How to Calm Your Flight Anxiety Before You Get on the Plane4 min read

Do you feel a sense of dread when you think about being in the sky? You’re not alone! According to the Washington Post, about 40% of the general population reports some fear of flying. 

As an anxious flier myself, I’ve heard versions of the statistic “you are far more likely to die in your car than get into a plane crash” from many well-meaning people. I know it should make me feel better, that my anxiety doesn’t make logical sense. But it doesn’t work for me. Usually, it points my anxiety toward all the ways I could die in my car. 

That’s the problem with anxiety: it isn’t logical. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Most ‘flight phobics’ agree that flying is safe, yet frightening. They have a hard time reconciling their fear with safety statistics.”

So if reason doesn’t work, what does? Sometimes the best thing you can do is make like a Girl Scout and prepare. Here are some steps you can take to confront your dread and plan for your flight while you are still on the ground: 

Identify and plan around your triggers. 

Think about what triggers your flight anxiety. Being on a plane–yes, obviously, but get more specific. Does your fear stem from feeling confined? Does it start in the airport, or when you board the plane itself? Does it spike during takeoffs, landings or turbulence? 

If you know what your triggers are, you can plan around them. If feeling confined triggers your anxiety, you can switch to an aisle seat when you check in or, if you can, upgrade to Economy plus to get some additional space. If turbulence stresses you out, take a few moments to learn more about it, or decide ahead of time what you will do if the plane shakes or drops. Could you do some deep breathing, squeeze something or repeat a calming mantra in your mind? 

Practice one calming technique ahead of your trip. 

Visualization and breathing exercises are not always easy to access in a stressful environment, but you’ll have a better shot of succeeding if you’ve tried the exercise before. While you are still at home, take five minutes to choose an exercise that works for you and practice. Try a simple body scan or search YouTube for a guided visualization that you can listen to. 

Pack a self-care kit for your carry-on. 

Packing for vacation can feel like a monumental task, so we don’t always build in extra time to pack specifically for the flight. But 20 extra minutes of packing can make the difference between a stressful travel experience and one that feels smooth and full. 

What should you put in your self-care pack? It depends on what soothes you. Maybe it helps to have a fidget toy or something to keep your hands busy. Maybe you need some physical distractions, like books or games. Pack earplugs if plane noise bothers you, or a soft face mask and blanket if you know you will be able to sleep. These are small comforts, but they can add up to a sense of preparedness that can help offset the feeling that you’re not in control.  

Make (and download) a playlist. 

Are you prepared for airplane mode? When you have nothing to do, stressful thought loops can start. If distraction helps cut through your anxiety, make sure you have downloaded enough content for the number of hours you will be in the air, and then some. If you can’t watch a movie in the air, try finding soothing music, or build a playlist of songs that make you feel happy and calm. 

And don’t forget to pack your headphones!

Eat and drink for mental wellness before you board. 

Now is not the time to try a new curry burrito fusion dish. You can eat as adventurously as you’d like when you reach your destination, but before your flight, choose your meals and beverages a little more carefully. 

On the morning of your trip, eat with the goal of nourishing your brain and making your body feel comfortable. Don’t let yourself get on the plane hungry. If you have the ability to eat a full meal with protein and carbs before flying, take that opportunity. Avoid excessive sugar, caffeine or anything that would make you feel jittery. Flights can be dehydrating, so drinking water is your best option. 

All of these tips may seem simple, but the truth is there is no instant cure for flight anxiety. The best thing you can do is acknowledge that it’s something you struggle with and take the time to take care of yourself, so when you land, you are ready for a new adventure.


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