Travelling is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but if you’re a nervous traveller it can spoil the enjoyment of any trip. If you suffer from anxiety try some positive affirmations before you travel – picture yourself at the destination, relaxed and happy, and try techniques such as mindful breathing.
Exposure to the things you’re afraid of is more effective at overcoming them than avoidance, so it’s best to stop negative thoughts as soon as possible and focus on becoming a calm passenger.
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If your anxiety is caused by feeling a lack of control, try to plan as much of your journey as possible. Look at maps of stations, the roads around them, and plan your route.
Focus on each step, one by one, which is more manageable than worrying about the whole journey.
Essential oils are also great to use when you’re travelling – lavender is calming and soothing, and mandarin is calming and uplifting. Place a couple of drops on a tissue that you can breathe in, or make a hand lotion that doubles up as an antibacterial rub by adding a few drops into a carrier oil such as almond oil in a small travel bottle.
Easier train travel
Train journeys can be enjoyable – it gives you time to sit back and relax, read or listen to a podcast or music, relinquishing responsibility during the journey. But many trains are overcrowded, and it’s not always possible to book a seat in advance of your trip.
If you’re travelling to work you can use your time on the train to prepare for your day. Listen to a podcast, or if you have the chance to sit down try a word or number puzzle; then when you arrive at work your brain is already warmed up and ready to focus.
Similarly, on your way home you can find an activity to help you switch off from the office and start to wind down for a relaxing evening.
Deep breathing is an effective technique to calm your nerves on a train or tube journey. Breathe in through your nose while you count to four, hold your breath for a count of two, and then breathe out for four seconds. You can also try progressive relaxation: tensing and relaxing each muscle group for five seconds, starting at your feet and working up to your face, combined with slow breathing.
On the practical side, if you use the London Underground, the Tube Exits app for iOS costs 69p and can tell you where to position yourself based on the exit you’re heading for.
Overcome a fear of flying
Flying is still one of the safest forms of transport, but if you have a serious fear of flying you could think about attending a course aimed at nervous passengers.
You may be affected by the stress of the airport check-in and security process, with crowds and time-pressures, or the take-off, landing, or turbulence while you’re in the air.
Many people find the courses helpful when the airline staff explain all the different noises and movements you’ll experience during a flight.
You may have considered taking medication to cope with a flight, but this is often ineffective in the long-term as it causes you to become more sensitised to flying, and the dosage needs to be continually increased.
Your lack of movement due to sedation can also increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis, particularly on a long flight. And any medication should definitely not be combined with alcohol.
You could experiment with sitting in an aisle or window seat, as some people find being able to see out of the window makes it worse. Distractions can also be helpful – try reading, listening to a podcast or music, or an activity such as knitting or solving a word puzzle.
There is also a wide choice of Android and iOS apps for travellers, including Soar for iOS and for Android. It’s created by a pilot and a licensed therapist, so combines both practical information about flying with tips on regulating your anxiety and combating stress hormones.
It’s a free app, and contains a guide to how safety on a plane is ensured, a video on managing pre-flight anxiety with the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, and exercises to complete while on-board.
Another great distraction on-board, or even in the airport while you’re waiting, is the Takeoff Mode game from ANA, available for iOS and Android.
It’s designed with sound effects that encourage relaxation as you roll the ball around on-screen, avoiding obstacles – and as you can have your phone on during take-off, in Airplane mode, you can play to distract yourself from the changes in noise, air pressure and movements.
Psychologist Patricia Furness-Smith and pilot Captain Steve Allright are authors of Flying with Confidence. They recommend using the four Rs: React, Regulate your breathing, Relax your muscles and Rehearse a positive scenario.
The ‘fight or flight’ feeling you may experience during a flight is controlled by the amygdala in your brain, and the best way to balance this is to encourage your brain to produce the hormone oxytocin – the ‘cuddle’ hormone.
You can naturally boost your oxytocin levels by smiling, doing a creative activity (such as doodling or knitting), and meditating.