Tips on Managing Pandemic Airline Travel Anxiety

Tips on Managing Pandemic Airline Travel Anxiety

Prior to the pandemic, many of us enjoyed flying to a warmer destination during the dreary winter months. As people add airline travel back into their life, some may feel anxious about the thought of airports full of people and flying for hours in close proximity.

Others may be concerned that the pandemic will unexpectedly interfere with or cancel their vacation plans due to a COVID-positive test, results that don’t come back in time, or changing conditions that don’t allow you to enter the country.

Accept your anxious feelings about airline travel during a pandemic.

Our bodies were designed to feel anxiety in response to external threats which could potentially harm us. This means you are experiencing normal anxiety when you think about the increased risks associated with airline travel or the possibility of your plans being disrupted.

Acknowledge your anxiety is important and will help you relax and engage in strategies to manage it.

Separate the facts about pandemic airline travel from your feelings and opinions.

While our body can alert us to a potential danger, it doesn’t have the capacity to sort out whether this danger is probable. Anxiety is intensified when we don’t take time to check the facts. Therefore,

It is important to take time to separate the facts:

  1. There will be lots of people in the airport.
  2. All individuals in the airport are required to wear masks.
  3. I have worn a mask when I was out in public and washed my hands as soon as I got home, so I have limited my exposure to the virus.

 … from feelings:

  1. I am scared I won’t get to go on this vacation because I could get COVID before I go.
  2. I am scared I will be exposed to COVID in the airport or on the plane.

… and from opinions:

  1. Not getting to go on this vacation would be awful.
  2. The requirements for traveling abroad are not fair.

Facts, feelings and opinions are all important, but not all of them will help you make good decisions.

When we accurately label thoughts as either facts, feelings or opinions, we’re able to lessen the emotion connected to them. Conversely, when we treat feelings or opinions as though they are facts, we intensify the emotions connected with them.

Focus on what you can control.

Many of us like to be in control of situations and know what is going to happen ahead of time. This can be particularly challenging when traveling (even before the pandemic).

Airline travel requires us to deal with numerous factors beyond our control—delayed flights, other travelers, weather systems, and COVID testing. When we spend time focusing on things we can’t control (like whether or not our test results might prevent us from going on our trip), it dramatically increases the anxiety we experience.

Instead of focusing on things you have no control over, it is important to focus on what you can control—your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviors—and that is it!

When you find yourself thinking about something beyond those three things, it’s important to bring yourself back to what you control and actively work to let go of what you can’t control.

You can’t control the results of your COVID test. However, you can control what you do while you are waiting for those results.

Stay in the present moment.

As you sit in the airport worrying about whether you will make your connecting flight, you are worrying about things you have no control over and things that are not in the present moment.

The present moment is composed of the things you can currently, see, hear, feel, touch and taste (your five senses from grade school science class). When you focus on these senses and let go of everything else, you become less anxious and more in control.

5 Senses Exercise

When you find you’re starting to worry about something that may happen in the future, bring your focus back to the present by noticing your surroundings with this practice.

5 Things I See

Chairs, suitcase, mobile phone, person sitting across from me, carpeting.

4 Things I Feel.

My hair, my back pushing firmly into my chair, my feet planted on the ground, the chair I am sitting on.

3 Things I Hear.

Kids laughing, people talking, music in my headphones.

2 Things I Smell.

The soap I washed my hands with, my coffee.

1 Thing I Taste.

Peppermint in my mouth. (If you don’t have access to taste, you can say 1 calming mantra instead, such as “Just breathe” or “No feeling is final.”)

The present moment is manageable! When you bring all of the “what ifs” about the future into the present moment, you begin attempting to figure out solutions to problems that haven’t even happened yet.

Consider this—would you be willing to hit your thumb with a hammer repeatedly to prepare yourself just in case you happen to slam it in a door someday? Of course you wouldn’t. Creating pain now doesn’t equip you to handle future pain.

While we know this about physical pain, how many times do you run “what if” scenarios in your head attempting to “prepare” yourself for what “might” happen? Not only does worrying about what “might” happen not prepare you to deal with it any more effectively, it also robs you of your ability to enjoy the moment you are currently in.

So, when you find yourself tempted to worry about what might happen with your COVID test, your flight, or any other aspect of airline travel, bring yourself back to the present moment. Then practice telling yourself you will deal with whatever you were worrying about when and if it happens, and not until then.

Be gracious with yourself.

Experiencing increased anxiety and finding it difficult to manage when you are considering airline travel is not a failure. Traveling during a pandemic is a unique and intense situation which heightens everyone’s anxiety. Do what you can to keep your anxiety managed and give up trying to do this perfectly.

If you find yourself worrying about what might happen, stop, take a deep breath, and commit to picking up from here and trying again.

Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.

Comments are closed.