Danielle Copperman shares her top tips to help you manage your flight anxiety with natural remedies and easy practices.
Since I was too young to rationalise fear of flying, I have become a loyal member of the anxious flyer club. Sometimes it’s worse than others. Sometimes, the day before a flight, anxiety will kick in, manifesting in the form of physical tension and/or mental distractedness. Others, I’ll be fine, or I’ll convince myself I’m fine but the minutes the wheels start spinning I’ll lose my breath and start worrying incessantly and assuming the worst.
As a regular flyer, I have, however, found ways to manage these inevitable side effects, since travelling is a big part of my job and I don’t want to miss out on things just because the journey frightens me. I have developed a set of simple rituals, which reduce stress and anxiety, reduce physical tension, silence my worried mind and just generally put me at ease. I know a lot of people struggle with flight anxiety and general fear of flying, and for that reason, I wanted to share them. Below, find some of my favourite natural remedies and simple rituals to help calm the mind, reduce stress and ease physical tightness and tension, to support you all the way to your destination, and back.
1. Avoid coffee, or all caffeine if you can
Caffeine can often enhance nervousness and anxiety, depending on your personal physiology and the way you metabolise it. Some people are fine with caffeine and metabolise it slowly meaning it is manageable, however others metabolise it quickly and that’s when you end up with intense and often buzzy energy spikes. For me, caffeine messes with my adrenals and that extra spike in whatever it is really throws me off whack and makes me feel more on edge. It makes me feel tense and tight and unable to relax, so if you know you get anxious or nervous flying, avoid caffeine as much as possible, pre-flight.
2. Aromatherapy is out of this world effective
One thing I discovered long ago was aromatherapy and the power of scent to heal the mind. For the past few years, I have been travelling with aromatherapy balms and essential oils, and as soon as I get into my seat, I douse myself in it. I rub the balms or oils on my wrists, neck, temples and even under my nose or on my upper lip if I need extra intensity. I use scents that are relaxing, uplifting, grounding or mood boosting, and they honestly help so much. Not only is the scent incredibly healing on a deep physiological level, applying these oils or balms enhances the ritual of breathing deeply, encouraging you to take a moment for some deep inhalations and exhalations. I couldn’t recommend this more, for a quick, relatively cheap and easy-to-do-anywhere remedy.
You’ll be familiar with CBD by now, I’m sure, and I personally use it in several areas of my life to encourage relaxation and to reduce stress, anxiety and physical pain or tension. For flying, it comes in handy as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, calming the mind and helping you to generally chill out. I take a few drops internally about half an hour before my flight, and if I’m feeling really uncontrollable, I’ll top up when I settle into my seat too. It helps to just take the edge off my nerves and gently slow the mind, making me quite unfazed and unaffected by my formerly overpowering thoughts.
4. Sleeping aids
Sleep is sensible option if you want to get through a flight, and is my best piece of advice if you would rather just sleep through the whole thing. To do this, for those unable to silence their mind or those who find it difficult to sleep in such uncomfortable and unfamiliar conditions, I present to you, liquid melatonin and magnesium supplements and / or spray. Melatonin works best for me (it knocked me out for almost the entire flight from LA to London) but magnesium is a slightly milder option known to encourage sleep and relaxation, and to relax and repair muscles. Obviously there are also stronger, over-the-counter or prescription options too, but these are my favourite supplements for naturally topping up hormones and chemicals we already hold within us. Oh, and a few other tips for sounder sleep: earplugs, eye masks, socks, a blanket and a cushion or neck support if needed.
Something I discovered works well for me only recently is fasting during a flight. Sure, that’s pretty easy on most flights around Europe, which are a maximum of a few hours long, and sure, that sounds impossible for long haul flights but, hear me out. Fasting, and ultimately giving the digestion a break, allows your energy to be used elsewhere, and also means running less risk of inflammation or bloating. For me, I get a tense stomach and hold anxiety and stress in my stomach area, so having a break from digesting food helps to keep my stomach from being under too much pressure to work hard. When I fast on planes, I notice I feel much less tense and while stress still has its side effects on me, my stomach feels generally lighter and more at ease than when I eat whilst incredibly stressed. If you get anxious and, like me, hold these emotions physically in your stomach, your energy is used on your body’s stress responses, anyway, and so doesn’t have spare energy to use on digesting food. If you can, eat before and after a flight but not during. If you must eat, opt for really hydrating, whole foods like fruits or raw vegetables, which are not so hard to digest, and which don’t dehydrate you (like nuts or salty foods).
6. Breathe deeply and often
This one is another favourite of mine, especially when about to take off. For me, the take off is the worst part, and I’ve learned that regulating my breath by practicing deep breathing and / or pranayama techniques really helps me. Not only does it take my mind off my worries to focus on the sequence of my breath, it also just fills my body with energetic oxygen, which is needed all around the body. When we’re stressed, we tend to hold our breaths or adopt a rapid, short breath, so when you notice this next time you’re anxious on a flight, either take about 6-10 long, deep breaths (with your eyes closed also helps), or look into some more advance pranayama techniques to try.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s effective. I have to listen to music during take off, to drown out the noise of the aircraft. Sometimes, any beeps or other unfamiliar noises (like the wheels going up or someone dropping something on the floor) trigger an extra pang of anxiety and concern, so listening to music really helps me. It doesn’t really matter what kind of music you listen to, but I’d recommend something relatively fun and upbeat, or calming (but loud enough). Nothing too heavy, loud or aggressive though as this will just make things worse. It might be useful to make an ‘In Flight’ playlist. Another option is to listen to audio books or podcasts, to take your mind of things.
8. Keep hydrated
Planes are incredibly dehydrating, so be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after flying. Try to avoid alcohol or caffeine as these are dehydrating, and could also contribute to your levels of stress or anxiety. Water is the one.
This is an important one. Be prepared for your journey and allow enough time to get to the airport, to avoid added stress getting to the flight you already feel anxious about. Being bored and waiting around is better than being late and frantically faffing through the airport, a hot and stressed-out mess. On another note, if you want to be really prepared, use the day before to spend time downloading and organising the apps you might need during the flight, as well as playlists and / or videos.
10. Keep busy
Keeping busy and having plenty to do during a flight is another good way to keep your mind distracted from the anxiety of flying thousands of feet above ground with absolutely no control over the matter. Download something to watch (if you flight doesn’t have entertainment screens), listen to music or podcasts, read, write, draw, look through photos (I always find this incredibly calming), play a game, meditate and so on. Whatever you do, just don’t sit there worrying.
11. Gratitude and positive thinking
This also helps me to calm my mind and feel better, and serves almost as a meditation of its own. I use a diary or the notes on my phone to write down a list of things I am grateful for, too, which makes me feel positive and acts to distract my mind from my worries.
12. Walk around
During the flight – whenever possible – try to get up now and then to stretch or stand. This can help boost circulation and prevent stiffness and inflammation, but can also help take your mind of things, too. Standing with both feet rooted on the floor can help you feel more grounded, and even doing stretches at the back of the plane can help boost energy flow and enhance positivity. I like to stretch or do some gentle Qi-Gong-style exercises, and also incorporate breathing with this. It just helps to keep energy moving and to avoid stagnant energy or blocks, and also keeps you busy.
13. Watch the airhostesses
This might sound weird and a little creepy, but whenever I’m nervous, either during take-off or turbulence, I look around to see how the air hostesses are acting. They take multiple flights a day (just imagine if bad flyers like you and I had to do that and be grateful that we don’t), and I always think that if they don’t seem worried or concerned, then everything is under control. Of course some things that you worry about might be out of their control, but it just helps in the moment to know that as long as the airhostesses are going about their duties calm and collected, there is nothing immediately to worry about.
Self-massage can be a great tool for relaxation. Try to develop a massage technique to use on your hands, feet, head, face, temples and neck. There is no real right or wrong way, just gently massage wherever and however feels good. It might help to close your eyes, too. If you want to go one step further, do some research on specific pressure points and specific meridians or points associated with stress or anxiety.
15. Try these apps
Soar is an app that helps to calm anxious flyers and reduce nervousness, panic and claustrophobia. It offers written articles about flying, videos and even things like gravity monitoring and turbulence predictions. The Breathing App is also useful if you want to master your in-flight breathing rituals, and some of my favourite meditation apps include Insight Timer, Headspace, Breathe, Buddhify, Calm and Inscape. You can also find apps with white noise, too, to encourage sleep.
I’ve mentioned this within some of the other points, but meditation is such a simple method for calming a worried mind and instilling relaxation and clarity and helping you to feel present. Meditate as you take off, during the flight and then just before you land or during the landing. Just 5 or 10 minutes each time can help reduce stress and silence your thoughts. See point 15 for recommended apps.
Usually I advise people to focus on the journey (of life), not the destination or endpoint, but when travelling, the opposite makes more sense. Focus on the destination, not the journey. Visualisation is a powerful tool (a type of meditation depending on how it is practiced) for enhancing mood and reducing stress and anxiety. Try to develop a visualisation practice, perhaps visualising things like pleasant memories in the past, hopes and dreams for the future, or perhaps most easily, the destination you are heading to. If you are going on holiday, visualise where you are going and what you will do. You could visualise the hotel or accommodation, a beach, the ocean, the pool, the food, people you might be meeting once you get there, or random people you might come across. It could be anything and it doesn’t have to be accurate; let your mind run naturally wild and go with it.
18. Ensure your energy is topped up
This topic has sort of been touched on in point 9, but as well as preparing and making sure you are not going to stressfully be finishing packing before your flight or face last minute issues or delays, be sure to have prepared for your flight on a deeper level. The night before, as much as possible, ensure you get a good night’s sleep. If you need to be up early for the flight, sleep well the night before the night before, or nap during the day before your flight. This will ensure that no matter the time difference at your destination or the jet lag, you have your energy reserves topped up as much as possible.
Remember, when it really comes down to it, you have very little control over the situation once you’re on that plane. There is not much you can do, and worrying certainly isn’t going to help anything, it will just make the whole ordeal much, much worse. Try to sit back, relax and enjoy the journey as much as you can. I hope one or several of these tips will help you through your next trip!
Read Danielle’s guide to self-massage here.