Before working as a flight attendant, I was able to use yoga to keep my anxiety under control. Over the past couple of years my new, high-stress job has invited my anxiety to creep back in. It rose to an all time high last Summer, when I had frequent panic attacks before work and an anxiety-induced headache that lasted two weeks. I became convinced that I could no longer fly. However, with a lot of trial and error, I figured out a few ways to calm the storm in my mind. I still have anxiety, but it no longer controls me. While I am by no means a therapist or psychiatrist (I'm just a yoga teacher turned flight attendant with anxiety!), here are my favorite tips for traveling with anxiety that I've found helpful — and hopefully you will, too.
1. Wear Ear Plugs
One of the reasons we get so stressed and anxious when we fly is due to the intense sound waves that raise the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our body. Sounds above 85 decibels (sound waves at common cruising altitude) are harmful and long exposure can cause hearing problems. With decibels peaking at 90 to 140 during take off and landing, wearing ear plugs helps to maintain healthy hearing, as well as calm the nervous system.
2. Practice Grounding
Grounding is the simple act of walking around with your feet in the grass, ocean, soil, or whatever natural footing is available in your new destination. The practice has been scientifically proven to balance the energy in your body with the positive charge from the earth. It helps tremendously with jet lag, which can often set off anxiety.
It doesn't have to be fancy. If you're a novice, start with your eyes closed, take 10 slow breaths in and out of your nose, and try to focus on the sensation of your breath. Count your breaths if you get too distracted. Meditation is a fabulous way to ease the physical symptoms of anxiety (increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, etc).
4. When You Can Sleep, Try to Sleep as Well as Possible
Things that help me are ear plugs, an eye mask, and lavender oil. The ear plugs ensure no noisy ice machines or loud party guests next door wake you. The eye mask helps your body's circadian rhythm sync to whichever time zone you are in. The lavender oil allows the senses to calm.
Buy water, bring a water bottle to fill, or freeze it to get it through security (trust me, it works!). Having water on hand helps to keep your brain functioning properly and takes the stress out of waiting in line to buy some.
6. Find a Quiet Space in the Airport
This can be extremely difficult at times, but it is worth the hunt. These days, several airports have either a chapel/mediation room and or even a yoga room! If your airport does not have these rooms, look for a quiet hallway. Hint: they're generally between terminals.
Airports with yoga rooms:
7. Pack Snacks
Plan ahead as to not rely on airport food. Some airports have decent options, but having all of your meals and or snacks with you (as much as possible) will take some of the anxiety out of the trip.
8. Take Your Meds!
Maybe this should have been number one. I never had a prescription for Xanax until I became a flight attendant. If you think you have an anxiety disorder you should talk to your doctor, especially if you travel frequently. If you are against taking any prescription drugs (which I definitely understand), try Maca root. This ancient Peruvian root is an adaptogen (a substance that may increase resistance to stress) and also a proven mood enhancer.
9. Have a Support System
Have some of your best friends and/or therapists on call for you. It helps if you can have someone on call who also experiences anxiety. There are an increasing amount of therapy apps as well that are less expensive than cognitive therapy (such as Better Help).