How to Cope with Travel if You’re a Nervous Flier

Bennett Collins

Nervous flyers of the world, I get you, because I am one of you. Flying is one of my least favorite things. Another of my least favorite things is that person who isn’t scared of flying listing off why no one should be afraid of flying. The fear of flying, like many other phobias, is not something rational. Listing off statistics about the safety of flying over driving, or telling me to look at the flight attendants’ faces during the flight is just unhelpful. Why? Because, at the end of the day, the mind will create irrational scenarios that make the flight ahead the chosen and doomed one, leaving those of us with a fear of flying feeling panicked. 

So, my nervous fliers, what do we do? 

We have to take our respective worries into our own hands and combat those fears with attention and self-care. These are approaches that help me in making the flying experience more comfortable and as worry free as possible.

Tips for Nervous Fliers: Get Organized

Sometimes the best thing to do, if you have anxiety about flying, is to be as organized as you can be in the lead up to a flight. If you’re like me, panic attacks can come at anytime and can be debilitating. The aftermath often leaves me feeling like I can’t focus on much else other than the task at hand. This means paying attention to the basics, like making sure you get yourself to the airport with enough time for unexpected emergencies, dressing for comfort, making sure any medications are packed in your daypack, and ensuring that all you need to worry about is staying calm and collected.

Combat Fear of Flying With Facts

Knowledge empowers. I don’t want to hear it from my seat mate, but, for me, reading about how much training you need to become a pilot and the number of regulations that apply to flying a plane helps calm my fears the most. More than this, understanding what happens during turbulence and where turbulence is most likely to happen, also helped calm my fears.

For people who have trouble during taking off and landing, it can be super useful to learn which noises and movements to expect during those times. Ultimately, research can be a great tool to help mitigate stress-induced reactions to your own imagination.

Tips for Nervous Fliers: Download an App

There are plenty of apps out there to help with meditation and flying jitters. Remember  that not everyone has the same fears when it comes to flying. Some have trouble with take-off  or landing, some really aren’t great with the time leading up to a flight, some hate being in the air, and some hate every second of the trip.

Tailor your app search to the specific fears you have and the times during the flight where you need distraction and intervention the most.

Here are a couple I like:

SkyGuru

SkyGuru is the new travel app that many are raving about. At $9.99, for an app, it’s kind of expensive, but if it eases your fears, that’s money well spent.

At least 24 hours before you fly, enter in your route details and the app will give you the same information the pilots receive on the air conditions, and it predicts when turbulence will happen ahead of time.

Am I going down?

This wonderfully named app only costs $2.99 and helps flyers who find statistics comforting by focusing on the low likelihood of their plane experiencing any sort of the problem. The app takes into consideration the airplane model, the airline safety record, and the route before calculating the (very likely low) chances of your plane ‘going down’.

Medication and Alcohol for Nervous Fliers

While I’m aware that ‘substance therapy’ for flying isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it can be quite an effective way of getting A to B sans thoughts about death and with less worry about whether you said your final goodbyes to your family. Many people use medication, prescribed or self-directed, to lessen their fear of flying, but there are some very real considerations to think through before you pop a pill.

Alcohol

There is nothing wrong with getting a little tipsy during a long haul flight if it helps calm you down and get some sleep. Alcohol is not, however, a panacea for all your flying anxieties, and it can actually intensify anxiety. You know yourself best and for some (including yours truly,) a couple beers, or mini-bottles of wine, help take the edge off a little bit.

It is important to note, given that cabins are pressurized to 6,000-8,000 feet, that your body is absorbing less oxygen and as a result, you’re going to feel the effect of that drink more intensely than you do on the ground. Take that into consideration and watch your intake to avoid getting drunk and adding to your travel woes.

Sleep Meds and Anti-Anxiety Meds

Like alcohol, sleep meds are not a one-size-fits-all remedy for the fear of flying. Always consult your doctor before popping any pills. If they approve, sleeping medications can be a pretty fantastic way to just check out of the nightmare experience of flying.

Whether it’s Ambien, Tylenol pm, or Melatonin, you should know how your body reacts to what you’re taking (before you fly!) so you’re not replacing one anxiety with another. In the same vein, anti-anxiety medications like Valium or Klonopin can be really helpful in skipping over the fun rollercoaster ride of mid-flight panic attacks.

With any medication, do your research, talk to your doctor, and resist the temptation to take more than prescribed. Substance use simply counteracts the effects of phobias and not the phobias themselves.

Self-Care for Nervous Fliers

Perhaps my favorite form of therapy before a flight is self care. If you’re nervous about flying, to quote Parks and Rec, “Treat yourself!” 

Don’t be afraid to drop an extra dollar or two on something that will keep you relaxed and your mind occupied. Whether that is splurging on a business class seat, a new travel pillow that is bound to help you fall asleep fast,  or downloading a movie on your computer or iPad ahead of time so that you’re not confined to inflight entertainment. Little things can help a lot. Consider checking yourself into a lounge so that you can get some rest as you begin your trip or on that long layover. Remember that your stress levels can be moderated by a little investment into your own comfort.

TL:DR

  • Organize yourself ahead of your flight: Free up your headspace to deal with your flying anxieties and not add more stress
  • Educate yourself: Knowing the facts can empower you in what can be a very disempowering experience
  • Download an app: Like SkyGuru and Am I Going Down?  to help distract and calm flying anxieties
  • Medication or a drink before you fly: Can help mitigate the effects of anxiety; always talk to your Dr. before taking any medication, and remember that the effects of alcohol are magnified at altitude
  • Treat yourself: Making flight days special days might lessen your anxiety

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