfort you throughout the flight. Hopefully, with some work and preparation, you will be able to more easily manage your panic attacks while flying. 

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