Airport Anxiety

I recently came back from a holiday, my first in two years and it was glorious! I devoured three books, ate my weight in cheese and played more ping pong than any self respecting woman should.

Alas, if only we could go on holiday without the dreaded F word (no, not f**k. That’s a favourite and travels with me wherever I go). I mean flying.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I’m not a fan of flying. Not only because there’s a possibility that we might fall out of the sky and perish in a ball of flames. Obviously, this is a huge concern. I tend to pray when we’re ‘taxing’ along the runway. (I don’t believe in God, but at this moment in time I’m open to whoever might be listening). “Please, please don’t let this plane crash. I promise to be good, swear less, or do whatever you deem worthy.”

As an introvert and a person who lives with chronic anxiety, I get overstimulated easily. An aeroplane flight is an attack on the senses. Cramped personal space, bright, either too hot or too cold, smelly, and noise like you’ve never experienced. Even going to the loo is a saga! Does anyone else flush the chain literally as the push open the door to leave? In a sort of dramatic fleeing attempt. I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll bet someone was sucked in their once and dropped into the sky!

The airport experience in general is not designed for a person with fragile nerves, or lacking in the patience department. Is it any wonder there is so much chaos? From the queuing, phaffing with passports, to the frequent tannoy announcements. We’re all tested. Then of course, there’s the security checks. I can assure you that I’ve never smuggled an illegal item in my life. Yet, in this moment I convince myself that I somehow have a gun in my hand luggage, or a bag of cocaine with a street value of ten million pounds. It’s a very intricate daydream, I even think about what I’ll say in court and whether I’d prefer the top or bottom bunk in prison.
I digress. Security checks can be traumatising. As I walk through the metal detector thing, I try and look as ‘normal’ as possible… but alas, I suspect that I might look like a crazed rabbit, one that has not only seen the headlights, but swallowed them. Oh God and don’t even get me started on the ‘liquids in a see through plastic bag’ thing. What if I’ve somehow packed lighter fuel and not realised!
By the time I’ve battled my way through, desperately grabbing my things from the tray on the conveyor belt with the other holiday makers. I need a stiff drink and a lie down.
“Everybody has to do it,” my dad once said with regard to airports and flying. “Nobody likes it. You just have to suck it up and get on with it.” I’m not arguing with this statement. It’s true, the experience is unpleasant for most people. However, I do believe that those with a mental health condition; Anxiety, OCD and Panic Disorder in particular, can find it especially challenging.

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Top tips for reducing airport anxiety

Clear communication – Be honest about how you’re feeling. Don’t assume that people will automatically know that you’re struggling, even those closest to you. Remember, EVERYONE is distracted at an airport. There’s so much to think about, e.g. ‘when will the gate open’ etc.
When I’m distressed or frightened, it can come out as anger. It might appear as though I’m behaving like a spoilt child, but it’s usually because my anxiety is attacking me. When this happens, I apologise, explain how I’m feeling and what I need at that moment to feel better. For example, a seat in a quieter area.

Plan ahead – Don’t leave things until the last minute. Put your liquids in a see through plastic bag at home. A packet of sandwich bags costs a few quid from the supermarket. This might sound simple, but reducing as much stress as possible in advance will really make a difference. jostling about with your cosmetics in the security queue is not fun! I would also advise against wearing jewellery (metal detector drama) and if possible, wear shoes that can be removed easily. Lets keep everything as straight forward as possible.

Survival kit – My airport/plane survival kit has everything I need to feel as comfortable as possible. It’s rather hardcore, so buckle up.

  • A bottle of water –  Never under-estimate the impact of dehydration. Some of the signs might surprise you. E.g. Headache, overheating, feeling constantly hungry and mood swings. Planes have low humidity, so it’s important to drink plenty of good old H20.
  • Eye drops – see above
  • Hand cream – see above. My hands get so dry on planes.
  • A travel pillow. Planes are uncomfortable. FACT. A good travel pillow is an easy way to provide a bit of relief. I use this Trtl pillow because it’s non bulky and doubles up as a scarf! Tbh, I’d only invest in one of these if you travel regularly, or are going on a flight longer than three hours. I travel a lot on trains for work, so it’s useful to have.
  • Slippers. That’s right, you heard me. I like to have comfy feet!
  • A large scarf. One that can double up as a blanket. The temperature on planes can be unpredictable. I like a security blanket to snuggle up in if it’s chilly.
  • A pulse point essential oil – I use this Neom Organics one. If like me, scent really alters your mood, then you need to check out Neom. Really high quality at a non ridiculous price *cough* Diptyque *cough.* The Neom pulse points cost £8 and I’ve had mine for over six months. It packs a punch too. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than an essence that lasts five minutes and then you have to reapply. A trick is to put a little on your clothing too, e.g. on the collar of a shirt or a scarf. I like to surround myself in a cocoon of relaxing scents. It’s my only defence against babies sh**ing themselves, people eating egg sandwiches and stag parties.
  • Headphones – more of necessity, but worth mentioning.
  • A good book. Top tip – don’t buy it at the airport, take the time to choose one in advance.
    I used to work in the publishing industry, so I know that the stuff sent to the airports is limited. Unless you like mass market crime, chick lit, or a biography from one of the Love Island contestants, then you’re screwed. Buy a book in advance and test it, (as in read a few chapters).
    If you have a Kindle, great. Load that bad boy up! I’m also obsessed with audio books at the moment. Great for distraction, and in my opinion there’s nothing more comforting than having Stephen Fry tell you a story. If you’re looking for a safe bet, try ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz‘ narrated by Richard Armitage, who has an incredible reading voice.
  • Activities. Have something pleasurable to do and save it for the flight. I like to give myself a facial. Yes I realise that this might sound ridiculous, but I find the process to be very relaxing! Don’t get me wrong I don’t lie there with cucumber on my eyes, or slip into a dressing gown… but I do like to a cleanse and apply a hydrating mask (it’s a clear one). Check out this video from makeup artist Lisa Eldridge. I love her in flight routine. Thirty minutes before we land I reapply my makeup, which is another pleasurable and distracting activity.
    Obviously feel free to keep things simple with puzzles, music, or watching a film if you prefer!!
  • Almonds – I know, boring… but I like to have a snack just in case. Sometimes it can take a decade for that trusty cart to be wheeled down the aisle. Food has an impact on the mood and I like to have almonds in case I get peckish. They’re high in protein and packed full of Magnesium, which
    supports the nervous system.

Compile your own survival kit however you like, but trust me, it’s worth having. The knowledge that I have a bag of goodies, ready to go, is a real comfort when I start to feel stressed.

Medication – If you really struggle to fly, or indeed have a diagnosed phobia, then it might be worth having a chat with your doctor. Certain medications might be able to help. Years ago, when I was in the early stages of recovery, I couldn’t fly without hyperventilating or having multiple panic attacks. I didn’t want my condition to prevent me going on holiday, but I found travelling very hard. The doctor prescribed a short course of Diazepam (Valium) to help take the edge off. This medication should not taken on a long term basis, but can be very effective when used correctly. Propranol, a form of Beta Blocker, is another medication that could help. It reduces heart palpitations, tremors and other physical symptoms. Of course always be sure to read the label before taking any medication.
If you’d prefer something herbal, then you could try Rescue Remedy which doesn’t f**king work I’m not personally a fan of. However, some people find it useful. CBD oil has also be known to help.

Breathing – check out my video on breathing techniques to help if you experience panic attacks or hyperventilating. I would also recommend reading my post; ‘How to Deal with A Panic Attack.’

Everyone needs a holiday. Whether that’s in the UK or abroad, a break from life is mandatory now and again. A mental health condition might be challenging, but it doesn’t have to ruin your plans. Making a few arrangements in advance can make all the difference.

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