What To Do If You Have A Panic Attack During A Flight

Air journey would possibly really feel like no large deal to many individuals. But for others, the expertise is especially anxiety-inducing. In reality, these tough emotions can at occasions be robust sufficient to result in a panic assault.

“Fear of flying can be considered a cross-section of different phobias,” mentioned Meg Gitlin, a psychotherapist in New York and the voice behind the remedy perception Instagram City Therapist. “For example, one’s fear of flying could be rooted in other common phobias, like fear of heights and fear of being trapped and being unable to escape.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified fears round germs, sickness and shut contact with strangers. Rampant flight cancellations and delays of late solely add to the anxiousness, with vacationers questioning whether or not they’ll make it to their vacation spot. And then there are the rising incidents of violence on planes.

With all this stress, it’s no marvel some folks really feel heightened feelings about air journey. And even when the flight surroundings doesn’t have an effect on you, it’s nonetheless attainable to have a panic assault whilst you occur to be on a airplane.


So, what must you do if you end up experiencing a panic assault throughout a flight? Below, specialists share their recommendation for coping within the second and getting ready on your subsequent journey.

Focus on a respiration train

“Individuals who experience panic typically don’t breathe from the diaphragm, which can lead to hyperventilation,” mentioned Kevin Chapman, a Kentucky-based medical psychologist who makes a speciality of anxiety-related problems. “Breathing is a ‘portable tool’ to decrease hyperventilation.”

He advisable slowly inhaling by means of your nostril for 4 or 5 seconds after which exhaling out of your mouth for six seconds.


“Imagine you are breathing from your belly ― hence the term ‘belly breathing’ ― instead of taking more shallow breaths from your lungs,” Gitlin suggested. “The focus should be on expanding your stomach and rib cage, and going as slowly as possible, with the exhale being longer than the inhale.”

You can place your hand in your abdomen to really feel the breath going out and in. Try to rely it out and repeat the cycle a number of occasions.

Apps like Headspace and Calm supply guided respiration workouts ― some are even obtainable by means of the in-flight leisure choices on sure airways.

Use chilly water


“My favorite coping mechanism for an oncoming panic attack is to shock your system with cold water,” Gitlin mentioned. “This activates what is called the ‘mammalian diving reflex.’ It works by turning on our parasympathetic nervous system, which conserves our body’s energy and slows our heart rate, allowing us to physically relax.”

Gitlin instructed asking a flight attendant for a glass of ice water and submerging just a few fingers in it or rubbing a chilly compress on the again of your neck.

“A lot of times the stifling air or tight seats or warmth in a plane can induce some of the physiological discomfort associated with a panic attack, which is feeling hot flushed, sweaty palms, heart racing,” mentioned Sue Varma, a psychiatrist in New York.

Varma additionally suggested making use of water to your neck or ingesting ice water that can assist you settle down rapidly. Walking to the lavatory and splashing chilly water in your face also can assist.

Take inventory of what’s round you

“Adopting a present-focused, nonjudgmental stance on the flight is a very useful skill when experiencing panic,” Chapman mentioned.

He suggested practising aware consciousness, making an attempt to focus your consideration on your self within the current second whenever you begin to really feel uncomfortable ― “focusing on how my body feels in the seat, my breathing, the sounds of the aircraft, the chatter, etc.”

If going inward and focusing in your physiological existence doesn’t work, attempt trying outward as a substitute.

“An additional strategy is to shift attention from current distress and to an external cue,” Chapman mentioned. “This could include the seatback in front of you, the people around you, the flight attendants, etc.”

Making and keeping a list of calming statements on your phone can help ease you out of a panic attack.

DaniloAndjus by way of Getty Images

Making and maintaining a listing of calming statements in your telephone might help ease you out of a panic assault.

Create a listing of calming statements (and use them)

Coming up with coping statements and storing them in your telephone for straightforward entry is one other useful software for coping with anxiousness and panic assaults.

“These are super specific to each individual and can sound like, ‘I can do things I am afraid of and have survived every flight I’ve been on,’” Gitlin mentioned. “They also may remind a person why they are taking this specific risk ― ‘I am getting on a flight to visit my mother who is sick. Our relationship is very important to me and I am willing to be uncomfortable in order to see her.’”

Chapman suggested grounding your self with evidence-based ideas to separate the information you recognize from the fictions your thoughts would possibly create.

“This involves identifying the thoughts that are leading to panic, but also recognizing the truth about panic,” Chapman mentioned. “Panic is uncomfortable but not dangerous. There is a significant difference between discomfort and danger.”

Some evidence-based ideas that would lower the heightened sensations and emotions related to panic assaults embody: “temporary confinement is not being trapped;” “this too shall pass;” “ride the wave;” and “these symptoms are uncomfortable but not dangerous.” Chapman instructed declaring these ideas in a matter-of-fact tone in your head or quietly out loud.

Instead of full statements, you may also discover aid by means of shorter phrases or phrases.

“You want to be able to say to yourself a calm word that you have chosen in advance,” Varma mentioned. “You can say the word ‘home’ or the word ‘breathe’ or ‘I am safe.’”

Ask a health care provider about medicine

Panic assaults usually come out of nowhere. But in case you’re susceptible to those sudden episodes, it is likely to be useful to speak to an expert about medicine choices.

“Many people travel with a prescribed dose of short-acting benzodiazepine,” Varma mentioned. “It doesn’t hurt to even book an appointment with a psychiatrist who can help you with this if you travel frequently. You want to discuss all your specific symptoms with your provider and this medication has its own risks and side effects, so may not be for everybody.”

You can take anxiousness medicine earlier than your flight or simply hold it available in case you begin to really feel a panic assault approaching. Although some medicine may not take impact till after the second has handed, Varma famous that it might nonetheless assist with the after-effects or uneasy emotions that may observe an episode.

“I find that many people don’t even end up taking the medication at the moment, but feel a degree of comfort knowing it is there if they need it,” Gitlin mentioned.

Rely on a calming outlet or distraction

Before you journey, attempt occupied with what would possibly convey you consolation in case you begin to really feel a way of panic through the flight.

“Is there anything they would find calming?” Gitlin requested. “Perhaps this is uploading a few episodes of their favorite mindless TV show to their iPad for easy access.”

Varma instructed packing noise-canceling headphones and downloading music or films which might be upbeat and humorous, or carrying a bit of little bit of soothing important oil if that helps you calm down.

“Generally speaking, I like to tell people prone to panic attacks to get an aisle seat, pay extra for legroom, get to the airport earlier, book a flight during non-peak hours, do whatever you can to make your trip less stressful to begin with,” Varma added.

Chapman advisable some in-flight studying that can assist you perceive and really feel extra answerable for your feelings.

“Something therapeutic to assist with panic could be reading scientific articles about the nature and causes of anxiety and panic,” he mentioned.

Of course, making each flight worry-free might be unimaginable. But you may study from every expertise and really feel higher ready for the subsequent one.

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