Getting Over the Fear of Flying

Flying has always been something I dreaded.

If you’ve ever flown with me, you know I typically prefer being put on a different flight than sitting in a window seat. Even today, I’ll always chose aisle over window. And while my fear of flying has gotten better, I’m not completely at ease looking out a window during flight just yet.

For me, flying has always meant grappling with my fear of heights, and simultaneously dealing with not being in control.

From a control standpoint, I understand we actually have little control over what happens in life, that most of living is how we respond to what happens in the world around us. But, I’m also the kind of person who dislikes being in a car unless I’m the driver.

That said, imagine how afraid I become thousands of feet off the ground as a passenger in something I have no control over. While I’ve never gotten off a flight, there have been many times I’ve found it difficult to breathe, and this past spring, I almost cancelled a trip to Asia because I was so anxious about the flights.

Truth is, I still feel anxiety as a byproduct of my fear of flying at times.

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A few months ago, I  teared up on a flight from London to Orlando. We were flying through a bad storm (London airports had grounded all flights, we were one of the last ones to leave), and the first hour of the flight was pretty rough. But, I made it through by practicing some of the tricks I’ve picked up over my years of flying.

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Whether you travel as much as I do, or fly once a year, these are my tired and true go’to’s: 

  • Remember you’re not alone. The fear of flying is common- people fear flying for numerous reasons, and all cope with it differently. There are oodles of good tips out there for how to deal with this fear
  • Read up on how planes operate. Turbulence is a trigger for my flying anxiety, so I researched what causes turbulence, why it happens, and whether it can cause a crash. Spoiler: It can’t- a plane can’t be flipped upside-down or thrown into a tailspin from turbulence
  • Consider trying meditation. Beyond its many wellness benefits, meditation has been a game-changer in helping me recognize and deal with anxiety. If I’m feeling anxious on a flight, I’ll close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and if that doesn’t help put me in a better headspace, I’ll whisper, “NO” out loud. It’s a literal cue for me to stop overthinking and worrying about things I can’t control
    • Along with meditation, I find deep breathing exercises usually help alleviate tension. They’re also easy enough to do- two of my favorites: counting to 10 in another language repeatedly, or inhaling/exhaling for five long breathes each
  • Avoid looking at a clock or flight map. When I’m tracking every minute, a flight can feel like an eternity. Instead, I always bring my own entertainment- podcasts, Kindle books, magazines or work
  • Have soothing sounds (or a podcast) ready to listen to during the parts of flying that scare you most. For me, it’s always turbulence and (sometimes) landing. But, listening to classical Jazz or one of my favorite podcasters helps put me in a better state of mind
  • Think of your destination! No matter how afraid or anxious I am to fly, it’s always the promise of the place I’m going that motivates me to take the journey. As with other fears, at some point, you have to decide you’re going to live your life and experience things- even if that means feeling afraid at times

Final note: These aren’t medical recommendations- they’re only based on tactics that’ve worked for me. If you’re struggling with flight-induced jitters, I’d recommend speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional.

Photo credit: My talented photographer friend, @JessicaV17

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