The Highly Sensitive Person

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Back to Comfort ZoneMay 2006: Comfort Zone ONLINE
Coping Corner:
Jet Travel And HSPs

Besides the fact that many of you are making vacation plans at this time of year, it seems right that in the same issue that I discuss high sensation seeking I should discuss how to make the HSP part of you comfortable while you visit new places. Articles about traveling can also be found in the older, paper newsletters, so I don't want to repeat myself with the obvious, like "leave plenty of time so you won't be rushed" and "give yourself a free day at home to make the transition rather than coming home on a Sunday and going to work on a Monday." So I tried to think of some more obscure things I have learned about flying. Some of what I will suggest will apply more to the frequent flyer. But HSPs should think like frequent flyers, because those are the ones who have learned the tricks to making jet travel as painless as possible.

Planning Your Flight

  • When making reservations, ask if the flight looks like it will be full and, if your schedule allows, take the least crowded flight. Everything is easier on less crowded planes.
  • But, don't fly at night, even in the evening, even if the flight is less crowded. The stimulation of flying (the strangers, crowds, tension, endless noise, etc.) is more troubling when it comes at the end of what is usually a long, anxious day of getting ready.
  • Consider upgrading for very long or overnight flights, especially those over 6 hours. Upgrading with frequent flyer miles takes some of the sting out of the price. Most airlines have other carriers that also accept your frequent flyer miles and upgrades.
  • If you are anywhere close to having enough frequent flyer miles, gather some more and obtain "gold" status or whatever that is for your carrier. You board right after business class usually, which gives you a shot at the overhead space. If you're like me, my carry-on holds the things I really don't want lost, and having it checked makes me anxious.
  • Find out the kind of plane you will be on, then use to choose a good seat.
  • I recommend aisle seats for long flights, so you can get up and stretch, and window seats for shorter ones, as it protects you from being bumped by aisle traffic and you may enjoy looking out the window.
  • Exit rows are nice for being able to stretch your legs, but tend to be cold. Bulk head seats usually make it even easier to stand up, but may be near the galley and you won't be allowed to have your stuff on the floor during take off and landing (although you can tuck things at your side that won't be noticed). If it's turbulent and the seat belt sign stays on, you can feel stuck, although you can always ask flight personnel to get things.
  • Avoid being near the galleys or rest rooms--more traffic, talk, and general stimulation.
  • If you fly several times a year, use the same airline and consider joining their "club," like American Airline's Admiral's Club. Compared to everywhere else in the terminal, they are quieter, much less tense, and the people at the desk can sometimes help you get better help with the airline if you hit a snag like a cancelled flight. They will certainly be courteous and try.
  • Think twice about saving money on cheaper airlines. For example, when the head winds are strong, some of them stop to refuel mid-continent, unannounced, rather than carry the weight of more fuel.
  • Book with the airline company--but try a few times, to get the best price. Prices vary from hour to hour, and sometimes service person to service person, as the computers recalculate whatever they are recalculating. Generally the prices rise as the time of the flight gets closer.

Before Leaving Home That Day

  • Okay, I will repeat myself: Allow lots of extra time so you can move at a dignified, calm pace. It's so important for HSPs.
  • Decide before you get to the gate whether you would be willing to take a later flight in return for a travel voucher. That way you won't feel pressured to make a quick decision if it's offered.
  • Take your favorite foods. They don't offer meals any more, or even peanuts, and what they sell on board is not ideal for most HSPs. If you can't bring food from home, buy it in the terminal before you get on the plane. Don't skip on money, even though the prices are outrageous.
  • Drink fluids every time they are offered, and bring a small bottle of water to supplement what they give you. Think twice about all that overly processed juice. The tomato juice has a year's supply of sodium. I usually just ask for water or club soda.
  • Plan space for all of this food and water so it will fit in what you'll put under the seat. Adding it as an afterthought leaves you struggling to reclose your bag all the time.
  • Plan your flight wear: Wear layers, as a plane can be too hot before take off, too cold when up in the air. Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on again, and take them off while you fly.
  • Women--wear something with pockets. Especially if you wear glasses, wear a shirt with a chest pocket. Put everything you need--ID, ticket, credit card, money, small bills for tips--in very safe pockets, different ones for each category of need.

In the Airport

  • As you go about the airport, smile like a traveling Buddha, when you remember to. It makes you feel like you have a little control over the tension in air terminals, are adding something positive. It certainly helps with the tension you are feeling.
  • At security, be friendly to everybody. That makes them human, not authority figures, and might mean a little of the same friendliness back. Remember they are bored; they are expecting hostility. Surprise them.
  • Take your time at security; don't let people hurry you. If anybody is taking off shoes, take off yours--at one airport I overheard a security person say that they do the whole shakedown to anyone who doesn't. But airports differ in what the staff is nervous about. Observe. It's interesting.

On Board

  • Grab those pillows and blankets. Use them to improve the seats, which seem to be designed to keep chiropractors in business. You might want one under you to tilt your pelvis or behind the small of your back.
  • Use a noise-canceling headset. You can still hear all the announcements, but you feel like you're inside a sanctuary. They will help on all public transportation and in crowds. too. The ones from Bose that cost $300 are slightly quieter, I think, and more comfortable, but the ones from Sharper Image at half the cost are pretty good.
  • Consider doing some sort of work on the plane, or thinking about something specific that you have wanted to plan or process. After all, you have these hours where you can't be interrupted--make use of them. If you're in the plane and it's delayed for take off, you hardly mind! And I find being focused fully on a project makes the time go faster than leisure reading or trying to sleep.
  • Get up at least every hour. I don't know how people sit there for five or six hours, but they must not be HSPs. We need to keep our bodies in motion. Walk the whole length of the plane. Stand at the back and do your favorite stretches. Walk in place. Go in the rest room and put one foot up on the sink counter, then the other, and stretch.
  • If you feel some fear, before your next flight go to the website and take one of the courses they list. They also have lots of good travel advice that fits HSPs. But once on board, if you feel qualms, look around you at the flight personnel. They do it almost every day and are still here, and so relaxed about it. Watch them during turbulence. They rarely flinch.
  • Take or make a friend. If you are alone, consider talking at least briefly to your seatmate, especially if he or she does not talk to you first (a sign of too much of a talker) or feel weird to you. Use your intuition. Someone on board whom you know even a little can reduce the natural anxiety that is there when traveling alone.
  • Imagine being young again, or whenever you took your first flight. Be a little thrilled by the take off, and make use of a window seat if you took one. It's really so amazing, what you are doing! Yes, it can be scary to think about it too, but given that it is so safe, try marveling instead. "May you live in exciting times," and indeed you do.

After You Land

  • As the plane lands, resist the temptation to join the crush to exit the plane. Instead, remain calmly in your seat until the most aggressive and anxious passengers have passed by you. As the plane clears, the rush and push energy will dissipate. You will then be free to gather your belongings at your own pace without fear of crashing luggage or bodies. Just be sure to inform anyone who might be waiting for you at the gate that you intend to be the last one off the plane.
  • Go out doors and take a walk or at least notice standing on the ground, this new ground. I believe it is a shock for the body, especially the HSP body, to be taken across hundreds or thousands of miles in a day. So you need to "ground" it as soon as you arrive. Staying indoors in hotels and such only confuses the matter more.
  • For the same reason--over stimulation from simply having moved too fast all day--you may need extra help falling asleep that night.
  • If you have crossed time zones and so have jet lag to deal with, too, I suggest using some caffeine to stay awake, some herbs or other medication to sleep. You still won't feel right until a day has passed for every hour of change, but it does help.
  • A final word on caffeine. HSPs are very sensitive to it, and it can cause feelings that we can confuse with anxiety, such as a rapid heart beat or racing thoughts. However, now and then in small doses, such as black tea or even green tea or some chocolate, you may find it has miraculous effects on your mood and enjoyment of things. I lean towards advising that you not use it daily, but everyone's different. The problem is, besides its greater impact on the HS nervous system, you just get used to it, need it all the time, and get less of a boost.

May 2006 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
Personality and Temperament: The Highly Sensitive Person Who Is Also A High Sensation Seeker
Coping Corner: Jet Travel And HSPs
With Depth: Good Grief

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