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Social Anxiety

How To Manage Flying With
Social Anxiety

A personal account of my experience traveling with a two-year-old

Flying with social anxiety isn’t something I thought I’d ever experience.

Especially as I’ve flown to over 25 countries without a hitch.

But now, “social anxiety in the air” has been officially added to the “places I wish I could evaporate from instead of dealing with social anxiety” list.

I’ve had severe social anxiety at the playground, work, and with friends (is there no place on Earth where I’m safe anymore?!). Unfortunately, there’s no escape when you’re flying with social anxiety, unlike the other sites where I can disappear in seconds.

So, here I was, trapped in a deadly steel machine, terrified for my life while simultaneously experiencing social anxiety at full force.

These two anxieties constantly butted heads and challenged each other in a contest of “who will take over most of my remaining mental space.”

I was rooting for social anxiety because at least that one doesn’t make me feel like my life could end at any second…

I’m happy to report that I made it back alive. I did not get eaten by an alligator or have a run-in with Florida Man. Yes, if you didn’t guess, I flew from Amsterdam to Florida.

But, the anxiety didn’t just show up on the plane; it plagued me the entire week before departure. Part of me felt like I wouldn’t make it back with my barely 2-year-old.

Not just because of the fear of flying but because I had never traveled alone with a toddler. This was something I once told myself I could never do…

But I packed up my chronic back pain, lack of support on the plane, social anxiety, HSP-ness, and fear of flying, and off I went.

At first, the most challenging part was first managing my fear of flying.

You’d think I’d have gotten over it by now for someone that’s traveled to over 20+ countries and finds herself on a plane at least 3-5 times a year.

Someone help me!

Every plane I step on comes with an added sprinkle of catastrophic thinking.

It’s not the standard “oh, I don’t like turbulence” type of thought. I’m talking about “the plane is going take a NOSEDIVE any second!” and “I can’t believe I’m going to die for going to Florida!” and “My daughter is so innocent in this. I’m such a terrible mom!” type of thoughts.

Catastrophizing it to the ground.

I had to consistently remind myself through tears that “planes don’t just fall out of the sky,” that “engineers stress-test planes under much harsher conditions,” and that “the plane is supposed to move like this and be flexible to withstand the pressure outside.”

I was trying to console myself through science.

It worked for a while. Until the next time, the seatbelt sign came on, and a hit of turbulence shook us. But then my social anxiety punched my fear of flying in the face and took the front seat.

Because remember, I had a toddler with me? And she wanted NOTHING to do with the whole trip. At least on the way back, she made my life MISERABLE.

Not only was the flight from Florida to Philly PACKED and turbulent, but my daughter made it especially difficult. Hence, I ended up flying with social anxiety big time.

For those of you who have kids, you’ll know the chaos, stress, and anxiety of traveling with them – let alone solo traveling.

And if you have social anxiety, it’s amplified to no end.

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For those of you without kids, you know the rage, hopelessness, and frustration of being on the same flight (let alone the same row!) with an inconsolable, tantrum-throwing child.

Here’s what I mean by flying with Social Anxiety:

  • She was inconsolable once they took our carry-on bag and checked it at the plane entrance (as if we snatched her away from her best friend!). I had to drag her on to make her forget about it.
  • Once we were walking down the aisle, she was screaming MINE MINE MINE! Her object of attention? My mask. She kept pulling it on it while holding two bags and trying to find my seat. It went over my eyes, under my chin, and eventually into her hands as she broke the straps. Great.
  • She was sleeping, and I reached for the water bottle with my free hand. I pushed the button to open it, morphing into this high-pressure hose that watered down the entire row. I watched the beautiful arc of water for way too long before I could close the cap. Wow.
  • I had a bag of lollipops with me, so if she went into her crazy mood, I’d bribe her with one. She, unfortunately, grabbed hold of it and, at some point, had two lollipops in her mouth and one in her hand. People must have thought I was a junkie mom or something feeding my daughter so much candy. I couldn’t bare take them away and face the inner dragon.

Did you cringe at any of those points?

So with that being said, I learned a lot about myself and the people around me.

Not sure why I got so lucky, but I met some of the least judgmental people on the way and the most helpful ones, except for that miserable employee who scolded me for walking in front of the line to get in as a priority when my boarding group was last.

“Listen, miserable employee, EVERYONE is getting in on this plane, but I have a RAGING toddler that no one wants to listen to while they wait to board.”

So many offered to help, and some took it upon themselves to grab my bags and carry them without even asking me (they only needed to know my seat number).

I got bumped up a section and ended up with a whole row to myself to spare the people in the economy who seemed beyond anxious at sitting next to a toddler for the following 8 hours.

Luckily I used my experience to manage my social anxiety.

3 ways to reduce flying with social anxiety:

1. Avoid eye contact

I did this to stay sane.

I usually advocate making eye contact as much as possible to connect and keep yourself grounded. But on the plane, the last thing I wanted to burden myself with was judgmental eyes.

Because we all know how insane passengers are, especially when they’re stressed and see a screaming toddler about to ruin their flight.

So, I didn’t want to burden myself with the extra guilt, so I stayed away from the glares.

2. Accept help

If someone notices you’re in distress, it’s best to accept their support – especially if you’re alone and unsure how to manage the situation.
I usually do everything independently and purposefully choose not to ask for help, not to inconvenience anyone (thank you, pleasing personality, so much for your awesomeness).

But at that moment in time, when my backpack weighed a ton from all the snacks I brought, and I had to carry a darn heavy 30-pound screaming child trying to wrestle away from me, I was at my wit’s end.

Accepting help made me feel less alone, and I realized that my child screaming wasn’t my fault.

Well, maybe when she was screaming for the candy, it was. 

Lesson learned.

3. Show your emotions

Don’t pretend everything is ok.

It’s not; you have the right to feel what you do.

As I walked down the aisle with my devilish spawn, I said aloud, “I‘m going to lose my shit.” As my daughter screamed an endless screech, I said, “Oh my freaking God,” in complete exasperation.

Expressing myself helped make others aware of my struggle and helped me cope with the insanity unfolding in front of me. I felt powerless, but at least I could express that.

These concrete tips helped me have a somewhat successful trip.

I was able to manage my Social Anxiety because of them. It’s hard when you’re in the thick of it (screaming psycho-baby), your Social Anxiety kicks in on top of other anxieties, and you have no clue where your next calm breath will come from.

So do what you need to GET THROUGH IT.

And that’s enough—no need to dissect what happened or how you could have done better. You made it through, and that’s something to be proud of – even with the lingering distress.

I walk you through my experience with social anxiety while traveling with a toddler. 

I did 3 things to calm myself down and prevent further anxiety:

  • Avoided eye-contact
  • Accepted help
  • Showed my emotions

Go back up and read why each one of those was an essential factor in managing my social anxiety.

I'm Roxana

I went from being scared to ask a question out loud to hosting summits online. I love coffee, french crepes, and working from home. My mission? Help others build their social confidence to make friends, have conversations, and be comfortable around people!

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