As you board the plane for your holiday you might be excited about your time away, or you might be apprehensive about the flight. But did you know that flying affects mood in many other ways? – no matter how you feel about it.
It’s no wonder that flying affects mood when you stop to think about the environment in an aircraft cabin. The air pressure is similar to being in the Himalayas, and the air is twice as dry as the Sahara. That, and the incoming air at 10°C, all combine to affect us not just physically but mentally.
Because of the lower air pressure in the cabin the major physical effect of flying is hypoxia – lower levels of oxygen in the blood. Mild hypoxia at the levels involved in flying won’t trigger anxiety, but it will increase any anxiety that’s already there. That’s a good reason to tackle any flying related anxiety in good time before you fly.
The mild hypoxia we experience during flights has one very obvious effect for many people – it makes them tired. Low oxygen levels make us fatigued, especially if we have a cough or cold. That’s why some people easily fall asleep in such a cramped and noisy environment.
Another reason that some people fall asleep is because of the effect of alcohol, which is made worse by the environment inside the aircraft cabin. That’s because the reduced amount of oxygen in the blood and the brain intensify the effects of alcohol. Not only will you feel (and get) more drunk for any given amount of drink, you’ll also have a worse hangover the next day.
People don’t need to have had a drink to find they’re much more emotional at sad or poignant moments in the in-flight films. This is another direct result of how flying affects mood. The combination of mild hypoxia, and dehydration, make us become slightly worse at reasoning, and slightly less in control of our emotions. The result is finding yourself crying unexpectedly watching a film or listening to music.
So, if you find yourself slightly more anxious, weepy, or tired during your flight then rest assured that it’s quite normal. It’s just your body’s response to the extreme conditions it finds itself in – and if you’re tempted to take the edge off of your anxiety with a drink you’d be much better advised to try relaxation or distraction instead.
If you found this blog post about how flying affects mood useful then why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships