Hello Flight Anxiety, My Old Friend

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If you’re anything like me, travel is a significant source of anxiety. Of course, many things in my life are anxiety-inducing. I seem to operate best with a high level of anxiety brimming just beneath the surface, waiting to boil over. My mother is full of stories about how anxious I was as a child before we really thought of it as “anxiety” and more as just “nerves.” 

As an adult, my anxiety meds have helped manage some of those feelings so that I can function as best I can. It was scary and embarrassing at first – I didn’t know how my husband or family would react to my needing meds – but now I feel good. I feel like I have some control over the fuzzy monster of anxiety that sometimes gets the best of me. 

Having a toddler has made this anxiety journey more…” fun.” She is wonderful, fearless, courageous, and all of the things I wish for her. But her courage can, at times, make my fears worse. 

And this month, we upped the ante. 

Flying. 

Sure. Just put me up in the air with my rambunctious, spirited toddler. That’ll be fiiiiiiine. 

Of course, I’ve heard all of the statistics, and I believe them; I’ve seen the research and the numbers and read countless articles provided by my husband and meant to reassure me ahead of a big trip. 

“You are nineteen times safer in a plane than in a car.”

Yes, driving is terrible too. I’ve seen the way other people drive. Traveling in any way is anxiety-inducing. 

“You are more likely to die from a bee sting than from a commercial flight.”

Oh, that reminds me, I’m allergic to bees. 

“Whenever we fly, we have a one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of dying.” 

Okay, that one actually is reassuring. That is an incredibly tiny number. You hear that, anxiety?! Only one one-hundred-thousandth of a percent! 

But flying this time was different. I didn’t feel those same niggling anxieties that I usually feel waiting for a plane to take off and the rumble of an engine. I didn’t grip my armrests the way I typically do and close my eyes tightly while forcing myself to breathe and count backward from 100 or say some prayers. Because my fearless adventurer was beside me, following my lead. 

So I followed hers. 

Instead of watching fearfully out the window for the ground to fall away, I watched Poppy sing, dance, hug, and save the Trolls. Instead of clutching my husband’s hand through turbulence, I played the pink dinosaur while my daughter claimed the purple. And instead of clenching my teeth and counting the minutes until we finally touched down again, I colored countless pictures of Disney princesses and Paw Patrol pups. 

So the moral of the story is this: if you’re an anxious flyer like myself, try putting yourself in your toddler’s mindset. Trust that the pilot will get you there as your child trusts you to make sure you arrive safely. Play a game, watch a movie, let go of control. Everything is going to be okay. 

Getting through the airport was maddening. Trying to fly amid a pandemic was nightmare-inducing. But seeing my daughter chattering about planes and watching them perform their gateway ballet from the airport windows? Well, that, as Mastercard would put it, was priceless. And while I would never say my flight anxiety is gone, it was at least a relief to get off the plane without marks on my palms from my tight-fisted grip. 

My daughter is incredible, and seeing her tackle this new adventure – Elsa mask in place – made it slightly easier for me to let go. 

Of course, my relative calm could just have been the exhaustion from how much harder it is to get to the gate with a toddler in tow. But that’s a subject for another day. 

What helps your travel anxiety? Hit me up with your coping techniques! 

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