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I get severe panic attacks when I am in airports. Its only been this way for the past 3 years. I get very nauseous and I am constantly running back and forth to the bathroom. I don't know what to do... Any advice?

  • You can have a look at this somewhat related question and see if any of the answers apply to you. – drat Jul 24 '15 at 9:32
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    Have you received any advice from professionals? – Karlson Jul 24 '15 at 10:19
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    With @Karlson, seeking professional advise is very sensible. You can also try getting used to the environment (which is one strategy with people scared of flying)- visit the airport before you travel without any stress, and get comfortable around it. How do I get around? Where do I check in? Where are the information desks if I need help? – InFlightEntertainment Jul 24 '15 at 10:32
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Qualifier, I have some form of anxiety. Disclaimer, personal experience, may not be reliable !

First, you need to know there's a possibility it's not airports in themselves that make you anxious, but rather a stressful memory that gets triggered. There's no notion of time in the human subconscious, so when two similar events overlap, even with something seemingly benign as being in an airport your mind will trigger the same response as when it experienced the stressful event. It's interesting you mention it started 3 years ago because you can probably trace back the stress event and decouple the irrational fear from the place.

When you're feeling calm, at home for example, try to analyze what about airports makes you nervous. Is it the crowds, is it the confined space, people with guns, is the "no going back" feeling once you pass security, is it losing some important document (passport, boarding pass), is it being late and missing your flight, is it getting lost etc
Once you have at least a couple, you can:

  • Prepare yourself by finding exits from those stressful situations and repeating the scenario in your mind. For example, make a checklist at home and keep all important papers in one place and keep it at hand, so as not to lose anything.

  • Rationally break down the idea. For example, it's not true I'll get lost, there are signs and information points, everything is written in a language I can understand, I can ask other travellers

As @MikeFoxtrot mentioned, gradual desensitization is a good idea. Stress is an external stimulus, like a visual or auditory signal and minds get used to processing known signals. On a day where you have no flights planned, go with someone you trust and feel comfortable with, for little periods of time. Start small, then spend more and more time. Identify exits, information booths, help lines, bathrooms for some isolation, somewhere to sit down etc. Once you get used to this, you won't have to actively think about it to recall it if you need it again later on

Another strategy that helps is, record your thoughts. When you get anxious, if you can, write down everything that passes through your mind, anything. Instead of letting things simmer in there and just go around, it's strange but it feels like relieving pressure. With the added benefit that you can go over your notes later for insight, perspective and maybe realizing how nonsensical it all is.

Assuming the worst does happen, none of this helps and you find yourself anxious again at the airport. There are a number of exercises you can practice to help calm you down. Things like diaphragm breathing, and breathing exercises where you hold your breath.

These here are all just tips and tricks, there's no telling if this is a serious condition and no substitute for actually getting professional help though.

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I used to have severe anxiety myself and still get it quite a bit when flying. My problem was my anxiety was triggered from a fear of being sick (Emetophobia). It would often be triggered in crowded places and situations I didn't feel I could escape from meaning airports and flights were perfect conditions for this.

Here are some techniques I've picked up over the years;

  • When waiting for your flight, try listening to some calm music in a quiet area of the airport. If you feel the anxiety start to build up, make use of the duty-free shops. I normally slowly walk round them and look at items I find interesting. It also seems to make me feel better if I go to the perfume section and try some on. If you smell good, you feel good, thus reducing your anxiety levels.

  • I have identified that chewing mint gum also helps to calm my anxiety. My anxeity triggers the feeling of being sick and so the mint gum helps to settle my stomache. I feel that I've used this technique so much that it is now a placebo effect. If I have gum, I feel safe. The only issue with this one is if you don't have any, it can cause your anxiety to be triggered so test it out and see if it works for you.

Hope this helps.

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