Overcoming Fear of Flying

Christine Gutierrez
Woman in a field

If you are afraid of flying, you are not alone. ABC News notes some estimates indicate up to 25 percent of Americans have some form of anxiety related to flying. The National Institute of Mental Health says this fear affects 6.5 percent of the population, or 20 million people.

Fear of Flying

This fear is also known as aviophobia or aerophobia. As with all phobias, there is an intense feeling of fear and being overwhelmed. Fortunately, there is help to reduce these uncomfortable feelings. Once you have some tools in your back pocket, you will be on your road to recovery.

Six Techniques for Alleviating Fear of Flying

Below are six techniques to help alleviate your fears.

Technique #1: Observe Your Triggers

Before flying, notice how your body feels. The more you can get in tune with the triggers you physiologically feel in your body before the flight, the more you will be able to distinguish between an actual threatening situation and your anxiety.

Likewise, notice how you feel mentally. Write your observations before boarding or while planning your trip. Much anxiety associated with flying comes from anticipating the flight.

  • Get a journal or write in the notes section of your iPhone.
  • Write the feelings you notice in your body. Example: " I am feeling tight in my chest, and my heart is pounding."
  • After each feeling you write, take a moment or two to scan your body.

According to an article on Everyday Health, research shows people who express emotions through writing experience reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety compared to a control group.

Technique #2: Challenge the Fearful Thoughts

You don't have to believe every fearful thought that comes your way. In an interview, Terri Cole, a psychotherapist and life coach, recommends people afraid of flying, "Challenge the fearful thoughts that come in by questioning them."

Terri explains, "It is key to be curious with the thoughts as they come in."

Cole calls these fearful thoughts "the mafia mind." According to Cole, these thoughts are, "Bullies that try to hijack your mind and convince you that you are in danger." However, unless you are being chased by a bear or are in real jeopardy, those fearful thoughts are not responding to actual danger.

When the fearful thoughts arise, respond by saying, "I know you are feeling scared. It's okay to feel afraid. It is actually safer to fly than to drive. You are safe and you will be okay." This mantra is one you can use on the spot as the fear comes. Cole reports, "It takes less than a minute to do and can be used as an encouraging positive affirmation whenever needed, as many times as needed."

Technique #3: Use Relaxation Hacks

Meditation and mindfulness techniques receive quite the buzz for good reason. Recent research shows study after study that supports the correlation between meditation and a reduction in stress and anxiety. A recent article on Havard Health Publications states mindfulness meditation has the ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. The study found statistically relevant data that supports meditation for reducing anxiety.

Conscious breathing is an effective form of meditation. Try some breathing techniques before and during your flight to minimize anxiety. The alternate nostril breathing technique, outlined below, is a good starting exercise. As a beginner, you can do this exercise for one to five minutes. Before you begin, make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position.

  1. Use your thumb to close your right nostril.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply (but gently) through your left nostril.
  3. Close your left nostril with your ring finger and remove your thumb from your right nostril.
  4. Breathe out slowly through your right nostril.
  5. Inhale slowly through your right nostril.
  6. Next, use your thumb to close your right nostril again while removing your ring finger from your left nostril.
  7. Exhale slowly and gently through your left nostril.
  8. Begin at step one again by inhaling through your left nostril, completing five to ten cycles or stopping when you feel more relaxed.

Technique #4: Always Be Prepared

Therapist Terri Cole recommends you prep before you go. Much flying anxiety occurs days before the actual flight. The key is to reduce anxiety from the moment it comes until it leaves. Cole recommends you gain control by preparing before the flight. Here are her easy and quick tips:

  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine increases stress in the body, and the more you can reduce stress, the better it is for your nervous system.
  • Drink a soothing and relaxing herbal tea, such as chamomile.
  • Work out to boost endorphins and reduce stress hormones.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Bring distractions for the plane, such as books, magazines, a stress release ball, etc.
  • Travel light so you can go through security with more ease.
  • Pay extra to skip the line at the airport (some airlines offer this option) or do TSA pre-check so you can board more quickly.

Technique #5: Engage Support

You do not need to suffer in silence. Captain Timothy J. Griffin, founder of Fly Home, suggests, "Introduce yourself to the flight attendants and ask to meet the pilots before taking your seat. It's always reassuring for you to know that someone is aware of how you feel, and they will check on you throughout the flight. Meeting the pilots allows you to place a face behind the voice that you hear throughout the flight."

In addition, one trick that works well with all anxiety and panic attacks is to tell someone you trust about your anxiety. This allows you to get extra support and empathy from those around you. If you can, travel with someone and have them support you by reminding you to breathe, holding your hand, or just being there for emotional support.

Technique #6: Consider Therapy

If you find yourself trying all of these tips and still suffering an increased level of anxiety, then it might be a good idea to get professional support from a trained therapist with expertise in anxiety and flying phobias. Psychology Today is a great resource for finding therapists in your area. Some other resources that tackle reducing your fear of flying include:

  • Freedom to Fly: Courses offered by a psychologist to help you overcome fear of flying
  • SOAR Course: Online courses and counseling to overcome fears associated with flying

Overcoming Your Fears

These relaxation tools and therapeutic techniques are available for you on this journey to overcome your fear of flying. In addition, working with a trained therapist is a wonderful way to support you as you navigate this journey. Try the tips above, be gentle with yourself, and know that handling this fear, although daunting, is going to be worth it.

Overcoming Fear of Flying