Stress Busting Tips for Air Travel

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Betty C. Carlson, EdD

As summer approaches, more and more people start reviewing travel brochures and begin planning trips to destinations away from their homes. Whether our vacation plans call for seven days or seven weeks away, for most of us "getting there" means boarding a plane, fastening our belts, and enduring several hours of forced inactivity and questionable "refreshments". For a few of us, however, air travel is more than just uncomfortable - it is downright stressful and anxiety provoking (a Boeing survey reports one in six adult Americans is afraid to fly). The good news is that there are some specific steps we can take to make the air travel experience more pleasant and comfortable.

1. Get information/specific help if you have "flying anxiety". Check out resources for information about books, programs, and self-help strategies for working through your fear. See Resources at end of this article.

2. Plan ahead. Don't wait to the last minute to make reservations or request a seat. Take advantage of advance seat selection from your travel agent so you don't wind up boxed in a middle seat, with limited access to the aisle. If you need a particular type of airline meal, call in advance to order your preference. Ask your travel agent to assist you with procedures to advance order your meals; he/she may be able to do this for you.

3. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Avoid anything tight that can bind or squeeze. Keep in mind you will be exposed to temperature fluctuations even within the cabin, so layers are a good idea to keep you from getting too cool or too hot. Choosing items that are wrinkle resistant will keep looking fresh when you get to your

4. Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration during your flight. Water and fruit juice are two of the best; a good rule of thumb is to drink eight ounces an hour. Avoid alcohol and caffeine; they both dehydrate the body. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic and can contribute to feeling jittery. To keep your skin moist, splash or spray-mist your face with water and use chap stick or other moisturizers to keep your lips from drying out.

5. Keep focused. Bring along the novel you have been wanting to read or some absorbing craft or work to pass the time. Even if you're reading, wear your headset to discourage passenger conversation if you really want to be left alone. Some melodic background music playing softly can help you "tune out" airplane noises and help you relax. This is especially helpful if you need to refocus your attention away from feeling anxious.

6. Stay limber. On long flights, take some time to walk around the plane and do some stretching exercises. Stand on tiptoe and raise and lower yourself a few times and stretch your arms overhead and behind your back. While seated, do some isometric exercises to keep from feeling stiff. Walk up and down the aisles, and alternate standing and sitting just to reduce tension from being in one position.

7. Keep your ears open. If you're fighting a cold, sinus infection, or allergies, try to postpone your flight if possible. Changes in air pressure can lead to blocked eustachian tubes, severe pain and ear infections. If you must fly, take a decongestant prior to your departure and drink plenty of water during your flight.

8. Do what works for you. To reduce the feelings of stress or anxiety, learn and practice before your flight what works for you. It may be visualization, meditation, deep breathing, or listening to a relaxation tape. Become skilled at your strategy before you fly; knowing that you know what to do can be very reassuring when you begin to feel anxious or stressed. See Resources section.

9. Practice prevention. Get to the airport early. Allow yourself enough time to check in without standing in long lines. Pack the day before your flight and only bring what you really need. Plan to get maps and tourist brochures prior to the day of your flight so when you arrive at your destination you won't have to search for information in an unfamiliar place. If you're traveling abroad, plan to get local currency before you depart if possible and remember to bring your current passport and any important medical information (prescription information, immunization record).

Resources for Stress-free Flying:

Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Phobias. Author: Jerrilyn Ross
Plain Tips for Plane Trips. Author: Susan Irick.

Freedom from Fear of Flying. Coral Gables, Florida. (305) 261-7042
Flight to Freedom. Grapevine, Texas. (817) 424-5108

Institute for Psychology for Air Travel at

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