Archived Q&A and Reviews

Claustrophobia when flying causes me to faint

June 2015

I had ppd with the 2nd child, which brought to light, and aggravated, underlying claustrophobia and panic attacks. Flying is a major trigger and the attacks generally come on so fast that they can't be stopped - end result is fainting. I've done therapy and have flown once since with the help of drugs, but am reluctant to fly unless I have to. This is a major problem for hubby who wants us to go visit his family together - a 10 hour non-stop flight away. They're another major source of stress, but that's another post. Help?! anon

Hi - I don't have advice about flying, but I just wanted to say I also have a phobia/panic that results in fainting, and its become such a problem that I've really been working hard to get it under control. I have naturally lowish blood pressure so it doesn't take much to tip the scales to my brain not getting enough oxygen, then I faint. My doctor explained that the anxiety triggers adrenaline which causes my blood vessels to dilate, allowing my blood to pool lower down in my body, which is the physiological problem causing the fainting, but the trigger is emotional.

What I've tried may not apply to you, but I'm writing just in case.

- Mindfulness: on the advice of both my therapist and my medical doctor I've overcome my disinterest in mindfulness and meditation as a way to reduce the response when I am triggered. I started with the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabot-Zinn and the cds that go with it in January. It seems to be helping (and has been positive in other ways) even though I still find it hard to do.

- Physical workup. One discovery was the eye drops I'm on for glaucoma are beta-blockers with the possibility of lowering blood pressure. Switching to another drug that doesn't have that side effect also seems to be helping some.

- Therapy, and gradual de-sensitization to my phobia. This is helping some. Haven't tried EMDR (eye movement desensitization) but we've discussed it.

- Little adjustments to boost blood pressure when I'm triggered. My doctor told me it really makes a big difference if I'm sitting, I can slump back in my chair and/or put my feet up on something in front of me - even lowering my head/raising my feet a few inches can help keep that blood where I need it. Likewise, she advised me to drink extra fluids (blood volume), and make sure I've eaten recently. I'm tempted to try those compression stockings for people with varicose veins as a way to keep the blood from pooling.

- Letting go. This one feels impossible, but I'm trying to imagine what it would feel like not to care if I faint or not.

It's not safe to say I'm cured, but I've been less triggered even in hard situations, and gotten less dizzy when triggered since I made these changes. Hoping more work can put this behind me.

- You aren't alone