The small plane fell back down as it was taking off the runway. It rolled on the ground as people jumped out the emergency door.
That was my most recent nightmare in anticipation of my flight from Mexico to the U.S. in a few days. After four years of a developing fear of flying, therapy felt like a necessity.
As someone who loves visiting new countries, living abroad, and travel blogging, I normally take multiple flights a year. But since 2014, for what seemed like no reason, anxiety took place of excitement while riding airplanes. I began to hesitate buying a specific flight ticket, fearing I was choosing “the wrong plane.” The one that was doomed to fall.
I only had four therapy sessions, but it did wonders to understand and bring clarity to my fear. I used to love the adrenaline rush of take-off, and the exciting anticipation of landing somewhere new or landing back home. Though I am not sure if I can ever get back to that careless joy for riding airplanes, I am committed to learning how to manage my anxiety before and during flights.
In my first therapy session, I discovered that though I have flown multiple times to go on vacations and backpacking adventures, I have also taken long flights related to grief and loss. One clear example is the six-hour flight I took to see my father in his last days.
Since my fears began, I developed techniques to keep me calm and collected on plane rides. And through therapy has probably been the best of all these methods, I have to say the small self-care actions during flights have allowed me to feel empowered, in control of my emotions, and hopeful that I have what it takes to keep myself peaceful when presented with something that scares me.
Without further ado, here are five in-flight techniques that have allowed me to continue taking off to distant lands, traveling Europe, the United States and Latin America, no matter what the nightmares tell me.
1. VALERIAN ROOT
This is an herb that grows in Europe, some parts of Asia and North America. The root is used to create a natural medicine for insomnia. However, it is also used for anxiety and psychological stress. You can find Valerian Root at the supermarket near the Vitamin C shelf. In Mexico, I buy it at the many homeopathic stores around the city. Depending on my level of anxiety, I usually take it a couple nights before I fly out, to make sure I sleep soundly. I also take it the morning of my flight or right before my flight. I know people that get actual prescribed sleeping pills because they want to be unconscious during the flight, but that is not for me. I just want to help my body reach a state of relaxation without missing out on the adventure. Of course, please talk to your doctor if you have questions about taking Valerian Root or any other sleeping pills.
2. LAVENDER OIL
Once I am on my chair waiting for take-off, I take a few minutes to massage my neck and shoulders with lavender oil. I apply some on my temples, behind the ears and on my wrists. If necessary, I reapply during flight. Lavender is another natural way to help your body relax. It is known for reducing stress, inducing sleep and has been linked to reducing depression and PTSD. This is a must-have in my carry-on!
3. NO COFFEE
I am a coffee addict. I not only drink a cup of coffee every morning for the energy boost but also the taste. I have an Italian pot I bring with me everywhere. While living in Spain I got hooked on espresso. But not on days I fly. My body is already charged with energy, I do not need to make it more alert. I drink green tea to avoid getting a headache from caffeine withdrawal and just keep my water bottle handy for the flight. I prefer to fly in the morning, so it works out great because this usually means I will be more likely to fall asleep during the flight. If you lack Valerian Root or Lavender oil, I recommend getting a Sleepy Time tea or a Stress Relief tea.
I found a YouTube channel for yoga and meditation that got me hooked on these practices. On a recent one-hour flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City, I meditated the whole time. I personally enjoy using the Boho Beautiful Life meditations, but you can choose your own. During that specific flight, we experienced scary turbulence as we approached Mexico City. Having reached a deep meditative state by that point, my breathing was slow and deep, and my muscles were not tense at all. This helped me keep my cool during the heavy turbulence. Even if my mind was firing up scary thoughts of crashing, my body remained in a state of peace, which somehow did not allow my mind to lose itself in the fear.
Contrary to your typical “Live in the Moment” advice you may hear, or the common “Stay Present” phrase chill people repeat over and over…I have to say: Do Not Be Present. If being locked up on a plane miles from the ground sends an emergency signal running through your body, all I have to say is: THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE! Seriously. This is the time to get completely lost in a daydream. In conjunction with my meditations, I remind myself of specific happy things that have happened in my life, and I make myself vividly remember the details of that scene. Last time I was on a flight, I thought of a dance performance I was part of in Japan a few years ago. I tried to remember the entire song, the color of the stage, the feeling of the jazz shoes on my feet, the very many flowers decorating the edge of the stage, the red seats for the audience. I was so happy. I got so into the memory that I was only partly present in the flight. When turbulence came, it felt like I was half living it because half of me felt like when I danced in Japan.
Fear can be useful. Fear warns us that something is wrong and allows us to act. The “fight-or-flight” effect is something humans have had since the beginning. Fear can show us when something is wrong; it can save our lives. I can let fear help me out now and then. But I cannot let it run me. How many dreams do we hesitate to go after because we are afraid of what might go wrong? How many dreams do we actually go after because we are excited for all that could go right?! I want one of those scenarios to overpower the other. Can you guess which?
Here I am again, getting ready for another flight. I am ready to see more of the world. I am ready to be the fearless person I always aspired to be. I am ready to feel peaceful, to move past negative thoughts, and to rely on my inner strength to create the kind of life I am excited to live.