Have you recently developed a fear of flying? Experienced traveller Shelley Richardson went shares some useful tips on overcoming panic attacks as a backpacker.
“Having always loved the feeling of being in the air and arriving at a new and exciting destination, I never thought that I would one day develop a fear of flying. The fear arose following multiple major airline disasters coupled with increasing levels of generalised anxiety whilst I was living in London in 2014.
Identify the trigger
My first panic attack occurred when I was waiting in a crowded line to fly back to London after a week of solo travel in Portugal. There was a fifteen minute delay in boarding in which time, I managed to convince myself that there were two hijackers in the line. My brain had successfully tricked my body into thinking that if I got on plane, I would not survive the flight. Crazy huh?!
How to spot the symptoms
The symptoms – sweaty, shaky hands, rapid breathing and tightness in the chest – came on rapidly and uncontrollably. If you’ve experienced a panic attack, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a really traumatic experience, especially the first time when you have no idea what is going on. The more I tried to fight it off, the worse it became until I experienced a huge rush of tingling sensations run from the tips of my toes right through to my lips, forcing me to crouch down to the floor before I fainted.
From that point on the fear of having a similar attack was imprinted into my mind and therefore each time I faced an airport line, the symptoms would quickly return. Even looking up to see an airplane flying overhead would make me feel uncomfortable. So I decided to sign up for some psychology sessions which turned out to be the best decision I could have made for myself!
What causes panic attacks in experienced travellers?
In my sessions I learnt that a panic attack operates in a very circular manner which, in the psychology world is coined ‘The Panic Cycle.’ Seeing each stage of a panic attack in the form of a logical diagram really helped me to understand what was exactly happening between my brain and body each time I’d go to board a flight and, provided so many answers to questions like “how (and why) did this happen to me?”
The anticipation of having another attack is often what causes the fear of the next, so unless you have the techniques to recognise the trigger cues and ‘exit the cycle’ at the right point it could continue to go round and around like a horrible, vicious cycle!
How to deal with panic attacks
Aside from the techniques that I learnt to deal with a panic attack, the most important thing that my psychologist taught me was to acknowledge the feelings and thoughts as discomfort rather than actual danger. To stop yourself and bring awareness to what is going on in your body rather than trying to fight it before introducing ‘in the moment’ strategies.
If there are any girls out there who experience panic attacks from flying, I would highly recommend seeking help from a professional. Facing a phobia is a really scary prospect for anyone however the more you can work through your fears and understand what is really going on behind the scenes, the weaker it’s power will become over you.
I now have the tools to deal with a panic attack when I feel one coming on and treat every flight as an opportunity to practice and improve upon the last. There have been some small setbacks along the way (think crowded lines and turbulence) but each time I make it through and feel a deep sense of fulfillment that I faced my fear head on to continue doing something that I LOVE!!”
**Please not that I am not a mental health professional and am simply sharing advice on what has worked well for me. If you (or someone you know) needs advice regarding your own mental health difficulties, please contact your local GP.