Managing Anxiety During Long-Haul Flights and Overseas Travel

In the past month, I got married, went on a two-week honeymoon, turned 28, and led my first yoga retreat. Talk about a whirlwind! I’m so excited to be back to posting on the blog regularly and I have an exciting announcement to make.

In addition to the weekly Yoga + Mental Health blog posts, I am also launching a Lifestyle section to my blog, where I will share from a much broader range of topics like travel, health, wellness, relationships, and more. As my life continues to grow and evolve, this addition feels like a much more sustainable avenue for me. I’ll probably be posting a lot of travel articles soon due to the honeymoon, so if you’re only interested in the Yoga + Mental Health posts, just ignore the others! 🙂

 

I’m not going to lie, the week leading up to the wedding and honeymoon was a bit challenging for me. All the stress and anticipation had the “what if” thoughts bouncing around my mind like wild. As anyone struggling with anxiety knows, the “what ifs” can take over quickly if we don’t keep them in check. And when we’re experiencing major life changes or taking new steps forward, it’s naturally very uncertain and therefore, scary.

I thought, “What if I don’t make it down the aisle? What if I panic during the ceremony? What if I don’t like being married? What if we get a divorce? What if I panic on the 10 hour flight? What if I get overseas and have a mental breakdown and can’t get home? What if something horrible happens over there?” ON AND ON AND ON…

The thing is: we can make the future infinitely scary in our imagination because we don’t know what’s going to happen. But if we stay here, right now, in the present moment, we realize it’s all we really have. And right here, right now, all is well.

I was so incredibly nervous before I walked out of the bridal suite to head down the aisle. And once I did- once I was putting one foot in front of the other and eventually standing in front of the love of my life and all of our family- I remember thinking, “Why do I EVER doubt myself? Why do I ever think that I can’t handle something? I’m so much stronger than I ever give myself credit for and I can handle anything that comes my way.” A deep sense of peace and courage washed over me and I felt so powerful.

I took this newfound inner strength along with me on my honeymoon. It was the biggest trip I’d taken since panic, involving two 10-hour flights, four shorter 1 to 2- hour flights, five different countries, four different hotels, and some sleep deprivation. Yikes!

I’m happy to say that I had basically zero anxiety throughout my trip. All I experienced were initial fears and old habits of thought that would pop in and try to scare me, and I was able to bat them away quickly so that none of it mattered. I’d love to share with you the tools I used to manage my anxiety while taking such a big trip.

 

-Feel the fear and do it anyway

Basically my forever mantra for life. The first step in managing anxiety while traveling is to DO IT. Anxiety can cause us to stop dead in our tracks and to believe that we CAN’T travel or take that plane ride or be away from home for that long. But that’s absolute and complete BS. Seriously.

Yes, you’ll probably be scared and yes it might be uncomfortable at first. But we feel that fear and we do the thing anyway. We live our lives anyway. Then and only then can we see that it actually wasn’t that bad and that yes, we can do this.

I had a moment towards the end of the trip when I realized: it’s never anxiety that is stopping me from doing what I want to do. It’s ME. I’m the one stopping myself by believing I can’t.

Anxiety is never stopping you. It may feel like it, but it’s really YOU that’s stopping you. Anxiety itself has never stopped anyone from doing anything. It’s our reaction and our beliefs in relation to the anxiety that causes us to stop ourselves. How do I know this?

Because many people have anxiety and they still travel. They still get married or have the baby or take the new job or sleep alone or whatever. So fear itself isn’t the problem. It’s just what we choose to do with it. Do we choose to let it rule our lives and dictate what we can and can’t do? Or do we feel the fear and do what we want anyway?

 

-There are no such things as safe zones

This is HUGE. I had to remind myself of this over and over again throughout the trip. I’d have little moments where I realized how far away I was from home. Or, interestingly, we’d take a ten hour day trip away from the hotel and I’d have a moment where I’d feel scared of being away from the hotel. It showed me just how arbitrary our “safe zones” are.

Was the hotel any safer in reality than being on a bus and out in the countryside all day? Not at all.

Anxiety makes us believe that it’s somehow safer for us to be panicking at home than it would be to panic on a plane. Or that it’s safer to have anxiety at the hotel than out and about in the city.

It’s just not true. Whether we happen to panic at home or somewhere far, far away, the physiological response is exactly the same. Anxiety is just a physiological chain of events that make us feel very scared but where we are when this happens makes no difference whatsoever.

It helped for me to remind myself that it doesn’t matter where I am. If panic were to come, I could handle it no matter where it was. I could ride it out and breathe no matter what. We carry our tools WITH us.

 

-Stay and breathe

Another response anxiety loves to elicit is the desire to flee and run. If we’re in a situation and we begin to feel overwhelming anxiety, all we want to do it get out of there to somewhere where we’ll feel “safer.”

What I’ve learned is to just stay and breathe.

As soon as we bolt, we teach our bodies that it WAS a dangerous situation and that we needed to get out in order to feel better. When in reality, if we had stayed and breathed, we would have seen that our body would have naturally calmed down anyway.

Every single time we took a flight on this trip (six in total), I got nervous. The flight would start and I’d feel the fluttering in my stomach and everything in me wanted to get off the plane. But then I reminded myself to “stay and breathe.”
(We don’t really have the option to get off on an airplane so it’s actually a great lesson in this). Then, after a few minutes, I’d always start to calm down and continued on to have a relaxing, fun flight.

How many times do we abort a situation too soon? Stay and breathe and you CAN handle it.

 

-Who cares? And more self-talk

I don’t know how many times I told myself, “who cares?!”  on this trip. Every time I had a thought like, “what if I panic on the plane?” Or “what if this or that?” I’d respond lovingly with, “who cares?” Because truly, who cares?

So what if I have a panic attack while traveling? I’d calm down eventually. I’ve had many, many attacks before and they always ended and I survived, no matter how bad they got. I would get really, really scared and then it would pass. I wouldn’t die. I wouldn’t go crazy. I know what it is. So, truly, so what? Who cares?

Self-talk is such a big part of managing my negative thinking. I’ve learned to respond in a way that is wise, loving, and rational. How can we talk to our scared selves from our highest, wisest self?

And after I soothe myself with positive self-talk, I refocus my attention onto something else so that the fearful thoughts become uninteresting and just fall away.

 

I was beyond terrified to take this trip and in the end, I haven’t felt that present, peaceful, in love, and in awe in years- maybe even ever! It was my favorite trip I’ve ever taken and just to think that I could have missed out on it due to fear makes me sad.

Never underestimate your own strength. You are strong enough to do whatever you want to do. You are powerful and capable and so worthy of all you could dream of.

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2 thoughts on “Managing Anxiety During Long-Haul Flights and Overseas Travel

  1. Lindsey says:

    I love this advice. It is so true. Stay and breathe, change self talk, and just enjoy even when anxiety and panic are telling you not too! I’m so happy you had an awesome trip, you definitely deserve it!

    Like

  2. Ali says:

    Thank you so much Malia, this was everything to me. I am about to embark on an adventure to Costa Rica to stay on an off the grid retreat farm with yoga, its so beautiful but of course anxiety is trying to take away my excitement and replace it with fear. I am so scared my depersonalization (which you helped me heal two years ago, and I haven’t felt since) is going to creep in and ruin my trip and experience. I keep almost convincing myself that I already feel it coming back again but I am pretty sure it is all in my head. But I came to your website in hopes of a peace of mind and found this, thank you thank you for being such a light in this world.

    Like

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