16 Tips for Handling Travel Anxiety

Girl at airport looking at plane timetable

Talking with many Mums and Dads, Travel Anxiety seems to be a common theme among kids (and Adults) when taking long flights. Having suffered from Anxiety myself, I have read quite widely on the subject and share some of my insights here. These tips  have helped me!

If you need more help with this, please see a Doctor. I am not a Doctor or a Psychologist, so if your Anxiety is really bad - please see your Doctor.

Five year olds might take what you say comforting regarding air travel – but 10 year olds have minds of their own and do question things. Some tips on managing Travel anxiety and Anxiety in general for both Children and Adults below:

1. Do some exercise and/or relaxation every day no matter what, even if you feel ok. Its like money in the stress bank. It is self-care! There are exercise Apps on your phone. I use the free App '30 day fitness challenge'. It sends you a reminder to exercise. It even kind of tells you off if you don't exercise and ignore its messages! At the end of each exercise session you 'tick off' that you completed the session and all the exercises can be done in your lounge room. Our family gets quite competitive with the 1 minute planks! Exercise is a buffer for stress. There are tonnes of free exercise apps on your phone. No gym membership required!

2. Another thing to try is twist any anxiety/worry into a 'concern'. A worry is useless/unhelpful. A concern is something you can do something about and then not a worry that keeps bothering you. What bothers you about traveling? Go find out more about it! A great book about flying in planes I totally recommend is 'Cockpit Confidential' by Patrick Smith. He basically goes into detail (but in laymans terms) about turbulence, noises on a plane, steward training etc in a very reassuring way. I wish I had read it earlier. It is called: Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections

3. Turn any worry from ‘what if’ to ‘lets pretend’. It lessens the impact I think quite a lot!! Your worry sounds more like fiction then fact when you use the word 'pretend'.
4. Also practice mindfulness, focus on the moment. Alot of people think this is just meditating. But its more then this. Live in the moment. Your mind will always wander. Just refocus it back to the 'now'. Go for a walk (or even sitting on the lounge) and try and think of 5 things you can see, 5 things can hear, 5 things can touch. 5 things you can smell. Each 5 things must be different (My 11 year old daughter loves this game he he, we have done this on walks around the neighborhood) and do this for like 15 mins. This refocuses you on the present. Anxiety is the future.

5. Another thing to try is deep breathing (there are apps for this). You should be taking about 10 breaths per minute, but if you are breathing about 20 per minute (or more), then your very anxious. You need to slow down your breathing. Breathe in for 4, Breathe out for 4 (there are lots of breathing exercises on the web about this, you need to do this for a while to get your Heart Rate (H.R)/Breathing rate down). Fact: You cannot be anxious if your HR/breathing is slowed!

6. Also keep a worry diary. I wrote this in my phone memo. Every moment you had a worry write it down straight away. I had 10 worries a day for the first 3 days. Then nothing on the 4th!  Like I had worried myself out. Very strange. Yet this one works!!

7. Something similar is to say your worries in front of a mirror for like 10 minutes straight- continuously. Without stopping. It is the combination of facing your (ridiculous worry) and constantly talking about it that ‘drives the worry out’. You will find it difficult to talk 10 mins straight about a worry. But you must do it for the full 10 minutes. Talk about all your worries not just the most bothersome. Trust me on this!! The thing about worries, they ‘come and go’. That’s how they work. No one worries 24 hours per day every second.

8. If in an extremely anxious state and trying calm down, count in 7’s back from 100! (apparently some people have perfected this to such an extent, you  need to change the number!!). This brings you also back to 'now'.

9. What are you eating? Eat a balanced diet with as many fresh vegetables as possible. They say things like Salmon and Spinach are good for stress. Vitamin B and strangely camomile tea helps a lot. I get camomile/honey and vanilla  from Coles supermarket  - its yummy. And stay off caffeine. Even 1 cup of coffee might be too much if anxious already. I stopped drinking coffee this year and now just have de-caf. I don’t need the stimulus!! He he. (but I do miss the taste of coffee!).

10. The traditional way to deal with Anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This works for 'rational fears' - fears you can reason with. However, I found it doesn’t work for irrational fears (improbable). More information can be found on the internet about this. With CBT you basically write all the reasons something scares you. Then you write down all the reasons why something doesn’t (reasons against). You write your emotions down e.g scared, anxious etc and the % scared and anxious etc. THEN, you write a new sentence that combines the two thinking, (the idea being so your thoughts are more ‘balanced’) so you get a statement like ‘There might be an Earthquake, but its unlikely and Japan is well prepared building wise for such occurrences’. And this new statement should make you feel better (write down your emotions again and see if less in % e.g less scared). If CBT doesn't work, revert to my other Mindfulness tips on this blog post!

11. Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga are really good for mindfulness. I chose Tai Chi (just got a DVD as I've already done classes before). Tai Chi is a moving meditation and it helps you to focus on the present. Also, I think music is good too. Pick up an instrument and learn to play. I play ukulele. The sound makes  you relax and its an easy instrument to lay. It is difficult to play a tune if you are worried about something. It refocuses your mind to the task at hand.

12. It is good to ask the question, is something possible, or is it probable? There is a big distinction between the two! If its only possible, its really anxiety! Identifying something as an anxious thought is half the battle.

13. Waiting for an outcome with possible bad news? Try not to spend too much time worrying about it and actively focus your mind on other things. It is natural your mind will start thinking about it again - be aware that it will do this and that it is normal. Some books say to actually acknowledge the thought "Thanks brain" for the reminder - but then you need to quickly refocus on something else. Exercise, go for a walk, chat to a friend. Whilst you are waiting for an outcome, you cannot do anything about the outcome at that point in time. The best thing to do mentally is divert your attention elsewhere. Live in the moment.

14. Anxiety thrives on the attention that you give it. You really need to divert your attention elsewhere, outside of yourself. This is where mindfulness steps in.  Of course, that twinge in your body might really mean something - but it is also likely not to mean anything too. How to tell the difference? Does the twinge get worse? Go to your Doctor or ask a trusted friend. Turn your worry into a concern - do something about it. Don't just mull over it.

15. Most people with anxiety must be in control. They must be 'certain' of an outcome. In life nothing is certain. The best you can do is accept the possibility that X might happen but think and act as if X is 100% safe. And accept the risk that you might get it wrong. This statement has helped me.

16. Leave your packing for a trip until the day before. BUT - write your packing and must do list a month before (more then a few days) so you can add to it and are less likely to forget anything.  Once your holiday begins - your anxiety generally turns to Adrenalin and excitement. Anxiety is always about the 'future'. Your travel anxiety will pass.

There is ONE good advantage of anxiety.  You are naturally very organised! Not everyone in society overplans for the future and this trait makes you you. Anyways try some of these tips next time your anxious. They do work. Unfortunately there is  no cure for anxiety. Symptoms will pass so try to focus on the here and now and concentrate on mindfulness. 

My Doctor said once lots of people get anxious. We are all so good at hiding it! Makes you think how much everyone suffers with it!!

I hope you found these anxiety tips useful. If you would like to comment please do so in comments as I would love to hear about your experiences.

Until next week,


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You can read about my other blog posts below:

Long Plane Trips with Kids 
Packaged Tours versus Independent Travel

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