Mental Health, Travel

Sunday Travel: Anxiety at the Airport

June 30, 2013

Sunday Travel: Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

Anxiety…and travel (read: my passion)? Do these two things truly belong together?

Usually my weekend travel retrospectives feature foreign meals, or describe how wonderful a particular trip was. I’m not going to do that today. As much as I would love to continue my Nicaragua (or Europe!) theme, anxiety has been a pressing issue lately. So I’m sharing my anxiety and near meltdown from the last time I was at an airport, the Wednesday that I flew home from San Francisco.

Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

The date: Wednesday, June 12.

The place: LAX, waiting for my connection flight to start boarding.

The conditions: I have just discovered, on the flight from San Francisco to LA, that my period started. I have said goodbye to one of my closest friends after a fantastic vacation I feel I did not deserve, and am looking forward to seeing Andy again after our four nights apart. I am emotional, queasy, nervous (as I usually am on transit days), and generally out of sorts.

I quickly run to the ladies’ room upon disembarking, immediately observing how unclean and unappealing the facilities are compared to those at SFO, San Francisco’s airport. My luggage barely fits inside the stall, the smell is unpleasant, there is a long line of fellow women travelers, all tired and mildly impatient, as I am.

The minutes are slipping by; flight connections are rarely simple or un-rushed. Do I have my camera? Is my wallet still in the pocket I left it in?

And the departing gate, which one is it? 23, okay, take a seat, breathe for a few minutes. I have a few minutes, right? Yes, okay.

A flight attendant is asking the first class passengers to start boarding. Wait, it’s too early! I check my boarding pass for the fifth time to see if I’m at the right gate. The numbers match up, but the destinations don’t. I’m at the same gate I arrived at and this plane is now headed back to San Francisco!

Now I’m dashing through the terminal, glancing furiously at all the signs, looking for New York and my flight number. After a frantic three minutes that feels like three hours, I find the right gate, and breathe again. I reach into the front pocket of my bag and…no phone.


I get up and look under the seats, my eyes trailing across the floor. Boarding (this time for my flight) starts in five minutes: just enough time for me to scramble back through the terminal, around the crowds of people and suitcases, retracing my steps from the first gate, to the bathroom, and back to my departing gate. My search turns up nothing, and before I even have time to think straight, it’s time for me to board.

Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

A note about my physical state: My heart is beating all to fast, which I’m sure gives me a nice flush (read: bright red and sweaty) to my cheeks. I am hot and tired and out of breath. There’s so much nervous energy built up inside me, residing squarely in my chest– I don’t know what to do with it. I keep telling myself to calm down, so what if I lost my little cheap flip phone? It’s probably the most basic phone in existence right now. No big deal (Ha!).

I’m resigned. My boarding pass now scanned, I enter the jetway. I’m glad the line is moving slowly, because I’m in no hurry to get on that plane: no fresh air, window seat (what seems attractive most of the time just feels claustrophobic in my state of anxiety), tiny bathroom I will inevitably have to use multiple times.

Then, out of curiosity more than anything, I reach into the back pocket of my bag, where I’m sure I did not place my phone.

But it’s there! I have my phone after all! There won’t be any worry over how Andy will find me at JFK, and I won’t have to buy a new phone after all! Best of all, I can relax. Everything is okay now. Shock and relief!

Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

Shock, yes. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling that much-needed relief. In fact, finding my phone somehow has led to feeling even more anxious. In childbirth, they say that interventions beget more interventions, like a cascade of events compounding each other. This is sort of how anxiety works when it escalates to panic: the mind gets carried away in its frenzy, producing more physical symptoms (headache, sweating, shaking, sensitivity to light and noise, etc), and the onset of increased physical symptoms gets the mind more worked up, unable to extricate itself from the cycle it’s trapped in.

I feel tears welling up in my eyes (in retrospect, I probably should have just let myself cry), and put my face in my hands, as if I could wipe away my distress. I’m simultaneously super anxious and self-conscious, all too aware that I’m in a public place. The passenger in front of me on line, Mr. Pink-Shirt-Grey-Hair (first mentioned here), glances at me and I realize how unbalanced I must look.

Throughout my muddled state, it is somewhat of a help that I am part of a group of people, engaged in an orderly activity with an objective in mind: to get on the plane and fly to New York. I am not alone. Needing to be a part of this schedule is important to my functioning: one of my worst full-blown panic attacks occurred (ten years ago, thankfully) when I was alone in my bedroom- and that lack of outside influence/societal ‘interference’ was what made that moment so scary for me.

I tell myself to practice slow, deep breathing. The glimpse of concern from Mr. Pink-Shirt-Grey-Hair seemed to have some kind of calming effect and I’m now able to think outside of my anxiety-haze. Nothing lasts forever,  I remind myself. I’m still worked up and sweaty, but with each passing moment, I’m able to gain more perspective.

We’re now passing through the plane doors, then first class. The cabin is full, and I start a new worry: will there be room in the overhead compartment for my suitcase? I’m also still trying to figure out why I got so upset, and realize the anxiety over waiting at the wrong gate and believing I lost my phone both stemmed from my fear of failure. (I could’ve missed my plane if I didn’t find the right gate in time, and that plus losing my phone would have been a total nightmare. I’m in LA! I don’t know anybody! And on and on.)

Who needs to go through all of this internal processing when they’re just trying to board an airplane?

Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

I’m at my row and nod to the guy in the middle seat, silently asking him to get up so I could get to my window seat. But first I had to figure out where to put my suitcase.

“Why don’t you try back in that compartment? Here, would you like some help?” Mr. Pink! He hasn’t even taken care of his own luggage yet, and as I manage a startled “Oh yes! Please”, he takes my suitcase and stows it. He moves efficiently, like the businessman he probably is, and immediately turns around to head to his own seat. Thank you. 

What better to pull me out of my panic mode than a small moment of human connection? Mr. Pink’s kindness and generosity mean the world to me. I sit down in my seat and pull out my notebook, scrawling as fast as possible to record everything that I have just been through, still taking deep breaths to relax.

Anxiety at the Airport - Sweet and Savoring

Anxiety has been an issue for me as long as depression as- since I was a teenager. I know that the meat of anxiety stems from irrational thoughts. It thrives on what ifs, should haves, and could haves. I have books all about combating anxiety, I’ve practiced mindfulness and have gone through phases where I’ve practiced meditation– I know that these things help. (I’d like to truly start a regular meditation practice- will let you guys know if there’s any progress on that front!)

Writing, and sharing my story with others, are also excellent ways to cope and reduce the stigma that accompanies panic and anxiety disorders. (I’m so grateful for this space to do just that)

Here’s a link featuring some basic coping methods for anxiety and depression.

A couple of useful books that I own: Overcoming Anxiety: From Short-Time Fixes to Long-Term Recovery and The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.



The practice is simply this: keep coming back to your breath during the day. Just take a moment. This will give your mind a steadiness and your breath a gracefulness…. There’s so much to let go of, isn’t there? Your nostalgia and your regrets. Your fantasies and your fears. What you think you want instead of what is happening right now. Breathe.   —Rodney Yee

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  • Kerry July 1, 2013 at 4:44 am

    Oh man, I am always like this in airports. I also have a history of anxiety (thank you so much for the link to those tips, by the way!) and it’s so true that stress just seems to amplify itself once it starts. I’m glad you had a helpful fellow passenger!

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Glad you could gain something from my rambling, Kerry! It’s such a little devil, that anxiety, and what that passenger did was so small- but it was enough to be a turning point for me in that moment. Yay 🙂

  • DJR July 1, 2013 at 7:15 am

    You have so clearly expressed your experiences, and ultimate victory, thank you. Your journey that day reminded me of traveling through a tunnel, momentary feelings swiftly or slowly passing by. All the skills learned and kindness received bring relief when the “light at the end of the tunnel” begins to appear. Thank you for humbly sharing, and being an inspiration. We never know what or who will come will show us how very much we are protected and loved!

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 7:50 am

      I wasn’t sure if I did express it clearly or not- thanks for letting me know, Mom. Amazing what a little kindness can do sometimes. Thank you for always being such loving support when I needed it!

  • Sue July 1, 2013 at 9:42 am

    As I was reading this, I hated thinking how alone you must’ve felt. Thank goodness for the kindness of a stranger to help you regroup and focus. And it was crystal clear to me; reading this made my heart race.

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 10:48 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting, sissy! Yeah, it was super stressful. But make sure your heart rate is back down to normal, young lady 😉

  • Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat July 1, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Oh wow…what an experience! Traveling should be NOT be stressful, but it totally is! I always ended up having anxiety over something and it never seems to go smoothly!

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 10:50 am

      It’s SO rare that everything will go smoothly while traveling- usually, though the good stuff that happens will (nearly) erase the memory of the stressful parts. Hurray for that!

  • Rachael (Tales from the Village) July 1, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Oh, I really find meditation helps with my anxiety and depression, too – but I find it SO hard to remind myself of that. I’m planning to keep an online log of this stuff and post it once a week to keep myself focused!
    Rachael (Tales from the Village) recently posted…85,000 downloads of my book *faints*My Profile

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Haha, this is so funny, I was just reading your About page! Thanks for the visit, Rachael, and it’s so helpful to hear other people say “me, too” (about something that just feels so…alien).
      So glad we clicked on each other’s links!

  • Kalee July 1, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Oh my goodness. I can SO relate (sorry you have to be able to relate to me and my airport spazz moods though). It’s amazing how much one person can help bring you down from a high level of anxiety too.

    I just traveled home from Las Vegas, and while my experience was no where near as stressful as yours, I was freaking out about my seat and luggage. My carry-on was too heavy, my laptop was hard to get to, and I didn’t know where I was sitting yet (Southwest). I couldn’t get my bag up into the compartment, but luckily another person smiled and helped me. AHHH. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your honest story…I’m subscribing! 🙂
    Kalee recently posted…Best Treat on a Diet – Calories in Ice Cream, FroYo and GelatoMy Profile

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      Oh, I’m sorry/glad too, Kalee 🙂 My laptop was hard to get to, as well. I felt like I was missing things/wasn’t careful about my packing, etc. Transit days, without fail, are just way too stressful.
      It’s nice that you were able to commiserate, and thank you so much for stopping by and subscribing!

  • Rachel @ I Love My Disorganized Life July 1, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I am so glad ‘Mr. Pink’ came to your rescue! I deal with anxiety on a near daily basis. I am still figuring out what triggers it for me, mostly silly things, but I am working it out. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      You’re welcome, Rachel. It’s crazy how seemingly inconsequential things can be triggers, isn’t it? Thank you and best of luck with your journey!

  • Katherine July 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Traveling is way too stressful! I’m sorry you had to deal with all of that. Thanks for sharing your story! It really helps because I can totally get the same way!

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      I’m glad it helps to read my crazy story- I had no idea this post would generate such a response! Traveling is stressful, but mostly it’s amazing 🙂

  • Mandi Noel July 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    I’m stopping by from the SITS Facebook activity, and I have to say, you are not alone in this experience. I honestly love traveling and flying, but the worst part for me is going through security. I get so stressed because they rush you through and you don’t want to hold up the line, but I feel like trying to keep up with my shoes and repack my bag and everything else at the end freaks me out. I get really anxious when I feel like I’m holding up the line, but if I am moving too quickly I feel like a chicken with my head cut off.
    Mandi Noel recently posted…A New BeginningMy Profile

    • Christy July 1, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      Hi Mandi, thanks for visiting! I love traveling and flying too- I get so excited at airports because people-watching is seriously one of my favorite pastimes, and there’s no better place to observe so many different people. I hear you on security, it’s nice that at some airports they have benches and a little area where you can regroup./redress, etc after going through.
      I appreciate you sharing!

  • Olivia @ Liv Lives Life July 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I love this post for so many reasons, but especially because of the wonderful ending. It really is amazing what a little simple human kindness can do. It’s funny, too, because it doesn’t take that much effort to be nice, but the effect of it is so extraordinary…I wish people did it more often.

    • Christy July 2, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Thanks, Olivia- the effect *can* be so surprisingly extraordinary! Makes me want to go out and devote a whole day to random acts of kindness 🙂

  • Jackie @ Marin mama cooks July 2, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Wow girl! I totally get that frazzled and anxious feeling. I think we honestly get more anxious as we get older. It sometimes hard to be mindful and relaxed when you feel out of control, so don’t be too hard on yourself. I mean who really feels in control when flying? I think the only ones who feel in control are the pilots.
    You were also probably pulling in other people’s nervous and anxious energy. That happens a lot in high traffic public places, especially airports where no one really feels at ease. I’m not the best traveler either and I always obsess and get frantic before flying, checking my bags to make sure I have everything and saying my prayers to ArchAngel Michael (he’s a protector) before flying.
    Doesn’t it truly make you thankful and make you realize how amazing the world is when someone offers you a kind smile or helping hand? I always try and do something nice for someone when I get the urge because I know how good it makes me feel when someone does something nice for me. Kindness only builds upon itself. When you do something nice for someone, they then do something nice for someone else and so on and so on!
    I love your honestly, yet again, and just know you are not alone in these thoughts and fears and know that it’s ok to feel this way at times. We’re humans and were evolving each day! Have a great 4th of July girl! xoxo, Jackie

    • Christy July 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      Wow, what a great response, Jackie- thank you so much for your understanding, insight, and great feedback! You’re so right about pulling in other people’s energy- as much fun as airports usually are because of the people watching, everyone there is going through their own struggles and of course it results in lots of crazy energy. Too bad for the super sensitive ones like me- I think I need a shield to take with me in those situations 😉
      Mr. Pink’s kindness was my saving grace that day. Even something as simple as holding a door for someone and smiling at them can be so impactful. You never know how far the ripple effect will go!
      Thank you thank you thank you, and you have a good holiday, as well!

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  • Stevie July 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm


    This was a great post. I have known that feeling of anxiety and panic, and it’s horrible when it hits. I think you are right, writing about it helps us all feel a little less alone, reduces that stigma, and somehow helps us see it in a different light. I’m so glad you shared this with us!
    Stevie recently posted…Today a Miracle HappenedMy Profile

    • Christy July 8, 2013 at 12:20 am

      Hi Stevie- I really appreciate your comment, thank you! I never imagined that this post would resonate with so many people. We’re not alone! 🙂

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  • Ugochi February 25, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Hey Christy! How nice to meet nice people in panicky times. And How great it is to know that everything turned out okay. Visiting from SITS, congrats on being featured!
    Ugochi recently posted…Men And Raw SmellMy Profile

    • Christy February 25, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      Thank you for coming on over! And you’re so right- a smile and a simple act of kindness had such a wonderful effect!

  • Allie February 25, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Oh I can relate to this post in every way! I have anxiety attacks pretty regularly and especially when traveling. In fact, I have to be medicated to fly at all. When I read your caption about the being “above the clouds” relaxing? Nope. Not for me. Like you, I’ve read books about anxiety and have practiced meditation. I’ve made a lot of progress and backward slides. It’s just a battle. I’ve never let it stop me from getting on a plane and it never will!
    Thanks for sharing this!!! Visiting from SITS 🙂

    • Christy February 25, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      Your last line is my favorite- as stressful as traveling is, and even though I’ve gotten sick every time I’ve been somewhere foreign, and no matter how many ‘mistakes’ I make, travel will always be my passion and the negative stuff could never outweigh how much joy it brings me.
      Anxiety is a struggle all the time- I’ve realized I’m never going to ‘win’ or ‘beat it’- I just need to not let it beat me, you know? Thanks for your comment, Allie.

  • Karen February 25, 2014 at 6:58 am

    WOW, this is a carbon copy of me also in airports.

    Nice blog, I plan to read more in the future.

    Thank you

    • Christy February 25, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      Appreciate you coming by, Karen! And it’s nice to know I’m not the only stressed out freak at the airport 😉

  • Pam February 25, 2014 at 8:53 am

    What an honest, gut level story. Thanks for sharing it. Plane travel is so stressful, even without all of the mishaps you suffered. I’m glad Mr. Pink Shirt was there. It reminded me to be more like Mr. Pink Shirt when I can too. Happy SITS day!

    • Christy March 1, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      You’re welcome and thank you, Pam! And it is such a nice reminder to help out others from time to time; we never know what’s going on in other’s heads/hearts at any given moment.

  • Rabia @TheLiebers February 25, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I have been having anxiety issues over the last 6 months. I can’t think of anything that changed in my life, but I certainly don’t ever remember feeling this way before! It’s very disconcerting; thinking things and feeling things that you know don’t make any sense. Thank you for sharing of your story so that others don’t feel so alone!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…One of Those DaysMy Profile

    • Christy March 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      You’re right, it’s *so* disconcerting and frustrating and I’m sorry you’re going through this lately. Sometimes it only makes us go crazier trying to come up with a reason why, though. I hope you find some peace- maybe through a friend, a place (the beach? a woodsy hike?), or a book.

  • Rachel Keeth // Lavender & Honey February 25, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I know how you feel. I have a lot of anxiety attacks and panic attacks caused by Chronic Lyme Disease. My problem is often that the I can control anxiety if it’s caused by specific thoughts, but with my Lyme it often isn’t.

    Happy SITS Day!

    • Christy March 1, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      I’m so sorry you have chronic Lyme! Such an awful disease, especially with its tendency to ‘hide’ and pose as other ailments. Thank you for visiting and I hope your anxiety lessens soon.

  • Tiffany March 1, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I hate traveling alone. That is what makes my stress rise a level because I always start t imagine the worse possible scenarios from every Investigation Channel show I’ve ever seen. “Woman Disappears” stuff like that. It is great to actually walk through the experience through your words and see how you brought yourself back. Great tips. I’m so glad for Mr. Pink. He helps prove that there are kind people still out there.
    Tiffany recently posted…#MrsTeeINeedSpringPhotoADay – Goodbye Winter…Hello Spring!My Profile

    • Christy March 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks, Tiffany. Isn’t it funny how it takes unpleasant situations like these to show us those moments of kindness from others? Traveling alone is so complex- it’s definitely stressful, but I’ve never really been afraid and I would always choose myself as a companion over most anybody else!

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