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Does your fear of flying hold you back from traveling? You aren’t alone!

I am a self-professed travel addict and I’m always looking forward to my next world adventure! The travel bug bit me at a young age as my parents were avid travelers and took me everywhere. I suspect that being introduced to international travel at such a young age is what ignited my passion for traveling.

Exploring the world means you have to take a plane!

As a child, I loved everything about flying. Being on an airplane was exhilarating and I enjoyed take-off, landing and everything in between. In fact, for many years my dream was to become a flight attendant!

As I reached my early twenties, I found some new baggage coming along with me. I began noticing that I was scared to fly! Before every trip, I would spend days with anxiety –  worrying about getting on the plane, how long the flight would be and if there would be turbulence.

Being scared of flying is not fun. 

The fear of flying took me by surprise, especially because I didn’t mind airline travel before. The jitters would hit me before and on every flight. Nervous stomach, dry mouth, shortness of breath, gripping the seat arms at every bump and shake of the plane. There were times that I had full blown panic attacks, especially during times of heavy turbulence. Every flight I took I would vow not to fly again for a long time. I stopped traveling for about five years because I was so scared to fly. 

It was so hard to stop traveling because seeing the world is something I love to do. I craved adventure and decided it was time to get over my irrational fears.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 6.5 percent of the U.S. population has aviophobia (a fear of flying), and roughly 25 percent experience some sort of flying-related anxiety.

Overcoming fear of flying is not simple, but it definitely can be done! 

Right here is where I’d like to say that getting over being scared to fly is easy – but it’s not. It takes time, determination and a combination of tactics to find what works.

For me, it took about fifteen years of traveling on many short and long-haul flights. Some were easy; some set me back. I stayed determined to not let my fear of flying hold me back from exploring this beautiful world. I have found some relief for travel anxiety and fear of flying thanks to many great fear of flying blogs, websites, podcasts, therapy and great support system of family and friends!

Here are some things you can do to stop the fear of flying.

For me, it took a combination of all of these things that really helped me get over being scared to fly. 

1.    Learn about fear of flying and travel anxiety.

I Googled ‘Travel Anxiety’ and ‘Overcome Fear of Flying’ and came across a number of great articles, books and websites that were a huge help. It made me realize that I’m not isolated in my fear, and there are ways to overcome it!

One website that I really enjoyed was SOAR: Fear of Flying I also downloaded the SOAR app on my phone which you can use before and during flight. It was really interesting to use and helped me understand what is going on during the flight. You can get the app here. Or you can try reading a fear of flying book which can give you lots of great advice to heal your anxiety about flying.

2.    Learn about the mechanics of flight and how planes work.

I did a lot of reading about the mechanics of a plane as well as sounds and anatomy of flight. You can find many great websites by simply Googling ‘how planes fly’ or ‘what goes on during flight’. Learning more about what normal airplane noises are will help ease your nerves too!

3.    Take anti-anxiety meds before flying.

If your anxiety is really getting out of control, or you are having panic attacks, talk to your doctor about flight anxiety medication such as Ativan or Xanax. Fear of flying medications can really help, and there may be other options that can take the edge off or even allow you to grab some sleep too!

4.    Manage stress and anxiety in other areas of your life.

I find that if I’m overstressed prior to traveling, it makes my flight anxiety a lot worse. Learning to manage your baseline stress levels in day-to-day living is an important factor of overcoming travel fears. A great way to manage stress is through meditation, yoga and daily exercise.

5.    Distract yourself during flight.

I’ve heard the advice to read a book or do a puzzle on the plane, but for me, this is not enough to distract me from my travel anxiety. Personally, I find that technology is very consuming, so I use this as an advantage when I’m on a plane. Loading up my tablet or smartphone with games, movies and puzzles and playing or watching them when I’m on the plane kills a lot of time and distracts my brain enough that I stay calm and relaxed. I enjoy playing solitaire, boggle, scrabble or checkers on my phone.

6.    Listen to music when flying.

Make a few playlists of your favorite songs and pop in your headphones. You’ll be surprised at how music can really uplift your mood! I enjoy making playlists with my favorite music in different genres, so I have a variety to choose from. From classical music to old school rap, listening to good music on the plane is a great way to stay calm.

7.    Bring work to do on the plane.

Yes, you may be going on vacation to get away from the demands of work, but working while flying is a great attention diverter. I usually bring my laptop on the plane and work on some projects. I find that time goes very quickly and my mind is so busy concentrating on what I’m working on that I forget about my fears.

8.    Exercise. Before, during and after the flight too!

If you feel your anxiety acting up, go for a power walk, do a few sets of stairs, ride your bike or anything that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. If you’re in the airport and feeling tense, take a power walk or go find some stairs to run up and down. You’ll feel that hit of stress-busting hormones and will start to feel calmer in minutes.

Exercise is an excellent way to manage anxiety in general. By having a regular exercise regime, you will reduce cortisol which is a stress inducing hormone. Regular exercise will make defeating your fear of flying and travel anxiety a much easier task to accomplish.

9.   Get up and walk around during the flight.

It’s important to periodically get up and walk around on the plane. If it’s safe to do so, go for a walk up and down the aisles or even visit the bathroom to freshen up. You will distract your brain from hooking into negative thought patterns.

10. Eat something before flying!

I used to starve myself prior and during flight because my stomach was so nervous, and I feared that I would throw up from the nerves. I do find that eating something healthy prior and during the flight makes me feel a lot better and less jittery from having low blood sugar which can add to the feeling of anxiety.

Here is one thing I know for sure – travel anxiety and fear of flying doesn’t go away overnight. It takes work and consistency. I urge you to celebrate milestones no matter how small they are. Don’t stop trying – in psychology it’s coined as ‘Exposure Therapy’ meaning facing your fears in a gradual and consistent manner is the most effective way to overcome them. Everyone has a little bit of travel anxiety in one form or another, it’s learning how to manage it so you can continue to see the world and grow richer in experience!

Here are some other great psychology resources on Psychology Today that will help you get started on understanding your fears.

Has this article helped you? I’d love to hear about your experience with fear of flying and travel anxiety! Or if you have any tips that helped you, please let me know in the comments below.

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