Monday, August 26, 2013

Tips for Conquering a Fear of Flying

Well, our cruise is over and we are flying home from Copenhagen.

So today I thought I would re-post this article about conquering your fear of flying.  
It originally appeared as a guest post a few months back
She is also a cruise lover and if you haven't seen her blog,
you should definitely spend some time with a cup of tea exploring her archives.
She is one of my favorites.

It's not something that I talk about often, but I can be a bit of a Nervous Nelly.
Oh, who am I kidding?  I have full blown anxiety disorder.
(Way to over-share, huh?  As my husband says... "You're so American.")

Selena from Oh, the places we will go!

  But, I am determined to not let this wacky, chemical, hormonal thing that
happens in my brain to prevent me from having these moments
and experiencing life to the fullest. 

And I don't want you to live anything but your best life either.

Because medication isn't an option for me,
I've come up with all sorts of tricks to hide manage my panic.
Today I'm going to share a few tips for managing a fear of flying.
I hate, hate, hate, hate to fly.
No really.  I hate it.  But, I do it all the time now.
(Thankfully, it 's getting easier.)

I basically treat my flying anxiety like a naughty child.
I fill up a Hello Kitty backpack full of every conceivable trick
and distraction that I can think of to keep this little brat in check.
And then I just start whipping stuff out, right and left to see what works.

Here are a few things in this bag of tricks that have worked for me.

Don't feed the monster.
Get plenty of sleep the night before and have a nice, light meal before flying.
Anxiety loves a tired, hungry, hungover flyer like I love Iced Tea.

Control what you can.
Plan out everything and consider the whole process before you set out to the airport.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get checked in and through security.
Prepare yourself for lines and delays. 

I'd rather have an extra hour to relax at the gate than
to be racing for the gangway at the last minute. 
But, life and delays happen.  Try to stay positive and flexible.

Knowledge is power.
I realize that panic isn't rational and you can't just "decide" it away (if only).
But knowing what to expect when you're flying, can be very helpful.
Google common noises that you'll hear when you are flying.
Do some research on exactly how it works and read about "the dreaded T word."
(I have to whisper the word "turbulence" or my brat goes completely nuts.)

Use your imagination for good rather than evil.
 I recently read that planes are meant to fly.
They are happiest and at their best when up in the air.
That's really helped to ease some of my fear.
Suddenly I'm that kid from The Never Ending Story riding on the 
back of that cute flying dragon/dog creature,
instead of in this massive piece of machinery that I don't understand.
(My pop culture references are quite dated, aren't they?)

Distract that brain.
Like a naughty child, you can tell when your mind is getting wound up. 
Find some good distractions.  A book that you're already engrossed in is perfect.
I never start a new book, because I just find myself reading the same sentence over and over.

Reading magazine articles about travel and strong women,
helps me to feel more brave and courageous.
And it helps to focus on all of the magical destinations out there rather than the scary flight.

Music is always powerful.  It's hard to be upset when you're listening to 
the soundtrack for Mamma Mia or some good 80's hair bands.

Flying 101 - Don't forget to breathe.
 I always use deep breathing exercises which definitely helps.
I'll often find myself holding my breath to the point of dizziness without even realizing it.
So breathe deep calming breaths.
I've also tried some reflexology by massaging the padded area at the base of my thumb
or my finger tips.  I read about it somewhere and figured it's worth a try. 

Try not to watch the clock.
I obsess over time when I'm flying.
I have to know exactly what time the plane will take off,
exactly how long we will be in the air and what time we are landing.
I do this game of checking the time and calculating exactly how much longer.
I try to go as long as possible without checking the time,
so that when I do look, more time will have passed than I expected.
(I realize I probably shouldn't admit to this behavior, but it's just reality.)

 Make a human connection.
I always take a look at the people around me.
I look into the eyes of the flight attendants and think about their families.
I look at the children and little ones around me and
think about the bright futures they have in front of them.
It seems to help me to think about life in the big context
rather than just me in this little space and time,
hurtling through the air in a metal tube.
(Because that's not scary at all, is it?)

Those are most of my big tricks.
I've usually exhausted them all by the time we are fifteen minutes into the flight.

So, then I just wake up my husband, ask him for his wallet,
tackle a flight attendant and demand a Gin & Tonic.
 (Yes, the pillar of support that is my husband sleeps through all of my internal turmoil.)

Lastly, I would say "Don't be so hard on yourself."
Panic and anxiety are real.  It takes epic effort to control.  It's not fun.  It pretty much sucks.
But, there are many others who get it and understand the
Herculean effort it takes to get on that plane each time.
And it is absolutely worth it!

 What's in your bag of tricks to get you or someone you love through a flight?


  1. I used to be surprised when I'd hear someone who travels a lot talk about their fear of flying, but now I realize just how common it is, even among very seasoned travelers. It's pretty inspiring that you and the others who struggle with this anxiety don't let it ruin your desire to see the world. It would be so easy to just stay home and only travel where you can drive to, but you don't let it control you. You rock!

    Music is a universal healer - I have particular playlists for all sorts of ills and anxieties. :o)

  2. I am a fine flyer...until that t word strikes, then I am clutching on to the arm rests with white knuckles, hoping the person next to me doesn't see so my panic doesn't travel outwards! The whole thing is rather petrifying. I just concentrate on getting to where I want to go!

  3. What a great bunch of tips! I like the one about making human connections- I remember some particularly nice conversations with fellow travelers; other times, I've been perfectly happy to read and write and just be in my own world for a few hours.
    One thing I love about flying is it gives me such a unique perspective on the earth, literally. I love looking out the window and taking in the landscape, noting the shapes and curve of the coastlines, watching lightning storms from above. The T word is certainly no fun, but it helps to remember that I'm in it together with everyone else on the flight, and the low probability of something actually going wrong while in the air.

  4. I'm scared to fly too, but thankfully only during the first thirty minutes after take off. Once we are well on our way, I seem to relax some :)

  5. I never used to have a fear of flying until a few years ago and it hit. And it's not even a fear, but like you said, a full blown anxiety attack. And you can't wish it away. I get close to getting on that plane and my heart starts pounding. When we were going to Italy, when I went to exchange money, Mom looked at me and said, "are you okay?" NOPE! Feels like a heart attack!

    So, have you done a post about packing....because the main reason I hate to travel is packing. I hate to pack. And don't even talk about packing without mentioning bringing crocheting or knitting and a magazine or two, and a book to read.....I pack that stuff first!

    Cindy Bee

  6. lmao i've never been on a plane but i really want to. I can just picture someone hyperventilating and freaking out.

  7. Christopher Paul JonesAugust 30, 2013 at 6:53 AM

    A quick tip I use with some of my phobia clients is: when you think about your flying phobia at its worst, bring the picture of that event into your mind and then run the whole event (like a movie) backwards in black and white. then imagine it running forward with some comedy music at 5 times the speed. keep repeating this process and you may find the anxiety starts to reduce

  8. Thanks for the tip, Christopher! I'll definitely add that one to my coping kit.

  9. I am far better when I'm traveling with my kids (have been doing the TransAtlantic thing with them for 20 years now). I am always determined that they won't see the fear and white knuckles, and besides, there's plenty to distract me when I'm in charge of 3 kids. That's the reason why I never took meds - you can't be "out of it" with little kids to look after. And the booze had to take a back seat when I found out that turbulence, fear and red wine actually cause me to throw up.
    If you sat next to me you wouldn't know how scared I was, and I do try to close my eyes and breathe deeply, but that fear (which hits me in the pit of my stomach and is like nothing else I know) is awful and I wish I could stop it.
    I am seriously thinking about hypnotherapy though.

  10. I can totally relate! I have the same theory about book reading, I gotta already be into it. No good starting a new one. And in addition to watching the clock, I also obsess about that little map and feel much relief once we get over the ocean part. I feel ridiculous about my anxiety too. Thanks for being honest. You are not alone in our fear!

  11. I see no evil since I'm wearing my new


  12. I developed a massive fear of flying after one particularly turbulent flight from Amsterdam to Singapore… on which I was pretty much convinced we were going down. Scariest moment of my life, which got me thinking, "how do these things stay in the air anyways?". It still makes me nervous just thinking about it! Will have to try these tricks to keep myself under control next time I fly.

  13. I've been pretty lucky and never experienced anything too dramatic. I can't even imagine how I would react if it got that bad! That must have been awful!!! I'm getting better and I'm not going to ever let it stop me. 


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