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Flight Anxiety and Diabetes.

Every time I travel, I go through the same routine to prepare for the trip:

The night before, my suitcase is packed.  My medical bag, a bright orange packing cube that I bought probably while hypoglycemic at Target, houses all of my medical supplies: bottle of insulin, insulin pen, infusion sets for pump site changes, pump cartridges, Toughpad for CGM sensor swaps, extra test strips, lancets, blood pressure med, AA battery for my pump, and a quarter to change said battery.  Morning of travel, I don’t want to worry about anything other than making sure I have pants on.

Day of travel, I arrive at the airport two hours before my plane is scheduled to take off (unless I’m leaving from the Providence airport, in which case, I can limit my prep time to an hour … we’re a very teeny state). Working my way through airport security is usually very easy, with all of my supplies going through the x-ray machine except for my pump and my CGM, which remain on my body and are examined via pat down and swabbing.  (Your diabetes/device/airport comfort may vary, but this is how I do it.)

Once I’m through security, I get the biggest iced coffee I can find and try to find a chair at the gate that is reasonably close to an outlet, so I can charge my phone/laptop for the flight.

But the best laid plans can still have hard-to-anticipate outcomes.  Even though my approach for preparing for and going through airport-related travel remains the same every, single time, my body’s response to these events varies wildly. Airplane travel, for me, has always been a source of stress.  Even though I’m “used to it” and my emotions feel calmer throughout, the panicky feeling is unpredictable and hard to prepare for.  Sometimes, the anxiety will kick an in-range blood sugar up into the 250’s and hang there, even before I get to the gate.  Other times, the nerves kick in at take-off and my blood sugars start to rise about 20 minutes into the flight.  (Melissa wrote this great article at A Sweet Life about blood sugar fluctuations and airplane travel – worth a read!)  I wish I could blame my pump for this issue, but this trend happens whether I’m pumping, on injections, drinking decaf (or wine), taking anti-anxiety medication for the flight … the only constant is the airplane.

Yesterday, traveling across the country from Sacramento to Providence by way of three different airplanes for a TCOYD conference, I spent twelve hours watching my Dexcom graph hold steady once I was in the air, but my numbers spiked due to anxiety before every take-off.  It amazes me every time – even without any insulin on board or any food in my system, anxiety, its accompanying cortisol boost, have a dramatic (and sucky) effect on my blood sugars.  My blood sugars, for as long as I can remember, have been influenced directly by my emotions.  Super emotional moments – even the excessively happy ones – prompt blood sugar spikes.  So, for me, my airplane anxiety equals out to spikey blood sugars.

It’s interesting, in that “wish-it-wasn’t-my-body” sort of way, watching my CGM graph “take off” with the plane.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hmmm, wish I had a magic pill to help alleviate that stress-related spike for you. I thought Melissa’s article was eye-opening, and worth the read too.

    I always get a major spike when I’m driving more than two hours anywhere. Doesn’t matter what it’s for, doesn’t matter that I like driving. If the drive is more than two hours, I’m high. Under that, no problem.

    03/10/14; 12:37 pm
  2. Christine #

    Hmmm…. maybe that is the reason I spiked at the TCOYD conference. Stress of participating in the CGM discussion. Or was it the Whole Wheat chicken wrap they fixed us for lunch? Wheat is my enemy.
    Thanks for the imput at the conference. When it comes to diabetes, I can tell you do not like to compromise. And that’s good!!!
    It was great to meet other T1 patients at the conference and share experiences and ideas. The speakers that I heard were all well prepared and knowledgeable. I especially enjoyed Dr. Edelman’s insight on diabetes.
    Yes, I will be sharing comments on the event with TCOYD folks.
    Thanks again for your time and sharing of your passion for diabetes.

    03/10/14; 10:10 pm
  3. Ashley #

    I was just reading about this on A Sweet Life the other day – it definitely makes sense! Worth trying out next time!

    03/11/14; 7:01 pm
  4. Wendy #

    My anxiety seems to bring on lows. And the two lowest lows I’ve ever had were while waiting to go through security at the airport.

    03/12/14; 10:33 am
  5. Chelsea #

    Anxiety has always been a huge problem for me… with and without air travel! I have started to learn mindfulness meditation and it helps ground and center me in times of anxiety or stress. I found the meditationSHIFT program to be especially helpful, but I started with their free guide:

    Great post!

    03/20/14; 6:17 pm

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