If the idea of stepping onto a plane puts you on edge, you’re not the only one. Flying is the second most common phobia in the US, behind only public speaking. In fact, around 25 percent of people experience some form of flying anxiety.
In other words, though it may seem like everyone else on your flight is fine while you’re running through disaster scenarios in your head, it can be comforting to know that one in four of the people around you are feeling nervous - just like you. Feeling anxious about flying is natural – and it can be managed, or even overcome. The key is to find the strategies that help you to feel calm and in control.
Choose your seat to minimise nerves
Does sitting in a particular seat (such as being right by the window) heighten your anxiety? If so, prepare beforehand by selecting an alternative seat. You may even like to choose an exit row seat to help you feel safer.
Know what to expect
A big part of anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Researching how planes work and what to expect on a flight can therefore be incredibly helpful in helping to manage anxiety. If you know what a certain noise means and that a bump as the landing gear comes down is normal, for example, then you can nip those ‘what if’ worries in the bud.
Similarly, it can help to know exactly what conditions to expect for your specific flight. An app called SOAR In-flight is designed for this exact purpose. It lets users know the expected turbulence on the flight and warns them when it will occur. It also talks users through each stage of the flight process, from waiting at the airport to landing. Basically, it’s the perfect little guide to help you feel more prepared and in control.
Get to the airport early
If you’re an anxious flyer, the last thing you need is to start your flight off panicked and stressed. Plan to get to the airport early so you can relax before your flight. While you’re waiting to board, order some soothing herbal tea and do something focused and calming like reading a book or magazine.
"It's better to look back on life and say, 'I can't believe I did that,' than to look back and say, 'I wish I did that.'"
Avoid coffee and alcohol
Though it might be tempting to order a coffee or a wine while you wait, these are best avoided, as they both can lead to dehydration during the flight. Moreover, coffee can amplify the symptoms of anxiety (e.g. racing heart and restlessness), while the side effects of alcohol can make it harder for your body to adjust to flying.
Pay attention to the safety information
This may seem counter-intuitive when you’re trying to avoid thoughts of disaster, but again, it comes back to the notion of control. Feeling like you know exactly what to do in the (very unlikely) event of an emergency can be reassuring. Listen carefully to the onboard safety information and read the safety card to help you feel like you have a clear procedure and plan in place. It can even be useful to watch a safety demonstration video at home beforehand, so you feel extra-prepared and don’t need to worry about memorising procedures when onboard.
When you’re having a bad day, what’s the best thing for you to do to take your mind off things? For some it’s reading a book, for others it’s watching a TV show or listening to a podcast. Even for short flights, it helps to have something to do to distract yourself. You might even like to chat to the person next to you. Just do whatever works to help move your mind away from anxious thoughts.
Use relaxation techniques
If you’re finding it hard to calm your thoughts during the flight, you may find it useful to try some relaxation techniques. Consciously taking long, deep breaths, for example, is one technique that’s suggested by experts to help people relax.
Another option is to download some meditation tracks or music that you typically associate with relaxation. Soundproof headphones are ideal here, as they can block out the noise of the plane and allow you to fully immerse yourself in the soundtrack.
Reassure yourself with the facts
Sometimes, with high profile coverage of plane crashes, it can be easy to forget just how safe aircraft actually are. So here are some statistics: the likelihood of you dying in a plane crash is about 1 in 11 million. Probability-wise, you’re safer on a plane than any other mode of transportation, including taking the car or even walking the streets.
Telling yourself these facts before a flight can help put your fears into perspective. Repeating affirmations such as ‘I am safe’ and ‘I am in good hands’ throughout the flight can also help. Remember, despite your body and mind telling you otherwise, flying really is very safe!
Here's to the places you'll go!