It seemed ideal to take a direct flight to New Zealand. Before I realised I would be working on it for 18 hours.

I had crippling panic episodes more than ten years ago. Over time, I was able to get rid of them with the use of exercise and meditation. But for some reason, they start powering back as soon as I even consider boarding an aircraft. Being grounded during the epidemic was a type of sweet relief for my mental health because I frequently fly for work and because I had to take a couple lengthy flights to reach home as a New Zealander living in the US.

Air New Zealand has resumed direct flights from New York, marking the country’s reopening. I then made plans to fly home.

My worry started when I realised I would be on a plane for 18 hours. I was having panic attacks just from thinking about the flight. I had to decide how I was going to handle the situation. Gregory S. Brown, MD, a psychiatrist and MH adviser, was my go-to person since he was not only a specialist in anxiety management but also had a dad who worked in the airline business, so he was well-versed in the problems and solutions related to flying. I came up with a strategy with him. I had 18 hours—24 door-to-door—to test it in the air. Many of them were seated next to someone I anticipated would slightly freak out (I was correct), as I had anticipated doing myself. Would my strategy work? Here is what I found:

Pre-game is Crucial

I downloaded various meditation applications the week before the travel at Dr. Brown’s advice. He showed me how to breathe in four counts, hold for seven, and then exhale slowly for eight. Every time I felt anxious thinking about the flight, I would do this breath technique since it literally serves as a tranquillizer for your mind and body. By the time takeoff arrived, I thought I had everything down pat. All the shows I wanted to binge watch but never had the time to were downloaded. I had something to look forward to for the next travel by envisioning a very long day of binge-watching television.

Make time for yourself

Usually, I’m late, agitated, and hot and sweaty when I get to the airport. This time, I came early on purpose and took some time to settle down and do some 4-7-8 breathing to unwind before checking in. To my amazement, it was successful.

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