Traveling has become a large part of my life as a travel writer and Los Angeles transplant. However, even with all of the time I spend on airplanes, I am still plagued by flight anxiety.
I'm not talking lightweight anxiety that takes a couple of deep breaths to shake — I'm talking palms sweating, heart pounding, "Am I about to have a panic attack?" anxiety. I have aviophobia. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that between 2.5% to 6.5% of the U.S. population have aviophobia (a fear of flying).
Before I board the plane, I can feel my anxiety start to creep in, and by the time we're taking off, I'm in full panic mode in my head. Oh, and if there is a bump of any kind, I am bracing the armrests as if they can save me from all of the anxious thoughts floating around in my head.
I thought I'd found a solution to my flight anxiety — wine or tequila. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized depending on alcohol was going to hinder me more than help me. Over time, alcohol could set me up for other issues in the future. So now what?
On a flight from Atlanta to New York, I was sitting next to a guy that I ended up holding onto as our plane dropped what felt like a million feet. The drop and turbulence were so significant that people were audibly alarmed as the pilots smoothed things out. As I held on tightly to his arm (I asked for permission), he suggested that I try an app called Headspace. I'd downloaded the app a few months prior because I wanted to add meditation to my daily life, but I wasn't diligent about using the app even though I was indeed paying for the subscription each month.
Since I had a flight to the Dominican Republic the next day, I took the time to find a meditation program on the app, and it was just my luck they had one titled: Fear of Flying. I downloaded it to my phone and started it once I settled into my seat. As we took off, I continued the course. For a moment, I felt like meditating wasn't helping because I was fighting all of the thoughts in my mind while trying to take in what the soothing voice coming from my phone was saying. "This isn't working," I thought, feeling more anxious. Four minutes into the meditation, those anxious thoughts started to quiet down. They were still there, but they weren't as debilitating.
I felt my jaw relax, my hands release the armrest, and my heart beat slow down. The meditation was working. After the plane leveled out, I started the Sleep course. Next thing I knew, myself and the rest of the JetBlue volunteers were preparing to land in Punta Cana to volunteer, which has become one of the highlights of my life.
I'd made it with no panic attack or alcohol. I realized, if I'm not willing to conquer my fears or find healthy ways to manage my anxiety, I wouldn't get to see the world or connect with people from different cultures.
I know that meditation isn't an instant fix. As I said, the anxious thoughts were still showing up, but I was able to get control of my fear. With practice, I hope to get to a point where I can sit down in my seat and fall asleep before we take off. I really envy those types of people.
If you have trouble with anxiety or just want to add meditation into your daily life, give the Headspace app a try. It might help you, too.
Photo courtesy of Bianca Lambert; Featured photo by Getty Images.
A Trip To Havana Put My Workaholic Nature Into Perspective – Read More
33 Morning Rituals To Start Your Day – Read More
Powerful Mantras & Meditations For Mindful Mamas – Read More
I Went On A 4-Day Silent Meditation Retreat (And Why You Should Too) – Read More