Travel: How to address and conquer your flight anxiety

Starting this coming weekend, I’ll be traveling for the good majority of February. From a weekend away for a work photo shoot to personal trips for fun and networking, it’s hard to believe I’ll be away more than I’ll be home this next month! Every time I start prepping for a trip, a bit of anxiety tends to creep up. Despite traveling what felt like non-stop this past year and will be this coming year, I’m the first to admit I suffer from flight anxiety. And I know I’m not alone when it comes to those that have the travel bug but are fearful flyers. Today, I’m going to chat with you about my fear of flying, how to address it and how to conquer it.

My flight anxiety

I’ve been flying since I was a baby. I always was a fine flyer until I was a kid and encountered a very scary flight back home from Hawaii with my parents. Every since, I was scarred from flying. I grew up HATING the idea of trips that required getting on an airplane because I feared turbulence or the anxiety from that one specific bad flight. As a result, it was always an exhausting hassle for my parents and myself to get me on a flight without breaking down into tears. The older I got the more embarrassing it felt to be fearful of flying but I still couldn’t shake the fear. From take off to in-flight to landing, I was miserable. I preferred the middle seat because I felt comforted having other people around me and instead of spending a flight reading, sleeping or watching a movie, I would stay awake peering out the window or counting down the hours or minutes until we would land. The day before flying I would panic and the morning of was always worse. Not to mention, I even went so far as to download a flight app on my phone that predicts turbulence during my flight…I am telling you, flight anxiety sucks.   

Addressing my flight anxiety

 After college, it finally came down to the fact I knew I couldn’t go on like this anymore – it was mentally exhausting to be this afraid of flying (and exhausting for loved ones traveling with me) and I knew I didn’t want this to someday prevent me from seeing the world.

I decided to visit my doctor and bring up my flight anxiety to her to see what her recommendations would be. She addressed my fear, where it stemmed from, what my symptoms were when I felt anxiety and how I wish I felt when I was flying. She ended up prescribing me Xanax to take when I fly to help with stress and that feeling of panic.

Aside from getting a medication that would help with my fear of flying, it was also on me to mentally address my fear and acknowledge that I could let it hinder me from traveling and experiencing new places or I could try my best to overcome it.

After my parents moved to Colorado two years ago, I was practically forced into conquering my fear of flying. I am so close with my parents that going months and months without seeing them was not an option. And so, flying alone became more of a frequent thing. Flying often to see them and visit other destinations by myself started to feel familiar and flying soon felt like routine instead of a new, scary thing that I wasn’t used to. I can’t tell you how much familiarity helped me with my anxiety! In fact, now on flights I read books, sleep for hours or just relax. Is flying 35,000 feet in the air with turbulence, weird smells and annoying passengers my favorite thing? Definitely not. But it’s something I’ve become less afraid of and more prepared for.

Here’s some of my tips for those of you that have a fear of flying that can help you conquer your fear!  

1.     Fly frequently – I’m telling you, the more frequently you fly, the more you get used to the process and the things that once felt unfamiliar or scary. If you have the opportunity to travel with work or for personal/fun, take it upon yourself to gain more flight experience by going on more trips! You’ll soon realize that 99% of flights should not make you nervous.

2.     Address your fear with your doctor or therapist – Whether or not you want to get prescribed anxiety medication to help with your fear of flying, it can also be good to talk to a professional who can help you address your fear and where it stems from. I felt relieved having a medical professional weigh into what would help me feel better physically and mentally when I was flying.

3.     Take the window seat – I now opt (only) for the window seat. There’s something comforting about being able to see out and be in control of the window. I found that a lot of my anxiety stemmed from not being in control if the window was open or not because having it closed made me feel like I was in a claustrophobic tube. Sitting window-side has given me a lot of relief and personal control of the situation and makes me feel like I can “see what’s going on.”

4.     Upgrade, if you can – To make your flight more enjoyable, splurge on an upgrade if you can. If you’re a nervous flyer, see if you can upgrade to premium seats or first class. If you fly frequently you can also obtain MVP privileges and can have a stress-free boarding process. Sometimes, it’s the small and big perks that help alleviate anxiety and can actually make a flight, fun!   

5.     Distract yourself – When I had little to do on flights I felt my anxiety was on another level. I now always bring my iPad or computer on flights to work, read, write blog posts or watch a show or movie. I also listen to podcasts and songs. Having distractions and things to do while you fly keeps your focus on the task at hand rather than your anxiety.  

6.     Pick a reliable airline – There’s just something about flying on an airline you trust with good customer service and experiences. I tend to fly on the same 1-2 airlines if I can because my experience is always so great! It’s important to do your research when you fly to find an airline that will suit your needs as a passenger and will make your experience as stress-free as possible.

7.     Travel with a buddy – Flying with a friend, co-worker, family member or loved one can be such a comfort over flying to a destination alone. You have someone to chat with and keep you distracted. There’s also a sense of security having someone you care about with you that can help aid your stress. I don’t know what I’d have done without my parents during my years of flight anxiety! They were always so patient with me and made me less fearful of flying when I was with them.

8.     Let the flight attendant know – Flight attendants aim to help you feel as comfortable as possible on a flight! When you board or interact with your flight attendant, let them know you have a bit of flight anxiety. In the past when I did this, they were more than accommodating and comforted me when I was feeling nervous. Remember that they fly way more than you do, they know the ropes and are there to help you overcome your fear, too!  

9.     Get comfortable – Being physically comfortable is a huge key to success when trying to overcome flight anxiety. Wearing comfortable clothes and shoes for flying is key. I also tend to bring a neck pillow to help me relax or give me comfort if I want to take a nap. You can even bring a sleeping mask or a blanket if you want to get even more cozy! When I’m physically comfortable I tend to unwind and feel less stressed about situations at hand.

10.  Mentally prepare yourself – Flight anxiety is all mental. It’s the fears we think about, fixate on and let physically impair us from enjoying the experience or wanting to travel. Flying still isn’t my favorite thing to do but it’s something I know I have to do. So similar to other things I dislike doing but have to do (paying bills, paying rent, driving for long periods of time in traffic, etc. etc.) it’s all about mental preparation. If you aren’t wiling to mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand, of course it’s going to feel scary and intimidating. The night before I fly I go over my flight itinerary, my packing list and yes, I still check my flight app for turbulence (some things I can’t let go of…). The day of my trip I prepare myself for the fact my flight is only a few hours out of my day to get me to a destination that’s worth the hassle of enduring airport security and the stresses that come with flying. I have learned to prepare myself for the best flight experience because why would you ever want to prepare yourself for the worst? It’s difficult but it’s a choice that’s made each flight more enjoyable than the last!

I hope my personal battle against flight anxiety has been something you can relate to and my tips will help make your flights a breeze in the future!