How to Overcome Flight Anxiety

October 22, 2023

You’ve probably heard that statistic that “you’re more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash”, but those who suffer from flight anxiety rarely find much comfort in this fact. People who struggle with a fear of flying often understand that airplanes are a safe form of travel, but unfortunately, anxiety often wins out over rationale. 

1 in 4 people suffer from flight anxiety, with cases ranging in severity. Flight anxiety can come from many causes, stemming from a fear of confined spaces, a dislike of flying, and the worry of accidents.

Whatever triggers you struggle with, there are ways to overcome them. Compiled here are all the top tips to help you deal with flight anxiety. Let’s get started! 

Aiplane fying high

Pre-Trip Tips for Coping with Flight Anxiety 

1. Name Your Anxiety

Figuring out what is causing your fear in the first place is an important first step toward dealing with flight anxiety. Different aspects of flying can trigger different fears depending on the person. For example, one person may be afraid of small spaces and feel nervous during a perfectly normal takeoff, while another person may be afraid that the air will run out. Depending on your unique mindset, try to understand the source of your anxiety, because it will not go away until you find the root cause of it.

2. Do Some Research

Are you about to land and you hear strange noises that make you nervous? Does every sound from the engine make you panic? You’re not alone. The good news is that there are ways to overcome this. One thing that helped me was watching YouTube tutorials on what each sound means. By watching these videos, you begin to understand that the sounds that may seem abnormal to you, are actually perfectly normal parts of the airplane. 

It also helps to understand the strict level of safety measures there are on airplanes. If you read or see videos that explain the world of aviation, it can be very reassuring to learn the facts.  For example, an airplane must be able to support one and a half times the maximum load it has ever carried as well as be able to undergo extreme environmental conditions to be allowed to be in the sky.

Our anxiety feeds on the  “what ifs” or in other words, catastrophic thoughts. Once you are better informed, those “what if” thoughts will be won out by the facts, allowing you to feel more relaxed during the flight.

A view of an airplane wing

3. Choose a Comfortable Seat

One of the few things passengers have control over the flight is choosing a seat, and if you’re uncomfortable in the air, it’s worth investing a little more in this option. Once you’ve figured out exactly what you’re afraid of when it comes to flying, use seat selection to help yourself avoid triggers. If you’re afraid of heights, stay away from windows. But if you need to know what’s going on outside all the time, then choose a window seat. Aisle seats can be beneficial for those who feel claustrophobic or restless and need to move around. Upgrading to business or first class can also help immensely with comfort levels.

4. Talk to a Therapist

If you are dealing with paralyzing fears, it’s probably best to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can help you overcome the fear of flying through cognitive behavioral therapy and a gradual exposure process. In some cases, the therapist may recommend that you take a tranquilizer before the flight, and there is no shame in that.

5. Take a Flying Lesson or Chat with a Pilot

I truly believe that flying is not the greatest fear, but rather the fear of the unknown and the fear of losing control. If you have the means, I highly recommend taking a flight lesson or signing up for a “pilot for a day” experience. This may sound terrifying, but you will be alongside a knowledgeable pilot who will explain everything to you. Plus, you’ll even get a chance to fly the plane yourself, helping you to better understand its functions and mechanisms.

If you don’t have access to that option, you can always talk to a real pilot. An app called SimpliFly is a great resource for anyone who deals with flight anxiety. Created by a pilot, the app is full of helpful content and resources for coping with flight anxiety, and you can even chat with a real pilot, answering any questions or concerns you may have. 

Two pilots of the plane

6. Imagine the Flight

Using your imagination can help you reduce fear by helping to create a plan. Guided imagery will allow you to go through the stages in your head starting from leaving the house, driving to the airport, waiting for the flight, boarding the plane, the flight itself, and arriving at the destination. If you’re not familiar with the flight process, get help from a friend or family member who travels regularly – they may be able to guide you through the steps.

7. Understand Airplane Terminology

Turbulence is nothing more than fuzzy wind currents that make planes jump a little, similar to driving on a rough road or cruising in rough seas. But really, turbulence is nothing to worry about –  airplanes are specifically designed to handle and minimize it. 

“When you look out your window and see the wing swinging up and down as the plane experiences turbulence, don’t be afraid that the plane is about to fall apart,” says pilot Cory Franke. “Instead, be grateful, because these bending wings are like shock absorbers working to smooth the rough ride on a dirt road.”

In addition, technology is now being used to predict areas of turbulence so that pilots can avoid them and provide the smoothest ride possible.

In-Air Tips for Coping with Flight Anxiety 

Find Distractions

Some people can get lost in a good movie or podcast, which may distract them from the fact that they are flying, but it’s not that simple for everyone. Try to find an interesting activity that will take your attention away from anxiety. For example, I’m left-handed, and when turbulence starts, I take out a piece of paper and use my opposite hand to write my name over and over again. It helps keep my brain focused on what’s in front of me while distracting me from any anxiety that is trying to take over.

Use Breathing Techniques

Grounding and breathing techniques can help a person get out of their head and focus on their environment. When a person is grounded, they become more aware of the five senses. For example, ask yourself, “What do I hear around me? How do my toes feel in my shoes? What does the texture of my pants feel like? What do I smell? Taste? See?”  Focusing more strongly on the senses helps reduce any disturbing thoughts and keeps you present in the moment.

I also recommend using breathing techniques to reduce anxiety. By maximizing your breathing, you decrease any feeling of fear or worry, while also decreasing the heart rate and minimizing the chances of a panic attack. Look up breathwork tutorials for anxiety, and you are sure to find one that works for you. 

Travel with Someone you Trust

Support from someone who knows you can help with anxiety. Try to fly with someone who knows your anxiety and knows how to deal with it. Be honest about your fears and share what you think can help when you start feeling anxious.

Talk to the Flight Attendants

Flight attendants are always there for you. If you let them know of your worries ahead of time,  they will come to check on you and see how you are throughout the flight. Flight attendants are trained to deal with fainting, anxiety, and a list of various health issues that may occur on board.

Avoid Coffee and Alcohol

It is recommended to avoid caffeine and alcohol while flying, as they can make you feel more dehydrated during the flight and worsen anxiety problems. Many people tend to think that alcohol assists in removing anxiety, but it actually puts you under more stress. Instead, opt for water and a light meal before your flight, or take a light snack with you.

A picture of an airport, with a large plane in the background

If Necessary, Take Medication

If nothing helps, or on the recommendation of a psychologist/doctor, take medication. Most often, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety drugs with a quick effect such as Xanax or Clonex. If you don’t have a prescription, try taking natural remedies like Rescue, chamomile tea, or lavender essential oil for the soothing properties. 

Final Thoughts

If you are afraid of flying, know that you are not alone and that there is hope. Using the suggestions above, I hope that you can find some relief – enjoying all the freedoms that flying provides without the anxiety. 

Have any more ideas for overcoming flight anxiety? Leave a comment!

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