Planes didn’t make me anxious. I suspect that you were equally ready to jump on a flight from New York to Los Angeles for a long weekend, or from Sydney to Melbourne for a morning, or from London to really any European city. If my bank account allowed it, I didn’t think twice.
Life made me anxious, though. There were presentations to give and taxes to file and that one subway car without air conditioning in July and good God my phone bill and too many deadlines and my boyfriend’s cat’s depression, which is apparently a real condition, and friends’ birthdays I increasingly forgot to celebrate because there were too many deadlines. Did I mention the deadlines?
Airplanes removed me from all of that. The rules were different at 38,000 feet, where I could watch a documentary or finally read the latest Elena Ferrante novel or simply stare out the window from 9 to 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. WiFi rarely worked for the duration of the flight, so no one on the ground expected me to do any different. At the end was the promise of new discoveries at my final destination.
Ah, you noticed: I’ve been using the past tense. Because now, the thought of getting on a plane increases my heart rate and makes me ever so slightly nauseous. Since the coronavirus arrived, airports and airlines around the world have rolled out new safety measures: face coverings are required, free hand sanitizer stations are being added, touchless pay options are being incorporated, bus and shuttle operations have been scaled down, airplane boarding capacity has been reduced, in-cabin surfaces are being disinfected between flights. Still, though, deciding whether or not it’s safe to fly is a personal choice, and even when we have a treatment for Covid, we might still have lingering doubts.
But we got back on planes after 9/11 and, eventually—likely sooner than we think—we’ll get back on planes after Covid. I won’t feel relief when I settle into my aisle seat like I used to, though. Not the first couple of trips.
Rituals can help. In a June study by the University of Connecticut and Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, rituals were found to play a key role in calming anxiety because they provide the brain with a sense of structure, regularity, and predictability. That’s why if, say, you journal every day, then simply picking up the pen and opening your notebook will start to make you feel safer.
The easiest ritual for knocking out travel anxiety has always been in pill or liquid form. But again, it’s 2020, the high-performance moment of Fitbits and sleep trackers: There are solutions that, instead of making me grumpy and groggy, leave me feeling fresh. Rejuvenated, even. Innovations such as CBD oil, meditation apps, and organic hand sanitizer (it need not be nuclear!) are part of my new in-flight ritual. I hope to perform it soon, when there’s a vaccine, and it’s safe, and and and…
“Wear a mask, keep distance from people as much as possible, and remind yourself of all the good reasons why you’re on that flight,” Dr. Amelia Aldao, a clinical psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, told me. “Connecting to our values is a great way to fend off anxiety.”
I’m on that flight because I want to know the Himalayas. I’m on that flight because I want to eat mussels stuffed with rice by the Bosphorus. I’m on that flight because I want to increase my understanding of empathy. I’m on that flight because I want to see landscapes that remind me I’m alive.
I’ve been skeptical of CBD—there are so many bad actors in the space trying to make a quick buck—but Dusk is the real deal. Created by the founders of Gossamer, a luxury publication “for people who also smoke weed,” and Dr. Alex Capano, the first American to get a doctorate in comprehensive cannabinoid science, Dusk was formulated with a range of calming terpenes and the non-intoxicating cannabinoids CBD and CBN, which is a sleep aid. “A lot of people take melatonin, but it throws your circadian rhythms out of whack,” says Gossamer co-founder Verena von Pfetten. “Our customers report that they take Dusk to reduce anxiety and also fall asleep, specifically on planes.”
Calm is one of the most widely used meditation apps because of its range of content options: breathing exercises, guided and unguided meditations, bedtime stories (voiced by Laura Dern and Harry Styles, among other celebrities), and talks on anxiety, stress, self-care, inner peace, emotions, and personal growth. The company also recently launched a new content hub, including a podcast (on which yours truly was featured).
Everyday Oil has quickly become a staple skincare product for me, so when founder Emma Allen turned her attention towards hand sanitizer, I inevitably clicked “Add to Cart.” Deep Breath, as she calls my favorite of the two formulas, follows the FDA, CDC, and WHO guidelines; comes in two-ounce aluminum (recyclable!) bottle; and, made with peppermint, eucalyptus, vetiver, sage, and thyme, its scent has a calming effect. Just spray it on your hands, distribute it evenly, and breathe in—through your mask, of course, and far away from others.
Bring your lucky charm.
Do you have a favorite pair of socks or sweatpants that comfort you? A good luck charm? Wear them on the plane. Dr. Aldao says it’s okay to use this kind of safety blanket as long as we don’t rely on it forever. “Over time, we want to find a way to internalize that sense of safety, shifting from the object to ourselves.” Over time, she said. You have time.
And your face mask.
You’ve splurged on a silk eye mask before, why not your face mask? Fashion designers are getting into the game: maybe St. John silk or a Cynthia Rowley botanical print? Pucci? Otherwise, in terms of efficacy, N99 and N95 medical-grade masks. Both seal tightly around the nose and mouth, so that few particles seep in or out, and their woven fibers help filter out airborne pathogens.
Alright, just have the drink.
If all else fails, then go with what you know—but make it chic. These W&P carry-on cocktail kits, which are a favorite of Meehan’s Bartender Manual author Jim Meehan, contain nonalcoholic ingredients, a travel-size bar spoon, a recipe card, and a linen coaster; you purchase just the booze in-flight. Try the Old Fashioned, Italian Spritz, Gin & Tonic, Moscow Mule, Bloody Mary, Champagne Cocktail, Margarita, or Hot Toddy, or you can get a set of five of them in this frequent flyer bundle.
Julia Bainbridge is an editor who has worked at Condé Nast Traveler and Bon Appétit, and a James Beard Award-nominated writer whose stories have been published in Food & Wine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, among others. After building a career around why and how people gather, Bainbridge pivoted into why people don’t, launching The Lonely Hour podcast to explore social disconnection and other forms of loneliness. In the years since, the show has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Psychology Today, Women’s Health, Bloomberg, the BBC, NPR, Calm, and more.