A wellness magazine for actual grown-ups.

Mental Health

Airport Insecurity! How to Cope with Travel Anxiety

May 19, 2023

Airport Insecurity! How to Cope with Travel Anxiety - Stripes Beauty

It’s the night before your flight, and you’re up late, tossing and turning. Maybe you're obsessively thinking about whether you’ve packed your toothbrush, or wondering what time you’ll need to leave for the airport (and cursing yourself for not paying for PreCheck to get through the TSA line faster).  
Travel used to be fun! Now, it seems like an anxiety-ridden marathon to get to the place you’re going without wheezing into a bag.  

Let’s be real, air travel is far from the curated, luxury experience of the olden days. The seats are smaller, the airports seem more crowded, and the news is filled with reports of people misbehaving on planes and causing uncomfortable scenes. It's already a tough time for those of us who experience travel anxiety, or feelings of claustrophobia. Add the hormonal fluctuations that happen in midlife and perimenopause and whew, that’s a lot of emotional baggage.  
Luckily, there are travel anxiety expert-approved tactics to get you through your trip while remaining calm and in the upright position. 

“Discomfort, Not Danger” 

Travel anxiety is complex and can mean different things to the people that experience it. Common fears can include worries that the plane will crash or experience turbulence or an emergency, and anxiety about being far from home, coming into contact with germs or getting sick. What if your flight is delayed or cancelled? What if you have to sit on the tarmac for an hour and you’ll arrive late to an event? 

Stephnie Thomas, a Maryland-based therapist who specializes in helping those who struggle with everyday anxieties and fears as well as OCD and depression, tells her patients to take a step back and ask themselves what they’re really afraid of. What they categorize as a fear of travel is actually a fear of something else. 

“People may associate flying with a stressful situation from the past and now associate it with bad memories,” said Thomas. “Maybe they once had to travel to a loved one’s funeral or fly to another upsetting event. They may associate it with a fear that something bad is going to happen.” 
Think back to your flying experiences and think about the places you’ve gone and why you had to go there to start sorting through your emotions about travel. Starting to understand why flying triggers your fears of dying or being trapped can help you separate the act of travel with your past upsetting experiences.  
“I tell my patients that they are experiencing discomfort, not danger,” said Thomas.  

Keep your mind where your body is 

Thomas says a good tactic is to keep your mind where your body and take in everything that’s happening within you and around you, whether you’re waiting in line for your seat assignment or getting ready to land.  
“When you’re in the parking lot, look around you and take the time to see where you parked,” said Thomas.  “Notice the passengers around you, think about where they might be going. Focus your attention on the sounds around you.”  
Instead of telling yourself not to be anxious, do the opposite and tell yourself, “I’m experiencing stress right now. My heart is beating fast. My muscles are tense.” Don’t try to ignore them and order yourself to calm down. 
If you’re having menopause symptoms while in the air, don’t fall into a spiral about how you appear to others, or try to brush off the stress of it all.  
“Instead of praying that the feeling will go away, imagine it getting stronger,” said Thomas. “If you’re having a hot flash, give yourself permission to sweat.”   

Tackle travel anxiety ahead of your trip

When it comes to travel dread, it may be helpful to take a proactive approach, says Marilyn Smith, LSCW, a Long Island, NY-based psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. 

"I believe learning tools to manage anxiety before traveling is the best course of action," she said. "There are some excellent apps such as Balance, Calm and Headspace."

Smith also recommends practicing relaxation techniques such as meditational breathing and body scanning in the weeks or months before traveling to help get a better handle on menopause symptoms before dealing the normal stress of travel.


Try helpful forms of distraction

When feeling distress and anxiety mid-flight, a distraction can be your best friend. Whether it's taking a break to eat a snack, playing a game or lookin through photos on your phone, an audiobook, or even talking to the person next to you (if they don't mind, of course). 


"Get into a riveting novel at home and stop reading when you get to the climax and then resuming on the plane," suggests Smith.  

Menopause travel tips

Stop saying ‘I should’: You should be excited to go away. You should be happy about taking your vacation. You shouldn’t be stressing about a simple work trip. Not only are “shoulds” unhelpful, but they can release your levels of cortisol which can increase your anxiety, raise your blood pressure, and heart rate.  


“When you say, ‘I should,’ you’re actually telling your body that you’re in potential danger,” says Thomas.  
Dress in layers. Temperature on flights can vacillate from uncomfortably warm to frigid. Make it easy to adjust by dressing in light layers rather than a warm sweater or jacket. If a hot flash comes on, you can shed your light cardigan and cool off in a t-shirt.  

Cool is your friend. Feeling the heat? Thomas recommends putting an ice cube on your wrists for a quick dose of relief. Keeping a wet cloth or a cold beverage near you can also help cool you down by placing it against your head, says Smith.

Stretch out When you get seated on the plane, allow yourself to stretch out your arms and legs to relieve some tension and to allow yourself to make contact with the seat, recommends Smith.

"Making a conscious effort to reduce tension in the muscles can help to keep the stress and anxiety manageable."  

Stay hydrated. Not only will water help you avoid a UTI (nothing spells anxiety like trying to find cranberry juice in a foreign country), rehydrate you after a torrential hot flash, it can help you fend off headaches, and other no-fun feelings.  

Avoid alcohol. Resist the urge to get tipsy to fight off travel anxiety. Not only will booze make your hot flashes worse, but it can also cause dehydration and upset your stomach.  
Trust the people that are flying the plane. It is their job to get us to our cousin’s wedding, our business meeting, or girls' weekend safely. While the entire experience of air travel may feel as though it’s designed to for maximum frustration, anxiety, and dread, it’s important to stay grounded. You're going to get there. It's going to be okay. 

Photo by Luo Lei / Unsplash