June 1, 2023

15 Tips to Tackle Flight Anxiety

Flight anxiety, also known as aviophobia or aerophobia, is a fear or phobia of flying in an airplane or other aircraft. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including feelings of panic, physical symptoms like sweating or shaking, difficulty breathing, and obsessive thoughts about the potential risks of flying. 

If you’re experiencing flight anxiety, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and there are strategies and resources available to help you manage your fears and feel more comfortable when flying. 

Know Your Triggers. Knowing what causes your fear of flying can be the first step to overcoming the fear. If you’re able to figure out what scares you the most, then you can prepare for those feelings. Knowing your triggers helps you manage your anxiety levels. Some common triggers for people include: turbulence, germs or cleanliness of the plane, fearing the onset of a panic attack mid-flight, or anxiety at take-off or landing.

Anticipate Your Anxiety. Another helpful tip for overcoming your fear of flying is acknowledging that it will happen. Anticipatory anxiety is a feeling you get by thinking about the fear you’re going to have before you have it. Typically, this type of anxiety will be worse than flying, depending on what your triggers are. 

Understand the Phobia. Before you can overcome your fear of flying, you should try to understand it. Aerophobia is a classified Specific Phobia recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition. A flying phobia can cause fear and anxiety, and can cause you to avoid the source of the phobia. This can make traveling much more difficult. Fear of flying is often a self-diagnosed fear. You may be tempted not to seek help, but rather avoid flying. 

Use relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization exercises can all help reduce anxiety. Try practicing these techniques before your flight to feel more prepared and be ready to use them if needed. Deep breathing is a method to help calm yourself before and during your flight. If you feel yourself getting panicked, start your deep breathing exercise. This will help relieve your stress and anxiety by calming your nervous system. This also helps prevent hyperventilation because you’ll be slowing your breath and breathing out for as long as you can until you inhale your next big breath. 

Distract yourself. On most planes, you’ll have access to television or movies. There may be magazines on the flight, or you can download audiobooks or music to your phone. Having something to occupy your time during the flight can help you forget you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Making yourself as comfortable as possible will make the flight easier for you. Stay distracted. Bring books, movies, or games to keep your mind occupied during the flight. You can listen to music or practice mindfulness meditation to help calm your nerves.

Separate fear from real danger. Just because your body feels anxious, that doesn’t mean you’re truly in danger. This feeling of anxiety can make you feel like everything is wrong. By telling yourself that you’re not in danger, that you’re just anxious, you can pull yourself out of a potential panic attack. Take note of when your feelings of fear are actually just anxiety. This will help you determine what you should take action against and what you can work around. 

Learn about the safety of air travel. It also helps to understand just how rigorous safety measures are for aircraft. Our anxiety is fed by ‘what if?’ catastrophic thoughts. Once you become knowledgeable, your ‘what if’ thoughts will be limited by the facts. Sometimes, anxiety can stem from fear of the unknown. Educating yourself on the safety record of air travel can help you alleviate some of this fear. You can find information on airline safety statistics online or read about how airplanes are designed to withstand turbulence and other flight-related challenges. Also, familiarize yourself with airplane noises. Read up on the typical bumps and noises that may occur during a flight.

Bring a photo of your destination. Visualizing your destination and imagining yourself there can be a powerful tool to help keep you focused on the prize at the end of the journey. You can do this with or without a photo but having a physical image to refer to – whether it’s a picture you’ve downloaded on your phone or a postcard – can help to keep your mind from wandering. Another method is to imagine yourself in a safe place, somewhere you feel comfortable and safe. Your bedroom, perhaps, or on a beach. Take yourself there with your eyes closed and relax. The idea is to take your mind off the little things that make you nervous about flying and focus on the positive aspects of your journey.

Tell the flight attendants. It’s a good idea to let others know you’re not too keen on flying – you may be able to speak to the pilot briefly while you board the plane or receive extra attention from flight attendants during the flight. If you’re traveling with friends or family members, talk to them about what makes you nervous so they can help alleviate the tension, but don’t let the conversation spiral into a contest over who has had the scariest flight experience! Sometimes just knowing that others are available to help you in case your anxiety surfaces is enough to help keep that anxiety in check.

Start small to overcome your fear of flying. Generally, the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Starting small will help you to ease into flying without feeling too overwhelmed or jumping in too quickly. Take small steps to ensure you’re ready to fly. Don’t wait until you have to fly internationally for your sister’s destination wedding to tackle your fears. Start by taking short trips where you’re only in the air for an hour or so. It will help you become accustomed to flying, and you’ll know what to expect.

Consider an aisle seat to help with your fear of flying. When it comes to getting on a plane, it matters where you sit. Having more space to move around and to get up and walk around when needed could make all the difference in helping you feel at ease. Choosing an air carrier that allows you to pick your seat assignment beforehand can help you feel less boxed-in. This allows you the extra room on one side and permits you to get up and walk about the cabin as needed.

Be mindful of what you consume to help fight off your fear of flying. Caffeine, alcohol and high-sodium foods can cause your heart to race and fuel your anxiety. If you’re a nervous flyer, you’ll want to avoid all of these things before and during your flight.

Appreciate Each Flight. As oversimplified as this may sound, appreciating each flight you get through can help you overcome your aerophobia. Exposing yourself to your triggers and phobias can help you overcome them. You’ll be training your brain to be less triggered by certain factors.‌ A helpful tip for overcoming anxiety is doing the opposite of what your body is telling you to do. Your body is forcing a fight-or-flight feeling inside you, but if you turn that feeling into a positive thought, you can slowly take away aerophobia’s power.  

One final tip, you’ll also want to be mindful of what you watch on board. Viewing sports, action films or thrillers can again get your heart racing. Consider comedies or relaxing music instead. You want to keep your mind and body as relaxed as possible and not get wound up so tightly you feel that panic attack creeping in.If you notice yourself getting anxious leading up to a booked flight, or you feel panicky once you sit down on the plane, you might have a fear of flying. You can talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. They’ll be able to walk you through healthy coping mechanisms. Finding a support system to talk to once you try to overcome your fear of flying can be helpful, too. Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about these feelings, as they’re quite common. If your anxiety is severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about prescribing medication to help you manage it. For some individuals having the medication with them even if they don’t take it, can help ease their anxiety.