For thirty years on this planet, I never had a real panic attack. Then one time I was taking a short flight from England to Portugal last October and my breath became short. This dread of ‘this is the end’ swept over me uncontrollably for a few minutes as I felt the plane cabin close in around me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Seemingly, it was official: I was scared to fly.
What a horrible and helpless thing to feel on a flight. I can only imagine what it’s like for those who battle these feelings every time they take off somewhere. I admire anymore who faces these emotions and still continues to travel, it’s truly amazing to conquer your fears like that.
Now since I was a teenager I haven’t been a fan of flying. Actually, I hate flying and have just general plane anxiety all the time. Sophomore year of high school I flew to D.C. with classmates during a lightning storm, and the poor girl who’d never been on a plane before next to me was in hysterics. Feeding off her anxiety, I think that’s where I first started to feel anxious on planes. It’s grown a little worse from there, but I’m working on recognizing by fear of flying and do whatever I can to manage it. Because the alternative of not traveling, well…it’s not an option for me!
Here’s a few things I’m doing to combat being afraid of flying. But if you’re completely overcome by the phobia, I do suggest you see a specialist. Don’t let it squash your travel dreams.
Big. Deep. Breaths.
I’m talking in through the nose for 8-10 counts, out for 5-8. It really does focus me and keep my mind on track. It’s often the first thing I do before reaching for other comforts. Most of the time my fears come from a running mind and scenarios that are illogical, so breathing exercises can soothe this issue.
Read up on cold hard flight facts
Funnily enough I am a HUGE fan of road trips but start to shake every time I’m going to board a plane. In reality, it’s way, way more dangerous for me to be in a car than a plane. I will go online and read plane facts before flights so I at least logically know that it is very safe and very OK for me to fly.
I also have a habit of watching flight attendants. First, I know they’ve picked this career without huge fear of their lives (flying way more than me!) and second if they panic, sure, I can panic too. However after 100+ flights I’ve never seen an attendant bat an eye during turbulence. Not once.
Either take the pill – or just have it on hand
My honeymoon, from Boston to L.A. to Auckland, New Zealand, was the longest flight I’ve ever had to take. I was freaking out for weeks. I’ve never taken anti-anxiety meds (erm, maybe I should) but I wondered if it was a solution. I called my doctor and got put through to a lovely Irish nurse, I’ll never forget her. She talked me right off the cliff and told me why not have a few prescribed pills on hand, so in case I felt a bit frantic I’d have a backup plan. So I’ve been carrying those pills around now for almost a year on every flight I take. Just knowing I have them makes me feel better and able to handle the longer flights knowing there’s something there if I’m not thrilled about the journey ahead.
Or you know, wine. All the wine.
Now I don’t advocate this for everyone, especially those on medications, but having a glass of wine or three really keeps me a bit more relaxed. Same goes for vodka. A hangover though can give you a wicked time once you land, so do be smart while drinking on a flight. Stay hydrated and try to nap when you can.
Hopefully next time I fly to Portugal or anywhere else in the world I’ll have tools to cope with any fear or anxiety that can come with being on a plane.
A Few Resources for Being Scared to Fly
- If you’re crazy nervous, British Airways ffers a course you can take where they fly you in a plane and walk you through the process.
- Here’s a legit organization in the U.S. for individuals who have anxiety too, and they have some great resources particularly for flying, including some in-person workshops.
- Budget Travel has some great quick tips on combating flight anxiety I’ve read many times to help me out.
- If nothing else, here’s a page about TSA regulations about taking booze nips on planes. Technically you’re not supposed to drink it, but you can take some small containers of alcohol with you. You know. Just in case.