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I just wrote a post on overcoming fear. Writing that piece, I thought about the things people are afraid of. While fears and phobias come in many shapes and forms, one that is common among many people is the fear of flying.
We all know people who refuse to fly. That intense fear literally keeps them on the ground and prevents them from exploring far off countries. A greater number of people experience mild to strong anxiety when it’s time to board that plane. They look forward to arriving at their destination. Excitement propels them to board when it’s time to depart. However, the fears are real.
I used to experience fear when flying, even though I love how quickly I arrive across country or over the ocean to a far away land. Thankfully, I’ve overcome that fear. You can too. If you develop sweaty palms, jittery nerves and a sense of dread while on a plane, check out these tips to combat flight anxiety.
Tips to Combat Flying Anxiety
First of all, if you struggle with a fear of flying, know you aren’t alone. In fact, 25 million people experience some sort of flight anxiety, making aerophobia (fear of flying) the second biggest fear in the US, right after speaking in public.
If you or someone you knows feels dread over boarding a plane, try one or all of these tips, to restore calm and perhaps actually enjoy the flight.
Visualize a Smooth Trip
I love visualization. The imagination is a powerful tool. It helps us overcome problems…or it contributes to them. If you are going to visualize something happening on your upcoming flight, imagine good things happening rather than bad things.
Instead of playing a movie in your mind of the plane crashing or that you’ll feel sick because of extreme turbulence, create a positive sequence that begins with you leaving for the airport and ends with your arrival at your destination.
Spend time before departure imagining every detail of the flight…and if you really want to send ahead some good energy, every detail of your entire trip. Any time your thoughts stray to a worse case scenario rewrite the script and change it.
On the flight, replay that movie you’ve created in your mind as many times as needed, ALWAYS imaging a smooth flight and good outcomes. Visualization also reduces stress levels and enhances feelings of well being.
Create a Flight Routine
Take these steps before boarding the plane, to create familiarity around flying and reduce stress.
- download airline app and put in flight confirmation number. 24 hours before scheduled flight, precheck on the app and download airline tickets.
- avoid last minute packing. Do laundry, buy necessities and pack everything except final toiletries the night before the flight. See this post for tips on packing a carry on.
- keep passport or other sources of identity in a safe, easily accessed place
- arrive early to the airport, to give plenty of time to go through security
- make security a breeze by wearing shoes that slip off easily. Avoid wearing lots of jewelry or other metal items. If using a carry on only, have clear plastic bag of toiletries in a luggage pocket for quick removal.
- find departure gate and get familiar with the surrounding area. Locate restrooms, find a place to fill your water container and pick up snacks well ahead of departure time.
- check arrival and departure boards to see if flight is on time or delayed
These simple steps prevent rushing and/or arriving late and in danger of missing your flight. Avoiding stress in these areas helps to set up a successful flight.
Avoid Coffee and Wine Inflight
Coffee, wine and even sugary sodas can leave you feeling dehydrated during a flight. Caffeine and sugar aggravate anxiety. Plus alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to adjust to flying and contributes to jet lag.
Sip on water before and during the flight, to stay hydrated. And eat lightly to avoid motion sickness. Carry your own snacks and keep them simple. Apples, nuts or granola bars are good choices.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Some airports now provide therapy dogs to help ease passengers’ pre-flight jitters. The dogs’ handlers encourage people to approach and pet and talk to the dog.
At the gate before the flight relax, close your eyes and meditate. Play your visualization mind movie. Or picture arriving at your destination and engaging in fun activities. Take a moment to imagine a white bubble of protective light surrounding you, surrounding the plane and its pilots and flight attendants and surrounding all of the passengers. Anytime you feel anxiety during the flight, do a short meditation. Add deep breathing for increased soothing benefits.
Deep breathing calms anxiety, prevents hyperventilating and relaxes the body. Draw in a long, slow breath, filling your lungs. Hold your breath for 5 seconds. Then slowly exhale, breathing out as much air as possible. Repeat several times.
Keep the body relaxed inflight. Gripping the seat armrests heightens anxiety. Start at your feet and work your way up the body to the top of the head, relaxing all of the muscles.
Listen to soothing, relaxing music via earbuds.
Airlines know that having the comforts of home around you helps to ease anxiety. They tuck magazines in the seat pockets and many flights, especially cross country or international ones, provide movie screens. Watch a long movie or re-watch a favorite one. Catch up on a television series. Read an engrossing book. Play games on your iPad or phone, in airplane mode. Or chat with your seatmate and get to know each other.
Distracting yourself takes your mind off of flying and convinces the body it is safe.
Release Anxious Thoughts and Replace Them
If anxious thoughts pop into your mind, stop entertaining them. Left to run wild, thoughts can quickly go into negative scenarios. When a troubling thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it and then release it. Acknowledge and release. And then replace.
Have affirmations ready to replace any negative thoughts. Some good ones:
- I am safe
- I am protected
- all is well
- I’m off on an adventure
- I travel with ease
- flying is fun
Understand Flight Noises
Know that airplanes, like cars, buses and trains, make noises as they travel. If you learn about those possible sounds before a flight, you’ll feel less anxious when you hear them midflight.
Upon take off there’s increased engine sounds as the plane prepares to lift up into the air. You may hear and feel the wheels come up into place in the belly of the plane. During descent the landing gear makes sounds as the wheels drop back down.
Carry on luggage can shift in the overhead compartments. And always there’s the steady hum of the engines while in flight.
Turbulence occurs when air currents interact with the aircraft. It’s perfectly normal and common. The pilot may announce upcoming turbulence over the speakers and ask for passengers to remain seated and wearing their seatbelts, to prevent stumbles.
Trust That You are Exactly Where You are Supposed to Be
I’ve learned much about trusting in the flow of life. I believe I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, when I stay in the flow and trust the Divine. That means, for me, that no matter what is happening, all is as it should be.
When I fly, I trust that I’ll arrive exactly as I should. If I don’t, I wasn’t meant to. It takes away the anxiety for me. Also, I have a mantra that I repeat, if anxiety shows up. “I am with El-le.” El-le is my name for God. I use sigh language to say the phrase as well, and that restores calm when I need it. Also, I ask for travel angels to accompany the flight.
Build up your trust. It’s a day by day trust in the journey that includes flying rather than something you only use when on an airplane.
On a flight to Scotland, my sister Debbie and I waited on the tarmac in New York City while weather delayed the flight for five hours. It proved a good delay. A mechanical problem developed that was easily corrected because we were still at the airport. That’s trust at work.
Gratitude is big magic and I’m a huge believer in it. Expressing thankfulness and finding reasons to feel gratitude shift mindset in remarkable ways.
Express gratitude for every aspect of the flight, from the ease of moving through security to taking off on time…or experiencing a necessary delay…to thankfulness for movies to watch inflight to landing at your destination.
Thank the flight attendants for their cheerfulness and hard work. Let your seatmate know that you are glad to meet them and thank them for letting you by when you have to get up to go to the restroom. And tell the pilot thank you for a safe flight when you land.
Make a game of finding as many ways to express gratitude as possible.
I saved this tip until last, because use it as a last resort. Talk to your doctor, if flying makes you extremely anxious. She can prescribe anti-anxiety meds or suggest helpful over the counter options.
Sometimes sleep is the very best distraction during a flight. Use an eye mask, ear plugs, a travel pillow and cozy blanket to nest in your seat. Drink chamomile tea or take an antihistamine to help you fall asleep. Taking meds can affect how you feel when you arrive at your destination, make you dehydrated and increase the feeling of jet lag too.
Take Charge of Your Anxiety
Taking charge of your anxiety involves deliberate work. However, as I’ve learned from experience, it’s very possible to shift mindset and actually come to enjoy flying.
Instead of dread when I enter an airport, I’m now attuned to the energy of excitement that is so prevalent there. Using the tips above, I created a routine that serves me well and ensures I have an enjoyable flight and arrive at my destination ready to explore. And instead of an object of fear, airplanes now represent adventure.
Are you a nervous flyer? Which tip seems most helpful to you? And as always, reach out to me if I can help you further in facing this fear.
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