12 Ways to Cope with Your Fear of Flying

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A fear of flying can be debilitating. Here are the tried and true methods I use.

Several years ago, in a city relatively far away I sat on flight to Hawaii. At take off I grabbed my partner next to me and muffled my screams into his arm. "'Oh God! Oh God!" I sobbed as the plane rose into the air and found it's cruising altitude.

I am afraid to fly. Terrified. If there was another option I would take it. But I adore traveling. I cannot sit still. As such, I have had to learn to cope with this incredible, debilitating and completely irrational fear.

I think a cure is impractical, what I can offer is a series of coping techniques that have worked for me as for the last three years I have been in the air at least 30 hours per month.

I fell asleep on the Lufthansa flight and woke up to the Alps.

I fell asleep on the Lufthansa flight and woke up to the Alps.


1. Decide you are going

Accept that the trip is in stone. Do not entertain the idea that you will not go on this trip. The sooner the doors close the sooner you are done with the flight.

 

2. Do not psych yourself out

Before you fly do not think about the upcoming flight. When your mind drifts to the flight train yourself instead to think about the destination and your plans there. There is no point in worrying about it ahead of time it will not change anything and will stress you out days and weeks ahead of time.

Seeing the sun rise over London

Seeing the sun rise over London


3. Save fun tasks for the plane

What are things you love to do? Even guilty pleasures. Crosswords, chocolate, a book you've waiting months for, or a funny TV show. Bring them with you. Are there things you are looking forward to? Guide books, details of the trip excursions? Save them for the plane. This is what you will focus on before you fly. All the fun things you have prepped to do while you are on the plane. This also works for you to begin associating the flight with positive feelings.

Crazy gorgeous clouds over the Atlantic.

Crazy gorgeous clouds over the Atlantic.


4. Do not acknowledge you are on a plane

What if I told you I can have you sit on a couch, watch tv, I will bring you drinks and magically a few hours later you would be in a different place? This is the magic of air travel. Pretend you are just sitting on your couch at home, watching tv, or reading a book. Do not look out the window. Do not let your mind think about the fact you are on a plane. Depending how scared you are this can be a great tool.

The desert near Dubai.

The desert near Dubai.


5. Visualization

Safe take off. Safe flight. Safe landing. On the flight when your mind drifts to all the 'what ifs' change your thinking. Visualize your flight taking off safely, flying safely, and landing safely. I use visualization also on short flights. Think of a task (yoga, the commute to work, or favorite movie) that takes about the same amount of time as the flight. Close your eyes and breath deeply, visualizing every turn or movement, going slowly through each piece, as if you were there. This gets you to slow down, move out of our fear zone, and think of something mundane and normal. Yoga or meditation is great because the deep breathing slows down your racing heart.

A brush fire burns in the Okavango Delta during the end of dry season

A brush fire burns in the Okavango Delta during the end of dry season

6. Loud and Fast

This is the best/worst tip to offer. A pilot once told me "Don't worry, if something happens it will be loud and fast". At first I thought this was the worst advice I had ever heard. But the more I flew the more I found it comforting. If something happens there is a likeliness it will be quick and obvious there is something seriously wrong. That means if you are thinking 'what was that?' then it was probably a normal noise for that plane.

Yosemite from the air.

Yosemite from the air.


7. Engine Noises

Engines revving up or down. Flaps moving. Crazy hydraulic sounds. That darn landing gear. The noises are okay and normal! The sky is like a freeway, except instead of side to side you also have up and down. Remind yourself, we are just changing lanes. We are just speeding up or slowing down. We are avoiding turbulence or busy airspace. Just like you do in the car.

Survived my first flight on a small plane to go to the most amazing hotel I have ever seen.

Survived my first flight on a small plane to go to the most amazing hotel I have ever seen.


8. Critical Thinking

In addition, to 'fun' tasks you want to bring things that require critical thinking. I like really complicated Japanese puzzles. These require math and concentration. Which means you are concentrating on the puzzle instead of the flight. This is fantastic for take off, turbulence, and landing. It distracts you.

The heli-hike tour at Franz-Josef glacier.

The heli-hike tour at Franz-Josef glacier.


9. Pilot's Family

The person flying your aircraft has had more hours in the air already than you probably ever will in your entire lifetime! One, they are still alive. Two, their spouse or family expects them to come home. Just like you going to work every day they go to work everyday. This flight is part of their routine day.

Knocking an item off the bucket list by going to Victoria Falls.

Knocking an item off the bucket list by going to Victoria Falls.


10. How special are you?

Yes, we are all special and unique, of course. But how special do you think you are that you would be the one in 12 million that would be involved in an air disaster? Are you winning the lotto special? No offense, but probably not.

Every now and then you get the chance to relax in a luxurious lounge like this one in Perth.

Every now and then you get the chance to relax in a luxurious lounge like this one in Perth.


11. You want this trip

Why are you going? If something did happen, it is okay. You are living your dreams and growing in ways you don't even realize. How amazing are you that you got on that plane and learned how you cope with fear? Coping better and better each time. All of us are at risk every day. It is riskier to drive home than to fly on this flight. This trip is worth it. The flight is just a few hours of your experience and the rest is the magical opportunity to see a new place and meet new people.

Waiting to board my flight to New Zealand

Waiting to board my flight to New Zealand


12. Dramamine or Red Wine

I know, meds. Ugh. This is the last resort, consult your Dr before you decide what is right for you in this area (this is just my experience). Many people recommend Xanax, but from what I have read and experienced it is not good for situational fear. Dramamine Original Formula however I found makes me groggy and semi-disoriented. Since it is meant for airsickness I think the effect on the inner ear helps you to feel less movement in the plane and turbulence. Eventually I feel as if the plane is just rocking me to sleep. Red wine offers a similar feeling, but also dehydrates you. So, avoid if possible.

An accidental selfie capturing my elation when landing in Tierra del Fuego to board an Antarctic cruise.

An accidental selfie capturing my elation when landing in Tierra del Fuego to board an Antarctic cruise.

All the pictures in the article only happened because I faced my fears and got my ass on that plane. You can too!! You are going to do great!!