Anxiety can be debilitating, and having travel anxiety can be a bummer when you love to travel. We have a double whammy in our family, my son, who is now 11, and I both have it. As an adult and with years of practice, I have somewhat learned how to manage my anxiety, but my son has yet to find the tools to help him.
My son’s travel anxiety started after we experienced a bad flight leaving Florida right before a hurricane. That’s all it took was one bad flight, and since then his anxiety has only gotten worse. He now gets so nervous the days leading up to a flight that he ends up making himself sick. I also start to feel pretty anxious about a week before my flight . Those are the days when every horrible scenario runs through my head. I don’t really start to relax until after take off, and once the plane finally levels out. Although, if we happen to experience any turbulence, I just want to curl myself into a fetal position and pretend I am somewhere else. I am actually editing this as we are flying back from New York and we have just finished a little bout of turbulence. For my kid’s sake, I try to keep it together, but from time to time I get that knee jerk instinct to reach over and grab my kids when things get too bumpy.
They say flying is the safest form of travel, but to me, cocooned in a metal cylinder 20,000 feet over the earth just doesn’t put my mind at ease. The problem is I love to travel just about more than anything. I have had to find ways to deal with my anxiety and fears, and now I am learning how to help my son deal with his. Already at age 10, he was talking about how he never wanted to fly again, which saddened me. I have also started to notice that our daughter is beginning to become nervous before trips. I want both of my kids to love the adventure of traveling as much as I do. I want them to catch the travel bug and not let anxiety take over, keeping them from seeing the world and experiencing new things.
We are slowing finding new ways and techniques to help our family work through our fears and deal with our anxiety. One thing I have found, is that it helps to not go too long in between trips, otherwise the anxiety seems to build even more. We try to fly somewhere at least a couple times every year. I am hoping the more we fly, the more my kids will become used to flying and their fears will slowly subside.
Below is a list of things that have helped us with the anxiety and have gotten us through our travels.
- Plan Ahead: It helps to not to have to rush. Planning far ahead gives you that time to get excited about your trip, and not feel stressed about plans.
- Have necessary medication if needed: Both my son and I have seen a doctor and have been prescribed medication to help us through the flights. Sometimes it is just enough to take that edge off so there is no full on meltdown. (*remember only take these if they have been prescribed by a medical doctor.) Other medications and things I always have in my little travel bag are, Dramamine, nasal spray, gum, decongestant, Tylenol, and suckers.
- Pack early: Getting things packed and organized helps me feel better than rushing around last minute.
- Research: This really helped my son. He doesn’t like things he doesn’t understand or can’t control. So, sitting with him and reading about how airplanes fly and the dynamics behind it helped put his mind at ease.
- Have stuff to do: For my kids this means unlimited iPad time. Flying is the only time they ever get unlimited screen time. It gives them something to look forward to, and it takes their minds off the flight. For me, I always like to have a movie or a few tv shows queued up.
- Leave early for airport: We all feel anxious when we are running late, so why not take that out of the equation. Get there early. This gives you time to casually eat a meal, use the restroom, and hit the convenience shops without rushing.
- Noise Cancelling headphones: These have helped a lot. My son suffers from auditory and sensory processing disorders, and all the noise on the airplane can make his anxiety worse. The noise canceling headphones have also helped me. It’s nice to have a little serenity in a chaotic environment.
- A Doctor’s Note: Since our son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and has been prescribed medicine, we wanted to make sure that our seats are never separated on the plane. We asked our doctor to write a letter explaining his condition and that he is to not be seated away from his guardians during a flight. This also helps with my anxiety being that it makes this one less thing for me to worry about.
- Airport Therapy Dog: This is a bonus one if you are lucky enough to be flying out of an airport that provides therapy animals. Some airports have animals in certain terminals that help individuals face their fears before they fly. We are lucky to have San Jose International as our home airport, and they were the first to provide therapy animals. It was pretty amazing to watch my son and daughter start to relax and direct their focus to the dog instead of the upcoming flight.
Well, there they are. These are just a few things we do so the anxiety doesn’t get the best of us.