How to Calm Travel Anxiety Naturally: Over the Counter Remedies
As often as I travel, I’m still susceptible to flight anxiety, also known as aviophobia. I internally freak out when turbulence hits, or stress myself out when I’m exhausted and dreading another long flight. But I’ve found a number of remedies to help those who are scared of flying that don’t involve popping prescription meds. Here’s my best tips to naturally combat fear of flying:
Set a Good Travel Foundation with Stress Fighting, Health Boosting Supplements
If I show up at the airport tired and stressed, there’s no question I’ll be tensing up every time we hit a little turbulence. It’s not always possible to remove anxiety-causing stress from our lives, but we can create a healthy foundation for our brains and bodies. If you’re not already, consider taking a daily supplement to fill in gaps in your diet and support your overall health.
This is completely anecdotal, but my sister’s ex struggled with anxiety all his life, and saw a huge improvement after a doctor finally ran blood tests and noticed he was low on magnesium. A couple months on a good supplement, and he was a new(ish) person. So if you’re already struggling with a high baseline level of anxiety, it’s important to make sure your nutritional needs are being met.
The other half of this strong foundation is plenty of sleep! It can seem like a good idea to avoid sleeping before a long flight or order to ensure sleep on the plane. However many people who struggle with anxiety will recognize sleep deprivation as a trigger. Do your best to arrive at the airport un-rushed and well rested, so you’re less susceptible to the stresses of travel. Things like starting to pack your suitcase at least a day before departure, planning transportation ahead of time, and even creating a packing checklist can help create a stress-free foundation for your trip.
Calming Supplements for Flight Anxiety
Unlike sleeping pills (which I don’t recommend when flying), calming nighttime supplements and herbal remedies for flight anxiety won’t konk you out. But they will gently help you to relax and quiet that part of your mind that’s afraid of flying.
If your flight is long enough, do try and get some sleep. Skip the alcohol, and opt for hot tea along with a calming supplement. While booze may relax you in the short term, it’s a not a good solution for a long flight, and you’ll pay for it in the longer term. Ramping down your out of control nervous system is the first step in overcoming fear of flying.
I do try to sleep for as much of my flight as I can. (And honestly, this is just as much to not be awake and stressing, as it is to arrive fresh and ready to explore).
Aromatherapy can be a simple but effective remedy for travel anxiety. Calming scents like lavender and frankincense help to quiet the mind and distract from your surroundings. Aromatherapy is a staple of my travel toiletry kit, and lavender is my absolute favorite.
And if you already have an aromatherapy routine at home, the scents can provide a very real sense of safety, familiarity and routine. Just be sparing and keep in mind that your seatmates may not appreciate going overboard with strong scents.
Noise Cancelling Headphones for Nervous Flyers
This last remedy is a little more high-tech, but it’s been so helpful for me.
With the engine hum and ambient noise, it can be difficult to sleep or even relax on a plane. And when I’m feeling anxious, I over-analyze EVERY perfectly normal plane sound. Does your anxiety peak during plane take off and landing too? Trying to ignore all the sounds around you may be asking too much of your brain. Instead, just shut it all out.
After finally giving up on earbuds (do they hurt anyone else’s ears?), I invested in a pair of nice noise cancelling headphones. I hoped that they’d make flying a more pleasant experience, but was still amazed when all the bustle around me just fell away. I feel a little more “alone” even in claustrophobia inducing plane seats; just me and my relaxing playlist. As a bonus, they also help me to stay asleep a little longer on planes.
The Sony pair that I use and love is linked above, but here’s some additional options:
Breathing Exercises for Flight Anxiety
Breathing exercises can be a simple, yet powerful way to reduce anxiety and restore calm and focus. It’s a natural way to relieve stress and tension by sending a signal to your brain to adjust your nervous system, promoting a state of relaxation. And you can do these exercises quietly while sitting in the airport or on a plane.
Let’s delve into some effective breathing techniques that can help with anxiety:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing or Belly Breathing
This technique encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide, promoting a state of relaxation.
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose (whichever feels more comfortable). The hand on your belly should fall.
- Continue this pattern, inhaling into your belly, and exhaling out, for several minutes.
(Source: Harvard Medical School)
- 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this technique is based on an ancient yogi technique called Pranayama. It helps people who suffer from anxiety by acting as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
Steps (watch a video demonstration here):
- Close your eyes and take a deep, slow breath in through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight, making a whooshing sound.
- Repeat this cycle four times.
(Source: Dr. Andrew Weil)
- Box Breathing or Square Breathing
This technique can help to clear the mind, slow the heart rate, and improve concentration, thereby reducing stress.
- Sit upright and slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four.
- Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
- Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen.
- Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before breathing in again.
- Repeat this process for several minutes.
These exercises can be done virtually anywhere and at any time when you feel your anxiety levels rising. With regular practice, you may find that these exercises become an effective tool in managing your anxiety symptoms before and during flights.
Combining these breathing exercises with meditation can further enhance their anxiety-reducing benefits. Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique to focus their mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. While you’re practicing any of these breathing exercises, try to clear your mind, focusing solely on your breath as it moves in and out. Over time, this meditative practice can lead to an improved ability to manage stress and anxiety.
However, it’s important to remember that while breathing exercises can help manage anxiety, they’re not a substitute for professional help. If your anxiety is severe or doesn’t improve with self-care techniques, it’s crucial to seek professional guidance.
With more and more states legalizing cannabis, many people are flying with weed gummies. While we can’t recommend this, and the TSA has made it clear that they’re not explicitly searching for drugs in your luggage (flying internationally is a whole different ball game though!). However, because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, if the TSA does notice cannabis in your luggage, they may call local law enforcement. At that point, it’s up to the police to decide what to do, but your best case scenario is being told to throw away your gummies. I know a lot of people don’t think twice about traveling with cannabis anymore, but I personally wouldn’t risk it.
Your mileage (pun intended) will vary when it comes to managing anxiety naturally. What works for one person can fall flat for another. If you’re currently on prescription medication, it’s very important that you discuss options with your doctor before stopping medication or adding in natural treatments.
But whether or not you use prescription medication, it can be useful to approach your flight anxiety holistically. Options like aromatherapy and noise cancelling headphones won’t interact with medications and can be incredibly helpful as supplementation.