I used to have severe flight anxiety that prevented me from going on a trip to Europe with my best friends, and almost made me miss out on an international trip with my grandmother. I finally decided to get over my fear of flying and these are the tips and strategies that helped me get on a plane to see the world!
For someone who loves to travel as much as I do – and who does, in fact, travel pretty often, it comes as a surprise to most people that I am terrified of flying. Like, used to spend entire plane rides hyperventilating and breathing into a paper bag terrified.
I know that flight anxiety is a mostly an irrational fear. I know all the stats that say plane travel is the safest way to get anywhere.
I know. I know.
I know all these things, the platitudes and words of wisdom and comfort people spew at me. Those things don’t help much. I’m still scared of flying. But I get on the plane and I go. Why?
Because first and foremost, I don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t do what she loves because she’s afraid.
I want to experience the world, feel the magic of travel, the thrill of discovery, the rush of energy that comes from exploring a new city. The perspective adjustment that happens when you realize how big the world is and how small your place is in it. So I go.
But I’m Scared Of Flying, What Can I Do?
Over the years, I have come up with a few strategies that have made flying much more manageable for me and significantly reduced my flight anxiety. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that it will help others who are also afraid of flying.
And no, I am not going to quote statistics at you. Fear of flying is a mostly psychological and emotional fear. These strategies to help you overcome your fear of flying are designed to provide comfort and stability to an otherwise extremely emotional reaction.
Especially right now, in 2020, flying is not only emotionally scary but due to COVID-19, getting on a plane is also scary in terms of your physical health. So if you have to fly, or make the choice to fly during COVID-19, you’ll most likely have to wear a mask. And if you’re anything like me, wearing a mask – while 100% necessary for the health and safety of yourself and those around you – can make you feel even more claustrophobic and anxious.
The tips below are how I overcame my fear of flying and I have also updated these tips to share my advice on getting on a plane and flying in 2020 amid COVID-19.
Tips To Get Over Fear Of Flying
Tip 1: Get to the Airport Early
I don’t want to add to my flight anxiety by worrying that I’ll be late or miss my flight so I always leave for the airport with plenty of time. I also hate getting to my gate and having to get right on the plane. I prefer to have least 20-30 minutes at the gate before boarding begins to get myself settled, buy some water or other small items and start to mentally prepare myself for the flight ahead.
COVID-19 tip: try to book flights during off-peak or unpopular times, if you can, to minimize the amount of people you’ll encounter. Yes, this means looking for 6:00 AM or 10:00 PM flights if they are available. Fewer people at the airport and fewer people on the plane = lower risk.
Tip 2: Dress Comfortably
Who are these magical creatures who can fly in jeans and high heels? I am definitely not one of them. I want to be comfortable and cozy for a flight, so I have a “plane” outfit that I always wear. It consists of Lulu Lemon Align leggings (I have a long-standing love affair with Lulu Lemon athleisure, they are simply the best), a loose soft tank or tee, a Lulu Lemon zip up jacket (pockets are crucial!) and a jacket/scarf for warmth because I’m always freezing on planes. In this outfit, I’m not feeling constricted, swollen or stiff.
COVID-19 tip: keep a change of clothes in your carryon bag and change into clean clothes immediately after getting off the plane. Keep your plane clothes tucked away in plastic bags for a few days.
Tip 3: Have Lots of Distractions Ready to Go
I don’t sleep on planes, and my buzzy anxious mind needs a lot of stimulation to distract myself from how I’m feeling. I make sure to have my iPad or laptop loaded up with my favorite comforting TV shows (Friends is my go-to) as well as a series or movie I haven’t watched yet so I can try to lose myself in something new. In addition, I bring my Kindle loaded up with chick-lit, magazines, and make sure I have music or podcasts downloaded on my phone. I’ll often put on a TV show or movie, and thumb through a magazine, and have my phone with me (connected to Wifi, I always spend the money to purchase WiFi if it’s available, I love being able to text on planes as a distraction now) to scroll through. This ensures my mind is so busy with my distractions that I don’t have a lot of room to think about my fear of flying.
Tip 4: Bring Your Own Meals and Snacks
Having food allergies and also trying to eat healthy means I always have to bring my own meals and snacks on a plane. Airport food is terrible and plane food is terrible, so having my own favorite comfort foods with me helps a lot. No joke, I’ve brought gluten-free pasta salad, pesto chicken, gluten-free dumplings, carrots and dip, and many other delicious snacks on planes with me! I also love to have a piece of chocolate or something sweet, it’s my ultimate comfort food! Dried mangos are also a great snack to much on.
COVID-19 Flying TipI think this advice is extra-crucial in 2020, especially as many airlines are no longer serving meals on certain flights or are limiting food and snacks to minimize interaction and maintain social distance.
Tip 5: Make Friends With the Flight Attendants Or Your Seatmates
This tip is somewhat subjective depending on how you feel about talking to strangers, but I personally have found that making friends with the flight attendants is hugely reassuring to me. At this point, I have no trouble calling a flight attendant over when I’m in my seat and saying very simply “I just wanted to let you know I’m a very nervous flyer and I sometimes get upset during takeoff or turbulence.” More often than not, they will be kind and friendly, offering reassurances and comfort. If you’re uncomfortable diving right into your fears, I used to pause as I was boarding the plane and ask the flight attendant there if they knew how the weather was going to be and if they were predicting a smooth flight. Typically the flight attendant will understand that I’m hinting at a fear of flying and will offer reassurance without me having to explicitly state it.
Depending on where you’re sitting and who is next to you, I find chatting with my seat mates to be an excellent distraction. I will someone let my seat mates know in advance that I am nervous, to help avoid the strange looks and “are you okay?!” whispers later in the flight. Yes, you will run into people who ignore you and are not helpful, but I have been more overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers when I’m panicking than I have been put off by their lack of empathy.
Tip 6: Watch the Flight Attendants and Notice Their Faces
The reason I always pick an aisle seat is because I like to have a clear line of sight to the flight attendants during takeoff and and any turbulence. Although turbulence is not generally a safety concern, turbulence can be scary and my panic usually spikes. I find that watching the flight attendants, and paying attention to how calm they are during the flight is very comforting. I figure, they’re going to be the first ones to notice if something is amiss, right? Yes, it’s a little weird, but I firmly believe you do what you gotta do! When I get a little nervous, I watch the flight attendants and note that they are smiling, laughing, going about their work and remind myself that this is just another normal day at their job.
Tip 7: Try Aromatherapy
I react really well to aromatherapy so I always travel with a little bottle of lavender oil, which is known for its calming and relaxing properties. I rub a little bit on my inner wrists, temples and just between my lips and nose so I can smell it throughout the flight.
COVID-19 Flying TipThis is a brilliant strategy for making wearing a mask more pleasant. Instead of feeling like you’re breathing in your own hot air (Ew, David!) you can enjoy the pleasant and soothing smell of lavender. i shake a few drops of my lavender oil directly onto the inside of my mask!
Tip 8: Close The Windows
My fear of flying goes hand in hand with my fear of heights, so if I am the first to sit down, I usually lean over and close the windows (I always pick an aisle seat). The goal is to distract yourself from where you are and what you’re doing as much as possible so looking out the window is not helpful! Sometimes whoever is in the window seat will open them again, but sometimes not. And if my anxiety is really bad, I have no qualms about asking my seat mates if they mind closing the windows. As mentioned above, most people are pretty understanding. And I don’t want any visual reminders about how high up we are!
Tip 9: Count During Takeoff
Takeoff is the scariest, most unsettling part of a flight for me. I also heard once that the first 8 seconds of takeoff are the most dangerous (no idea if this is really true or not, just giving you the backstory to how and why I started counting!) so during one flight takeoff, I started counting the seconds. Once I reach 8, I remind myself the hardest part was over, but I kept going, telling myself to get to 60 seconds, 120 seconds, and so on. After about the 2 minute mark I start feeling more confident that we’re moving smoothly and safely. It also gives me something to concentrate on as a distraction. Counting has been one of the most helpful strategies I use during what I find to be the scariest part of a flight.
Tip 10: Deep, Slow Breathing
It can be hard to control, but breathing is the best way to calm anxiety. Inhale through your nose for a count of four, pause, and exhale through your mouth for a count of six. Keep those deep belly breathes going any time you need to calm your nerves.
COVID-19 tip: When wearing a mask I find breathing through my nose more pleasant, so try to inhale and exhale through your nose in long, slow breaths.
Tip 11: Think of Someone Who Comforts You
I am not generally a religious person or typically prone to prayer, but I was very close to my grandfather before he passed (I still miss him to this day and think about him all the time). He used to have a saying he’d tell my mom and grandmother, when they would fly, that “the pilot wants to get there just as much as you do!” which always makes me smile to think of it. My secret ritual is saying a quick prayer to my grandfather, asking him to please watch over me and get me to my destination safely. This isn’t for everyone, but it helps me. Thinking of someone you love looking out for you, and holding them in your mind, can be a great comfort.
Tip 12: Medicate If You Need It
You don’t have to get through this without help! There is nothing wrong with talking to your doctor about medication that might help you get through your flight and taking it if you need to. I personally take Valium for longer flights and it’s been a game-changer in terms of my ability to cope and how the anxiety affects me. Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, this should not be considered medical advice and you should only take medicine under the supervision of your doctor!
Tip 13: Hold Something
Well, this is slightly mortifying to admit, but I used to hold a teddy bear during flights. I would hide it in my hoodie because I was embarrassed, but for a long time it was the only thing that gave me comfort. Using the above tips, I’ve been able to let go of that ritual, but I’ve replaced it with holding two pieces of tissue paper in my right hand. Why tissue paper and why my right hand, I couldn’t really tell you, but what I do know is that having a ritual or something that I repeat on each flight helps me retain a sense of control (however imagined). Now, of course, when traveling with JB, I also hold his hand and try not to break any fingers 😛
Tip 14: Educate Yourself
Knowledge is power, right? And I don’t mean the aforementioned statistics, I mean take a little time to understand how planes work and what you’re experiencing. My panic used to spike every time I heard the grinding sound that meant the landing gears were coming down, until I understood what the sound was, that it was normal and actually a very good sign!
Here are a few books that come highly recommended to help overcome a fear of flying. I personally have this book and found it very helpful:
Bonus Tip #15: Bring Wipes and Wipe Everything Down Before You Sit Down
I’m a bit of a germophobe, so I have actually always brought a packet of Wet Ones on flights with me, and before I sit down I take out a few wipes and wipe down everything. I mean everything. Both arm rests, tray table, screen, seat belt buckles, window shutter, air vents and call buttons, you name it, I am sanitizing it. This is extra important during COVID-19, in my opinion, so don’t skip this step!
What are some of your tips to get over fear of flying? I would love to know what you think or if you’ve tried any of the above! Leave a message in the comments!