If you’re already prone to panic attacks, knowing you are about to be confined to a small space for a set number of hours will set off some wicked circular logic:
- I am going to be on a plane for seven hours.
- What if I have a panic attack on the plane? Will I yell? Will I pass out? Will the person next to me hit that little call button? Will my yelling and passing out distract the pilot and send us all to a firey death?!
- Cue panic attack about having a panic attack and killing everyone.
It’s fun stuff.
I’ve faced this a number of times and spoken to a few experts about it, including a psychotherapist and a biofeedback specialist.
The consensus: Treat yourself like a toddler.
By seeing to your own every little need, you’ll significantly lower those adrenaline, cortisol and carbon dioxide levels, making it easier to stay calm. Here’s how.
- Watch TV: If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, start mentally prepping ahead of time. Netflix a nice travel documentary on the place. Being able to picture your destination takes the edge off the ride there.
- Have Your Meds Handy: If you frequently need any meds, from anti-anxiety pills to Immodium, have them on hand in your carry on.
- Snacks! Pack the snacks and drinks that put your body in ultimate comfort. For me it’s water, gingerale, Trident gum, Fig Newtons, and yes, a baggie of Cheerios. I’m very close to swapping my big purse out for a diaper bag and calling it a day.
- Watch More TV: Pack some guilty pleasure entertainment for yourself. I prefer a fact-heavy historical TV series on my tablet, such as Once or Drop Dead Diva. Podcasts like This American Life or whatever is hot on the YA reading list work too. Then space out to that entertainment for HOURS and don’t feel guilty about it like you would at home.
- Practice Your “Out:” If you start to panic, have a few “outs.” Mine is the “2-count in, through the nose, and 4-count out, through the mouth” breathing exercise. I also count “1-in, 2-out” and do it into my cupped hands if I’m really stressing.
Both of these exercises help balance your carbon dioxide levels. Carbon Dioxide increases the acid pH in your brain, which, in people prone to panic, sets off neurons that activate your fear response. Counting out your breaths balances your carbon dioxide and pH again.
To keep with the theme, I count in the The Count’s voice, in my head… unless things are really bad. Then I count in The Count’s voice out loud.