How to Keep Calm Before You Fly

Fear of flying

How to Keep Calm Before You Fly

As a flight attendant for the last 22 years, it may surprise you to hear that I have a fear of roller coasters. I understand the anxiety that exists and how it controls my mind when I go to an amusement park. Going to an amusement park, though, is a choice. For many, avoiding flying whether for work, play, or fun, is not always an option. People who feel anxious about getting on a plane can experience  a sense of dread, panic and, at worst, paralyzing fear.

There are many scenarios that make even the most experienced fliers apprehensive: Turbulence could rattle the plane. A feeling of entrapment could result in claustrophobia. Just pondering whether your pilot is well-rested or if your plane’s instruments are intact could spark the jitters. It’s easy to see why as many as 6.5% of Americans suffer from a severe fear of flying. It’s actually classified as an anxiety disorder, or phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

So what can you do to help address these fears and fly calmly?

1. Determine your triggers

Fear of FlyingA fear of flying is really a confluence of many different fears. Begin by identifying the triggering thoughts and images that are causing you distress. Many nervous fliers avoid taking to the skies entirely, making it increasingly challenging to face your fear head on.

Once you’ve identified where your anxiety comes from, you can practice cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, which include relaxation and breathing techniques, along with exposure to the triggers to vanquish your fear of flying altogether.

2. Differentiate expectations from reality and analyze it

Many nervous fliers are fearful because they do not have control of the situation. Added to that is the fear that they will not be able to handle any fear-based reactions while they are midair. This is often called “anticipatory anxiety” – a phenomenon in which travelers build up negative expectations to respond to the thought of encountering a terrifying trigger. To manage anticipatory anxiety, go to the facts. Remind yourself that some things are normal on a plane: brief turbulence, changes in altitude. If you can find the facts to counteract the nerves, you can create a sense of calm. If you can find the logic (and move out of the emotion), you can differentiate between real and perceived danger, which will also help you regulate your emotions.

3. Try not to judge your fear, expose yourself to it.

If you have a fear of flying, it may seem counterintuitive to board a plane. However, if you confront your fears rather than stalling exposure to them, eventually you’ll be able to say to yourself: “I’m afraid,” followed by the statement: “I feel like I can handle it.

Fear of flying is real for many. It’s important to willing to experience discomfort and take a leap of faith. Who knows what new adventures await you?


Authored by:  Suhadee Henriquez, LCSW