In your efforts to trot the globe and become the consummate Mr. or Mrs. Worldwide, you might encounter a pocket of turbulence every now and then. Language gaffes, cultural gaffes, and passport issues all count. But as far as stumbling blocks go, “pockets of turbulence” can actually be quite literal if you have any variety of flight anxiety.
Approximately 2.5 percent to 6.5 percent of people suffer from aviophobia, or fear of flying. But many more merely suffer from a less clinical form of flight anxiety, which can stem from a variety of triggers (like weird engine sounds and people coughing next to you) but all amount to a profound sense of discomfort, and sometimes panic, aboard a plane.
Here are a few suggestions for managing your flight anxiety, because nothing should stand in your way when you’re just trying to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning.
Know Some Knowledge
Although anxiety often categorically defies logic, it can help to remember how statistically safe it is to fly, especially if your fears stem from any misunderstandings around how it is, exactly, that planes work. Your odds of dying on a plane are about 1 in 9,821, whereas your odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 114. That’s not to make you anxious about driving — but you probably have a lot less fear around getting in a car.
A lot of people have flight anxiety for reasons other than “assuming they’re going to die,” but if this is where you tend to get tripped up, try educating yourself about flying and see if it helps quell some of those fears.
Distract Thyself From Your Flight Anxiety
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to occupy your mind with something other than the smells of all the bad airplane food around you (and paranoid thought loops about food-borne illnesses).
This isn’t about trying to resist your anxiety (which can only make it worse), but to redirect your attention elsewhere. Bringing books, movies and podcasts with you on the plane will make your trip feel shorter and help you think about literally anything else besides the fact that you’re on a plane.
You can also download Babbel lessons on your phone and use it in offline mode if you want to kill two birds with one stone — quell your flight anxiety and brush up on your language skills!
Get In Shape
And by that, we mean prepare your body for takeoff in order to give yourself a physical advantage over your flight anxiety symptoms.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol (yep, that’s right). Caffeine can make you more jittery and panicky, and alcohol dehydrates you and can make you feel more disoriented. If you must ingest something, melatonin is a better alternative, although you’ll probably feel groggy when you land.
You can also try exercising before your flight to help your body relax, according to One Medical, or purposely book early morning or late-night flights so that you’ll be too tired to overthink things.
Finally, deep, slow breathing is always a good method for alleviating symptoms. You’ll want to focus on taking deep belly breaths (versus shallow breaths that only involve your chest).
Seek Legit Therapy
For more severe cases of flight anxiety, you’ll need to bring out bigger guns than a soothing podcast or cup of tea. When you can’t simply “logic” your way out of anxiety, it’s still important to try to overcome it via exposure (in other words, you’ll never conquer your fears by staying at home). But a trained therapist can help you work through them using cognitive-behavioral therapy specific to flight anxiety, or techniques like diaphragmatic breathing.
According to Martin N. Seif, PhD, ABPP, it’s helpful if you can identify the specific triggers that set you off because then you can prepare specific coping mechanisms to counteract them. These are all things a therapist can help you with if you’re not sure where to start.
In severe cases, you might respond well to anti-anxiety medication, but this will only help if you’re already taking the drugs consistently over time, and many don’t specifically target anticipatory anxiety, which is a big part of what you experience when you have flight anxiety, according to Seif.