Tips for flying when you have a mental illness

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Travelling by plane can be a uniquely challenging experience, so we’re sharing our tips to avoid any turbulence

The stress, lack of sleep, crowded airports, and culture shock of far-flung soils are all known triggers for those with mental illness. Some years ago, I attempted to board a flight to Ibiza, but had to check out at the last minute due to some mild hallucinations which make up part of my schizo-affective disorder – I thought I could see people from the past at the airport which disturbed me.

According to the World Health Organisation, severe mental illness contributes to one in three health crises in air travel. There’s also been a paper in Psychiatric Times that looks into the subject of travelling with a severe mental illness, which says that 20% of travel incidents have been described as ‘psychotic’.

All this to say: if you worry about air travel, you’re not alone.

The good news is that, with some strong planning and the right tools for relaxation, you can travel safely and happily with a mental illness like mine.

Since the ill-fated flight to Ibiza, I’ve flown to Barcelona and Belfast happily, calmly, and incident-free. With the help of transformational coach Kanika Tandon’s expert advice, we’re exploring some essential tips for flying with a mental illness.

1. Take your medication

It’s crucial that medication is factored into travel to prevent relapse. As luggage can sometimes be lost, you can take your medication in hand luggage to keep it near you at all times, which can give you some peace of mind. For the stay, a pharmacy can sort out a scheduled pack of medication for each day. Plus, don’t forget to order any repeat prescriptions in advance to cover your time away.

Kanika supports these sentiments, adding that it’s important to factor in medication when you prepare for your flight: “Take all your necessary medication in advance and have all you might need.”

2. Stay calm and breathe

“Stay calm and take some deep breaths,” says Kanika. “Using exercises, such as square breathing [breathe in for the count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold for four] or 7-11 breathing [breathe in for the count of seven and out for the count of 11] to stay calm.”

Some other tested ways to relax before, during, and after your journey are to order a camomile tea, take lavender oils to inhale, and listen to soothing music. I found leather recliners you could pay to relax on at Liverpool airport once. These had built-in massagers, and were helpful in soothing me before my journey.

3. Stay out of your mind

“Trying to engage in senses other than your thoughts can be a distraction to worry and panic,” says Kanika. “Staying out of your mind means that you keep all your five senses engaged. What do you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell during your journey?

Any scents that you associate with relaxation can work well. For instance, peppermint, or lavender for staying calm.”

4. Try therapy

“You may wish to consult a therapist before you travel,” says Kanika. “Take tips from them as to what might be applicable for your situation.”

A type of therapist you may find helpful is one who is skilled in Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), where you rhythmically tap parts of your face and body to bring yourself back into your body. “You can ‘tap your way to wellness’ with EFT,” adds Kanika. “Tapping is an effective way to calm an active mind, and bring a sense of safety in the body.”

5. Ask people for help

Other people can also be a real support at the airport, or to help calm jitters before a flight. Whether it’s taking a trusted friend to the airport for support, travelling with a loved one, or visiting a helpful neighbour pre-flight – the right people can and will reassure any travel nerves with humour or distracting anecdotes. Thanks to my boyfriend’s wonderful jokes, and my neighbour Sonya’s fine conversation and vegan pizza, I successfully and calmly made my flight to Belfast last year, and had the best holiday on arrival – as well as a happy flight home.


For further advice, visit Life Coach Directory.



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