Taking her seat, she begins to feel the familiar tightening in her chest as terror begins to overwhelm her; for no reason she can identify, she is about to have a panic attack, on plane and in front of dozens of strangers.
She is not alone; in recent news, an American Airlines flight attendant suffered a panic attack so severe that she had to be physically restrained and removed from the plane. Her fifteen minute tirade about crashing and terrorist attacks was heard around the world for days following the episode.
A panic attack on plane flights can be brought on by a combination of things. The claustrophobic nature of the passenger compartment, turbulence, fear of crashing, strange noises from the plane itself, and the all too familiar demon of the memories surrounding 9/11 all play a role in these attacks. On the ground, the possibility of removing oneself from a frightening situation is available; on a plane, that option is taken away and the sufferer is truly trapped.
How Can One Cope with a Panic Attack on Plane Trips?
First, before boarding the plane, be sure to visit a physician and get a small dose of medication to take before the flight. Xanax, Valium, and Clonopine are all very popular prescriptions for this purpose. Take a dose a few days before the trip itself to see how these medications will affect you, especially if you are not used to taking them. Some find that over the counter medications such as Benedryl and Dramamine take the edge off the fear and can cause drowsiness to the point of sleeping through the entire flight.
Next, relax. Do some research and you will see that plane crashes are an extremely rare occurrence; nearly three million passengers fly daily without an adverse event.
Upon boarding the plane, tell the flight attendant that a panic attack on plane flights is a very real possibility for you. Flight attendants are professionals who have been trained to deal with all in-flight emergencies, and they will know how to help you should you suffer an attack.
Avoid alcohol as a coping mechanism before and during the flight. Alcohol will not stop an attack, and could make it even worse once it begins. Also avoid stimulants like caffeine, which will increase your stress levels and make panic attacks on plane flights more of a possibility.
Once on the plane, remember to practice breathing techniques and use them at each stage of the flight; taking off, turbulence, flying over water, and landing are all potential trigger points for a panic attack on plane flights. While the practice of breathing into a paper bag is no longer as widely used as it once was, it is still a very effective tool in reversing hyperventilation, the key player in panic attacks and most of the symptoms associated with them. Hyperventilation is the result of shallow, rapid breathing which keeps too much oxygen in the body and releases too much carbon dioxide. Breathing into a bag will decrease excessive oxygen levels and allow re-breathing of your expelled carbon dioxide; this will ease the hyperventilation and ultimately stop the panic attack itself.
Suffering a panic attack on plane trips is truly terrifying, but the attack can be stopped using the same breathing and focusing techniques as used on the ground.
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