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How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying

woman on an airplane, stressed about flying

A fear of flying can put a real damper on your travel plans. If being crammed in a tiny plane makes you feel claustrophobic, out of control, and anxious, here’s how to deal with it so you can take the trip of your dreams.

People shudder at the thought of stepping onto a plane for many reasons. They may have a fear of heights, or simply hate being smooshed between strangers for hours on end. Other typical fears include the plane malfunctioning or crashing, terrorist hijackings, and ultimately not being in control. Even though the statistics show that flying in a plane is way safer than driving in a car, it’s hard to shake these fears with logic alone.

Here are some common steps to help you work through this anxiety.

Talk to a Professional

We suggest starting here, even with mild cases of flight anxiety. Talking through your fears with an unbiased professional can help you get in touch with the root of your anxiety.

Is it the tight, cramped space? The lack of fresh air? Or all the what-ifs?

Either way, knowing what your specific fears are means you can move forward with more knowledge.

Some popular options for addressing your fear of flying include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and neurofeedback (also known as EEG biofeedback). Some people even try hypnosis, though we’d recommend well-established methods like CBT first.

If you can’t afford therapy, consider recruiting a friend to sit with you and listen as you talk through all your fears. Make sure they act as a soundboard, letting you process it all without offering concrete suggestions.

You can also do a free, online, self-help program to overcome your fear of flying at Anxieties.com.

Learn About Planes

Even though using logic isn’t enough to combat a deep-seated fear or phobia, learning as much as possible can help remind you that even when you feel in danger, chances are you’re going to remain totally safe.

Spend some time reading about planes, their structure, mechanics, what happens during turbulence, even the step-by-step protocol during an emergency. Knowing how much safety training all the pilots and flight attendants get will reassure you that you’re in good hands.

Once onboard the plane, make sure to pay attention to the safety demonstration. This will give you something to focus on, and help you feel more prepared during the flight. You can even ask to peek inside the cockpit—sometimes seeing all the fine details helps break down the mystery of what a plan is all about.

Find Your Perfect Seat

Where you sit on the plane can make a world of difference. Near the front has less turbulence and is often quieter. Some people find the window seat more comforting as it allows them to look outside, thus feeling more in control of their surroundings. Others feel better in the aisle seat so they can get up as needed.

If you have extra funds, definitely upgrade. Being in a wider, more comfortable seat might not eliminate your anxiety, but it’ll help make your flight a little more pleasant.

Meditation and Medication

woman listening to a relaxation meditation while on an airplane

First, try meditation. You can start by attending classes at home, or check out these 6 best apps to help calm nervous flyers. Download the tracks in advance and listen to them at the airport, while boarding, or anytime you feel panicky. Focus on your breathing—taking long, steady, deep breaths.

Medication can help take the edge off flight anxiety. You can talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for anti-anxiety meds, or order an alcoholic drink once you board (but don’t mix the meds with the alcohol!).

Avoid caffeine as this will make you feel more jittery and awake, and the goal is to mellow you out.

Airport Tips

Navigating a busy airport can make any traveler feel exhausted, anxious, or overwhelmed. If you’re already anxious about the flight itself, you definitely want to minimize any stress before it. Here are a few tips to keep your cool once you step foot into a bustling airport.

  • Arrive early: If they say to arrive two hours before your flight, listen to this advice. This will allow you enough time to gather your stuff, check your bags, go to the bathroom, get through security, and perhaps enjoy a drink or snack before boarding.
  • Use an airport lounge: Many lounges offer a day pass and are well worth the money spent. The seats are comfortable, and snacks, drinks, and free WiFi are generally available. It’s a great opportunity to lean back, close your eyes, and listen to a calming meditation app.
  • TSA PreCheck: Even if you don’t plan on traveling much, this is really worth it. Security lines can be insanely long, especially during holiday travel. The logistics of managing your bags, taking off your shoes, removing laptops, and the such can make your head spin. The precheck line is often shorter and much easier to navigate—plus you get to keep your shoes on!
  • Look out a window: Spend some time watching planes take off and land. If watching the planes causes some anxiety, breathe deeply through it.

Power Through Your Fears

In the end, it’s up to you how much you want to push through this fear. If getting to Aruba is at the top of your bucket list, then practice those deep breaths, and trust that you can get through this.

Spend some time separating fear from danger. Remind yourself: Even though you feel anxious, you are still safe.

And above all else, anticipate your anxiety. If you simply ignore it, it’ll take you by surprise and be even more powerful. By embracing it, you’ll gain more control over the situation.

Learning to overcome any fear or phobia is challenging. The benefits for this one include opening up your world to endless possibilities for travel and adventure. Just remember to take it one step—and one breath—at a time. And if possible, bring along a friend.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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