How to deal with flying anxiety

Written by Maria Aardal

August 8, 2019

Flying terrifies me. Flying is for me the one part of traveling that I really, truly hate. I do however fly quite a lot, pretty ironic right? I cannot explain what it is like to fly when you are so scared of it, but those of you who know the feeling understand. Pretty much every time I fly I cry, a lot! I cry before my flight, when I board, during my flight, so yeah, not the best time for me. My hands shake, I sweat, my legs tingle, my fingers go numb and I just feel really horrible. BUT! I do still fly. I have found some ways that I personally cope with my flying anxiety that works, to some degree.

These tricks do not cure me. They make it possible for me to get on a plane and fly, which is enough for me right now. I have come to terms (ish) that I will always be scared, but I am determined not to let it stop me, and I work hard every flight to make it better.

These are tips and tricks that work for me personally. They might not work for you, but they are worth a try.

Learn about planes

For me, one of the scariest parts of flying is not being in control. I would prefer to fly the plane myself if I could. One thing that has really helped me with this is to learn about planes. This helps me both in rationalizing that it really is safe (which I know it is, my body just does not care that I know), and it helps to know what is going on.

I personally get really freaked out when the plane makes a weird noise (by that I mean just a completely normal noise that I find weird). When I have learned more about planes I have learned what some of these noises are. I try to calm myself down by knowing that it is nothing weird. Now I know that the sound of the wheels going in is normal. I know that the weird feeling is just the plane hitting maximum height and flattening out and so on.

To me it does not help to just hear “but planes are so much safer than cars”, I know that, I have heard that. It does not make me less scared of flying, just more scared to drive a car. I find it way more useful to learn more detailed information about planes. I also make sure that when I do learn stuff about planes I actively avoid articles about plane crashes and things not working. Reading those might teach me about what would happen in such an event, but for me, that would be more triggering than helpful. I personally do not google about flying because I am too scared to find things I do not want to know. I try to get my information from flight attendances, pilots and so on.

Take a course

There are plenty of courses out there for people who suffer from flight anxiety. I took one at home in Norway. The course I took had a pilot come talk to us, explain general things about planes and flying as well as answering our questions. For me, this was a great way to learn about planes without having to google. We also learned techniques for coping when the anxiety hits you. It did not cure me, but I am very happy that I did it. Some courses also offer a flight in their program, where you can try the techniques and get help as you go. I highly recommend this if you have the opportunity.

Talk to the crew

This is my number one tip. It has helped me so, so much. What I do is that when I board the plane, I step to the side where the flight attendant is. I usually ask if they know if there is going to be a lot of turbulence. I find it hard to just say straight out that I am terrified, but they usually understand that when I ask about turbulence. Also, I am very often crying at this point (especially if I am flying by myself) which does kind of help in a way since they easily understand that I am scared.

Almost all the flight attendances I have talked to have been so extremely kind and helpful. They often ask what I feel like I need, and my preference is that they come and check up on me during the flight. Sometimes they offer up a seat closer to the front because you can feel less turbulence there. I have also been able to sit with them while they prepare food on a few occasions.

To me talking to them is very comforting. Both because I just have someone to talk to and they can explain what the weird noises are and because they can tell me “I would not be here if it was dangerous”. I can also pay attention to their body language. As long as they look happy and calm I can try to convince myself that everything is okay.

I know it can be scary to talk to them, and that many people are embarrassed about being scared. But it will make you feel so much better, and there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. Flight attendances have had a lot of training in how to help people with flying anxiety. If you dare to ask for help, you will get it.

My personal experiences with flight attendances

Throughout the years, I have had some extremely amazing interactions with flight attendances. I wish I knew all their names and could thank them in person.

The best experience I had was flying to and from Houston from Bergen with KLM. On my flight from Bergen to Amsterdam, I was crying so much, and I was not sure I would get on the plane. The kindest flight attendance calmed me down and I got to sit in the first row. Then I got to move to the front with them after take off. She talked to me, calmed me and every time there was some turbulence or I got scared, she sat with me and explained everything. She even gave me a tiny figure of a flight attendant, and told me to bring it when I fly and that she would always be with me.

When I flew back from Houston to Amsterdam the flight attendants that I talked to were so caring and helpful. They came back to my seat when there was turbulence and checked on me because they knew I was scared. When we were landing they came with a small gift for me and a card that said that I was brave for flying and that they were proud of me for facing my fears. That really meant so much to me.

Something to distract yourself

This is one trick that I know helps, but I myself is bad at following. I get really scared about losing control and I, therefore, find it very hard to distract myself because I feel like I need to pay attention to everything happening. Recently I have kind of figured out something that helps me with t his, and that is coloring books. For me, they keep me just the right amount of distracted. They do not distract me so much that I get anxious from getting distracted like movies, music and audiobooks do for me.

It is very individual what activity works for you. You just have to figure out what works. Some people love sound canceling earphones and loud music, while for some, like me, that just makes it worse. Something will work for you, but it can be demotivating to try multiple things and nothing works. Try to think about what it is that makes you most anxious and find something that helps there. For me, the coloring books help during turbulence because I think “I will finish coloring this piece and then I can hold on to the handles and be scared”. More often than not, the turbulence is over by the time I finish.

Some ideas for things to keep you occupied and distracted are movies, tv-shows, audiobooks, music, card games (solitaire), games on your phone, books, drawing, coloring, …

Sleep, food, and water

This one I have to admit that I am still quite bad at following. When I have a flight the next day do not eat that much because I am stressing out, and I am generally just not that great at hydrating myself. However, I am trying to get better, especially eating enough and drinking enough water before flying.

As we know flying anxiety does not just affect the mind, but it also affects the body too, a lot! While we often focus on our mindset, we forget to make sure our body is okay. We shake, cry, sweat and tens all our muscles. Flying when you are this scared is really quite a workout. Therefore you need to make sure you do everything you can for your body too. This means plenty of nutrients and water. You should eat a large, healthy meal before flying so that your body is well equipped to handle the anxiety.

When it comes to sleep people handle it very differently. Some prefer a good night’s sleep so that they are awake, energized and ready for the flight. While others prefer to stay awake so that they can sleep on the plane. For this, you kind of have to try it out and figure out what works for you. Personally I have not yet figured this one completely out. For me, it is a very fine line. When I sleep too much, I am too energized and not able to relax. When I sleep too little I get anxious and very stressed out because my body does not cooperate.

Flying with someone with flying anxiety

If someone you know or someone you are flying with is dealing with flying anxiety, it can be hard to know what to do. It can be uncomfortable because you do not know how to handle the situation and hard because you want to help, but you feel helpless. Honestly, communication is the key here. Just ask the person what they need, and what you can do. Chances are they will really appreciate it. I personally like it when people talk to me. It helps me stay distracted to hold a conversation. This is just me though, some people prefer to stay quiet and just listen to music or something.

If you see someone who is scared and you feel comfortable enough, just ask them if they want to talk or if you can help. I have experienced this quite a few times, and I always really appreciate it. Whether it is a whole conversation, a hand to hold, a friendly smile or just a reassuring “its normal”. I have met so many kind people this way. If you spot someone who is scared you should not be afraid to say hello. However I never expect anyone to do it, this is important. I appreciate it when it happens, but I never ever expect it. It is up to each person what they are comfortable with socially.

Pinpoint what it is you are scared of

Finding out exactly what it is that you are scared of can really be a great tool. This can help you with finding out what can help you. It can help both with learning about the thing you are scared of and figuring out what teqniques can help you. Say you are most scared of landing, you could talk to the flight attendances and get them to explain that exact part for you. It can also help you find the tools you need to handle the flying anxiety. If you know that you are mostly just scared during the landing, you can mentally and physically prepare for the anxiety before it hits, in whatever way you find helpful.

Talk to you doctor

This is a point that many do not think about as an option. A lot of people feel that being scared is something that they need to deal with by themselves. I have certainly felt that “everyone else can just fly, I should be able to do that too”, but you should try to change your mindset. It is not your fault that you are scared, and in most cases, it is not something you can just fix by yourself.

Talking to your doctor is usually about two different options. It is either for medication or for a referral to therapy. Both are great and valid options, and you need to figure out what is right for just you. I have personally never tried the medication option. I have however tried therapy for it, which I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.

Flying anxiety is very individual

A lot of these tips and tricks help me when I fly, however they might not work for you. As much as it sucks, you just need to keep trying, and eventually, you will find something that helps you. Never stop trying and never give up. No matter how you deal with flying anxiety know that you are brave, your anxiety is valid and you are not alone.

Do you ever experience flying anxiety?

Welcome!

I am Maria, a 20 year old student. I am here to show you that traveling is possible for everyone, including you. I belive that traveling can be done in a lot of different ways and that you never have to limit.

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