When people find out I’m a travel agent their reactions are “Wow that’s so cool!” and “Was it because you traveled a lot?” It is pretty cool (but as I mentioned before not only glamorous). Even though I did travel more than the average American, I wasn’t spending all my money jetting off to any old country on school breaks. Why?
Because even though I wanted to I was terrified of flying.
Frankly, I have no idea where that fear came from—except general anxiety was a pretty prominent part of my life—because my first flight at age eight was super smooth, and I’ve never had a truly scary flight experience. But in 2013 I conquered my fear of flying to go visit family (and Disney)!
Flight anxiety isn’t something that truly goes away, but I get a lot less freaked out now, and when an attack of the nerves hits, I can manage it a lot better. So here are some tips to help you manage flight anxiety!
Distract Yourself Outwardly
This can be anything: coloring, reading, listening to music, watching a movie, etc. I’ve found that reading is the least effective for me (even though I’m an avid reader) because there are so many other distractions. I can hear the plane—I can feel the plane. I don’t travel with many electronic devices, so coloring is my best bet. It keeps my eyes occupied, my hands occupied, and my brain occupied. If you choose to color while you fly pick a coloring book with large areas to color, because flights can be bumpy.
Distract Yourself Inwardly
My least favorite part of flying is take-off.
Some people like it because it feels like a roller coaster, but I’m all too aware of the fact that there is no track beneath the plane. My therapist gave me a list of exercises to do whenever I’m anxious called grounding exercises. Some examples of those include the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise where you name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. Another example is doing a body scan. Start at your feet and really notice how your feet feel in your shoes. Move to your ankles and check in with them. Then move up little by little until you reach the tippy top of your head.
The grounding exercise I’ve found most effective is counting back from 100 (or a number close to there) by different amounts. I often start with counting backwards from 100 by sevens. You can mix and match any numbers, but if you make it too easy—like counting backwards from 100 by tens—it loses its effect.
Note: Grounding exercises are most effective when you practice them before you fly.
If your brain is used to going through them when you’re not anxious, it’ll be easier for it to focus on them when you are anxious. Search for grounding exercises online for more examples.
This one is right out for me, so don’t feel bad if you can’t sleep on a plane either. But if you can it’s probably the best way to get through your flight anxiety-free! Benadryl has been recommended to me to help fall asleep on a plane. You can (and should) also consult with your doctor—they may have a prescribed sleep aid or other suggestion for you to successfully get through your flight.
I am not a doctor, and you should always consult with your doctor before deciding to take a medication (over-the-counter or not) to help with your flight anxiety.
If not flying sounds like a cop-out I assure you it’s not. My husband and I spent our honeymoon on a three-week trip facilitated by trains to visit national parks out west. I wouldn’t have gotten to have that amazing experience of watching the US zoom by from my picture windows if I had been cool with flying!
If you’re staying in the US you don’t have to fly! Take a train, take a bus, drive a car. There are even alternative ways, like using a repositioning cruise, to get to other continents. I often encourage people to reduce the amount they fly anyway because planes cause huge amounts of carbon emissions.
So if you truly don’t want to fly, you don’t have to! Own your feelings. You’ll get to travel in exciting and different ways most people never will!
I’d love to hear any more suggestions you all have for dealing with flight anxiety in the comments below!
Now get out there and go!