Keep Calm, It's Just An Airport

Allow me to introduce Rita Anya Nara; suffering from Chronic Anxiety, took a completely new approach to her life and made the world her treatment zone.

She's helped thousands of travellers pack their bags and embark on that journey through life and the world, both with her blog and through her book 'The Anxious Traveller'.

Rita has been very kind to provide a guest posting for International Airports Guide to help or readers who may struggle with the stressful environment of the airport.

It is with great pleasure and pride I introduce to you Rita and her excellent work.

The Anxious Traveller

In the beloved 2004 movie The Terminal, Tom Hanks’ character, stranded airline passenger Viktor Navorski, learns how to sleep, work, play, dream, and even fall in love in an airport.  It only takes a few days' time before the coldness and anonymity of his environment feel less overwhelming and intimidating, and more like a large, concrete refuge.  Unfortunately, many of us aren’t ever going to feel quite comfortable in a place that we associate with fears about our security, separation from loved ones, worries about the future, and simply not feeling our physical best.  Most of us do, however, want to make the best of the airport experience, whether we're traveling on business or holiday -- and there are many ways to ease the anxiety caused by being in an airport, instead of bringing new meaning to the phrase terminally ill. Here are some suggestions.    

Think in terms of journeying only hours away from home.  It can be psychologically daunting to think of traveling a thousand, or ten thousand, kilometers away when most of us stay in the same geographical cocoon day in and day out.  Acknowledging to yourself and the people who will miss you that you're only a four hour-flight away from home, for example, feels a lot better than dwelling on the 3,000 kilometers you'll be from everything you know and love.  

Dress warmly.  I don’t know about you, but I have never been in an airport that’s too warm.  Airports in colder climates, even when regularly heated, can get very drafty what with personnel coming in and out of doors from the tarmac, and airports in hot, humid places such as Hong Kong or Singapore tend to be over air-conditioned.  Seating in airports isn’t exactly going to keep you toasty, and being cold is quite simply going to aggravate your nerves. 

If you think wearing your jacket or coat is overkill, then consider wearing a shawl that can double as a blanket on the flight.  Even flight attendants who are very fussy about how many carry-on articles you bring on board rarely, if ever, argue over coats or shawls. 

Bring a nice snack, and buy a hot beverage.  Shelling out eight Euros for a six-bite meal before you board can cause your blood pressure to rise -- not to mention that most of what you’ll find to eat at your terminal is a cold sandwich or salad  that will sit on your stomach if you’re already jittery about the flight.  Bring something sweet or light from home to eat, and save your money for a small, steaming drink that will soothe your nervous system but not have you running for the bathroom come boarding time.  

Stay away from the blaring televisions.  You might think that watching (or listening to) one of the large TVs usually posted around terminal gates provides a good distraction and will make you feel more like you’re in your own living room.  However, consider that it’s usually the news channel that’s on, and (since it’s the news) what you‘re listening to is usually negative.  Now think about where you first learned about the 7/7 subway bombings or the 9/11 terrorist attacks: from TV, like most of us?  Is being in an airport, watching jets take off and strangers mill around you, going to aggravate your nerves or trigger bad memories?  If so, find a different place to wait. 

People-watch – just not at the security checkpoint.  A lot of people feel rattled after passing through the security line -- but many of us linger afterwards to watch how others deal with pat-downs, or to see how well security personnel are performing their jobs. Get your mind off the troubling reasons that we need security checks in the first place, and consider sitting by the children’s play area for more of a sense of normalcy.  Children are oblivious to the stress of flying, and may remind you of your very first exhilarating flight.  

If screams and squeals are causing you aggravation, watch tarmac staff service and fuel your plane.  This can reassure you that everything‘s going as it should, and you'll be reminded of your own routine, including things you might be forgetting such as taking vitamins or charging up your e-reader for the flight.  

Walk.  Flight times are rarely when we would prefer them, and may cut right through the time of day when we exercise.  Not being able to work out as normal can make you feel restless and even claustrophobic as you think about being strapped in a seat with recycled air blowing on you.  Using the last half hour before your flight to walk around the terminal can relax your muscles and pull some fresh air into your lungs.   Walking has been proven to reduce anxiety, and you will get a decent workout by wheeling or carrying your luggage along with you.  Just make sure you’re truly walking and not pacing (shuffling up and down a short hallway to the left of the emergency exit qualifies as the latter).  

Be smart about finding airport facilities and amenities.   Many of us have heard about great relaxation opportunities in airports: indoor gardens, libraries, yoga rooms, art galleries, and other amenities to help us unwind before or between flights.  Unfortunately, since they’re often tucked away on an upper level, or clustered in one terminal (usually the international terminal), these places can be very difficult to find.  It once took me an hour to find the chapel at Zurich International Airport, and by the time I got there I was too bent out of shape to sit down, much less meditate.

Remember, to use an airport terminal map to find something, you have to know where you are first -- which may be unlikely if you’re at a layover airport, and the "You are Here" sticker is notably missing from your schematic.  It’s better just to ask airport personnel -- they’re going to know the quickest way to get there since many of them take their breaks in or near these hideaways.  

Pick waiting areas where you can truly relax -- without missing your flight.  Of course, there are a lot of people who know to get some peace and personal space by waiting for their flight at a nearby deserted gate.  But if you pick one with a few newspapers and empty drink cups lying around, understand that the cleaning staff will be coming through soon, creating a tremendous racket and probably reminding you of all the chores you didn’t finish at home.  

Before settling on a quiet, tidy spot, don’t take for granted that boarding announcements are made over the loudspeaker; you should be within sight of your gate.  I’ll never forget almost missing my flight out of Moscow despite sitting around a corner only ten feet from the gate; the boarding announcement was never made in either Russian or English.  

Line up last to get on the plane.  Here’s a revelation: the plane leaves at the same time whether you are first in line in your boarding group, or last.  If you have to spend the next five or ten hours on a plane, would you rather spend the last fifteen minutes before you board standing in a line, getting coughed on or jostled about, or at the window stretching or watching the pilots gear up?  Don't worry, the flight attendants aren’t going to close the gate without you; they can see you just fine.  

Many people want to get on the plane as quickly as possible in order to nab overhead compartment space for carry-on luggage.  My overhead space is usually filled by the time I straggle on board -- so I ask the flight attendant to stow my carry-on in first class, where lo and behold, there’s plenty of space.  You can easily grab your bag on the walk off the flight -- and it may be the closest you get to first class travel on your journey. 

You can see more of Rita's great tips on her blog and also find details of her book, The Anxious Traveller.

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