How great is it that we live in a world where we can travel across the country and connect with loved ones or experience the true-blue ocean in the Caribbean simply by hopping on a plane? If you don’t have anxiety about flying, the biggest drawback may be removing your shoes at the airport. But for many, flying anxiety keeps them grounded.
A clinical diagnosis of the fear of flying, also called Aerophobia, affects upwards of 6.5% of Americans. And having less severe, but still problematic anxiety about flying affects upwards of 25% of Americans. This means that 1 in 4 of your travel companions are likely white knuckling that plane ride.
10 Tips To Reduce Flying Anxiety
The most common reasons for flying anxiety include claustrophobia, fear of heights, or worries about loss of control. But whatever your reasons for feeling anxious while flying, there are some simple strategies that can help to reduce these feelings.
The Planning Stages
1) Consider when the best time to take the flight will be for you.
Is it better to travel early in the morning, when the airport is empty? Or maybe a later flight for you is better so you don’t feel rushed getting out the door.
2) You may also want to think about the actual plane.
People who feel claustrophobic or sensitive to turbulence tend to fare better on larger commercial planes. Also, consider seat placement. Seats near the wing experience less movement than those in the front or back. Seats in the front of the plane are often larger (hello first class) and these guests deplane earlier than those in the rear. Middle seats leave little room for movement and you may wish to avoid these if possible.
3) Consider the length of the flights as well.
A direct flight means only one trip up and down (take-off and landing are the most anxiety-provoking portions of flights for most people). Long layovers can make for long days of air travel, which can increase symptoms. On the other hand, breaking flights up into more than one leg may be beneficial if the idea of several hours in the air at one time causes you to sweat.
Before The Flight
4) Prepare ahead of time.
Limit the morning rush by packing your bags the night before. Make a list of any last-minute additions you will need to keep stress at bay before heading to the airport.
5) Pack your meds.
Did your doctor prescribe a medication to help you manage your anxiety on the flight? It is so common for me to hear that although a person is fearful of flying and has a doctor’s script, they don’t take it. Sometimes just having a pill in hand in case of emergency is enough to calm anxiety. But if it isn’t, take the medication!
If you avoid taking the medication and you have extreme anxiety on the flight, you are less likely to fly again. The goal is for you to have as comfortable a trip as possible so that you recognize that you will be fine when you fly. This will actually increase the likelihood that you can fly again in the future without needing to utilize prescription medication.
6) Bring distractions.
Consider your anxiety like traveling with a toddler. You had better keep that toddler busy, or he’s going to be up to no good! Break out all of your tricks. Bring books, movies, music, snacks, and maybe a playmate to keep your mind off your worries.
At The Airport And On The Plane
7) Lay off the coffee.
One of my favorite morning rituals is to drink a piping hot cup of coffee. It’s a great way to start the day and gives me an extra burst of energy before heading off to the gym. But this is a bad strategy when you are already feeling nervous and then will be sitting still for a few hours. Stimulants, like coffee, increase heart rate and can cause jitters, which can magnify symptoms of anxiety.
8) Acknowledge the feelings.
Fear of flying affects an estimated 8 million Americans, so you are not alone. Acknowledging the feelings and reminding yourself that they are normal can help to alleviate anxiety.
9) Take a breath.
Practice diaphragmic, (or deep, intentional) breathing to slow the body’s nervous system and reduce “fight or flight” stress reactions.
10) Focus on the end goal.
Why are you on that plane anyway? Think about the reasons for your trip. Is it to spend time with loved ones? Or maybe to watch your child participate in a special sporting event? Will you be visiting monuments to enrich your knowledge of history? Or maybe you’re taking a trip to rest and relax! Focus on the payoff of the flight rather than the flight itself.
Fear of flying is a very common and normal phobia, but it doesn’t have to keep you grounded. Like other anxiety disorders, it can be managed and overcome, so sit back and enjoy the flight!