Overcome Your Fear of Flying Without Popping a Pill


When it comes to overcoming the fear of flying, it all comes down to how willing and able you are to do the hard work so as to change your perspective and approach the whole flying process with ease (as you should!). Easier said than done, I know, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get anxious before takeoff, but it is important to know that the fear of flying is flat-out irrational. That’s right – it’s irrational. Here are 3 ways to soothe the soul before, during and after a flight so you can travel with ease and without the crutches of alcohol or sleeping pills.

Those who fear flying cultivate the anxiety for many different reasons. Many are afraid that the plane will ultimately crash while others only experience discomfort when there is turbulence or unsettling noises they don’t understand. Many people are also often only provoked by one aspect of the flight – the takeoff, the parts of the flight above water or the landing, among others. Above all, it’s the utter lack of control we have, flying in a tiny vessel 30,000 feet above the ground, that really irks us, like our fates are sealed. Anything can happen and we’d have no way to escape. Be it terrorism, a crash, a technical malfunction, severe turbulence, a fire or an illness that spreads through the ventilation system, we’re stuck with whatever the flight gives us. The stakes are high and so many of us take a passive concern for safety to the next level, convincing ourselves that we are doomed from the moment we buckled our seat belts. However, despite the list of possible situations that could arise, the chances are incredibly slim, deeming the fear of flying completely disproportionate to the danger present.

I have traveled my entire life, living between Europe, the US and the Middle East. Still, despite being on dozens of overseas flights per year, I have gone through periods of time throughout my teens and adulthood when I was convinced something wayward would happen on just about every flight I took. During takeoff, the part I loathe the most, I would be fidgety, plug my ears with my hands and whisper, singing songs to myself to calm my brain. My entire body was tense. At some point in the flight, I’d calm down, but the moment turbulence hit, my heart would race up again and I would think, “This is it.”

I let the fear control me, truly believing that if I let myself be rational and trusting for a moment, I would practically be inviting an unpleasant surprise. In my mind, I had to be emotionally prepared for the worst, but that meant inflight self-inflicted torture. My control was listening to every noise, watching and interpreting the flight attendants and their facial expressions obsessively and developing habits that put me in a minor state of denial. For example, I never looked out the window so as to mimic not being on a plane in the first place – I could have been anywhere! But then, oddly, this fear of flying would go away, and I’d go into flights confidently and with a passive shrug of, “Whatever happens, happens.” Unfortunately, the fear always returned.

Over the past few years, I’ve done tons of research about flying and now take the whole process in stride. Here are three ways that have helped me get over my irrational fear of flying and that may be useful to you.

1. Believe the Statistics – They Are on Your Side

Each one of us has a 50 percent chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. Whenever we fly, we each have a measly .000014 percent chance of dying. Yet, we are likely not getting worked up over cardiovascular disease on the daily grind but may tease a panic attack in the days or weeks prior to our next flight. The odds of something deadly happening during a flight are not a matter of a simple flip of a coin – they are very low and can almost be promised to never happen to you in your lifetime, regardless of how often you fly. Knowing that should console most of us, but those with a fear of flying often consider themselves exceptional. My advice: don’t think so highly of yourself. You are just another traveler among the billions of others who travel each year (3.5 billion in 2012, in fact).

And if you think an airplane accident results in inevitable death, you’d be wrong. Some 96 percent of passengers involved in airplane crashes classified as “accidents” actually survive. When flying, remind yourself that there are approximately 500,000 people flying around the world at the same exact time as you and they are all promised to land safely, including you.

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is the practice of deep breathing through the abdomen or belly rather than the chest. It is done by contracting the diaphragm – the muscle between the chest and stomach. Studies have shown that it is an effective therapy in reducing oxidative stress as well as making for an effective form of relaxation. When practiced regularly, it can prevent high blood pressure, headaches, stomach conditions, depression, anxiety and other conditions.

Before you board a plane, take a few days or weeks to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Lie on the floor, facing upwards, with your feet flat on the ground and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Place your hands on your stomach, just under your ribcage.
  3. Press your lower back down so that is flat against the ground.
  4. Breathe in slowly, using the diaphragm, not the chest. Feel your stomach rise and your lungs fill from the bottom. Exhale slowly and feel the diaphragm relax.
  5. Continue this process until you feel comfortable with it. At first, it requires attention.

After a few practice sessions, try to breathe this way sitting in a chair, standing or during movement. By becoming familiar with this method, you can harness the ability to practice it anytime, anywhere, including on a plane. Prior to take off, practice diaphragmatic breathing. Close your eyes for added focus.

3. Fly More

That may sound a bit crazy, especially to those with a flying phobia. But, unless you are having full-on panic attacks mid-flight, you should try to fly more to overcome your fear. Trumping phobias requires exposure to feared triggers. Avoidance will only keep your phobia alive and intense. The more you fly, the more desensitized and familiar you will become to the entire process.

During your next flight, remind yourself of the huge improbability of anything happening. As well, practice diaphragmatic breathing to calm down whatever nerves remain. Then, observe your surroundings, the calm people around you, the relaxed flight attendants and rest assured that you are on an incredibly safe vessel that will bring you to your destination in one piece. Why torture yourself during a flight that you have a 99.999986 percent chance of surviving? That’s a risk we should all be willing to take.

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Photo Credit: jen light