7 Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Flying

Health Writer
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About 6.5 percent of people in the United States have a phobia, or fear, of traveling on an airplane, called aviophobia or aerophobia. Other experts place this number much higher, saying that up to one-fourth of all people worry about traveling in an airplane. As with all phobias, there are degrees of associated fear.

Determine what frightens you

Some people may dread the turbulence, the take-off or the landing. To effectively manage your fears, you first must know what frightens you. Martin N. Seif, Ph.D. states, “most people who fear flying are claustrophobic or frightened of being locked in the plane and unable to choose when to get off...More than 90 percent of flight phobics fear they will become overwhelmed with anxiety during the flight.” 

Learn what to expect

Suppose you dread the turbulence. This is a result of flying through different levels of air pressure. It feels like the plane shakes and jumps. Turbulence does not cause a plane to crash. If you are worried about taking off or landing, spend time watching planes take off and land. When you are sitting in the plane imagine it as an observer.

Use anxiety reducing strategies

Simple meditation and deep breathing can work wonders on anxiety. Start practicing these several weeks before your flight. When you start to feel anxious, you can immediately switch your breathing or close your eyes and meditate or visualize a peaceful scene for a few minutes to help you relax. You might also want to make sure you get a good night’s sleep before your flight, eat well and avoid caffeine. 

Talk to the flight attendants

Let them know you have a fear of flying. Chances are they have learned various strategies to help people overcome their fears. They might check up on you several times during the flight to make sure you are okay. Don’t be embarrassed and try to hide your anxiety or pretend you aren’t nervous. Let the people around you provide the support you need. 

Consider taking a class

Some airports provide classes that will get you accustomed to flying and walk you through what to expect and how to deal with your anxiety. Some might provide simulators to help you go through a flight and some might have a short flight as the last lesson. While exposure therapy is usually effective in dealing with phobias, it is expensive to fly often enough to overcome your fear, so a class can help. 

Use mindfulness

Take in the sights, sounds, smells all around you. Pay attention to how your body reacts to turbulence (it is much better to go with the turbulence than to tense up and fight it). Focus on your breathing. When you practice mindfulness, you live in the present moment rather than worrying about the future.

Bring along distractions

Use the activities that normally relax you to do so during the flight. Bring along a book, crossword puzzles, a book of sudoku puzzles, knitting, music and earphones. Having items that help you relax with you will help keep you calm during the flight and keep your mind of all the possible disasters you have been worried about. 

The takeaway

Unfortunately, many people with a fear of flying simply avoid flying. They avoid visiting relatives who live far away. They don’t accept jobs that will require air travel. But avoidance keeps anxiety alive because it reminds you that there is something to fear. Facing your fears, in steps, works best in helping you gain control of your life.