How to Conquer Your Fear of Flying

Hi all,

Do you get nervous when you fly?

Today, we’re talking about just that, why it happens, and helpful strategies to help you manage your fear or anxiety when you fly.  

The first thing we need to do to address any fear and anxiety, is to understand what it is. The simplest way to put it is that you’re expecting something bad to happen (“what if the plane falls?”).

We all experience fear and anxiety in some capacity and it’s helpful to have it in certain moderation. Fear and anxiety both serve to help and protect us when there is danger. When our body interprets this danger or stress (will discuss stress further in a future topic), our body’s emergency system sets off, in efforts to fight or run away from this real or imagined danger. This is why you will notice your heart rate to increase, breathing become shallow and rapid, digestive system slow down, and pupils to dilate, among other things. Likewise, this will be why one wants to avoid flying or decides to medicate (i.e., alcohol, pills) while on a plane. But when that happens, you’re only maintaining and strengthening your fear, and essentially not getting to the root of the problem.

So what can you do? Below you will find helpful strategies that have shown to help others manage their anxiety and fear. I can’t guarantee that it will go away immediately but I can tell you that it will get more tolerable for you to sit on an airplane, the more you practice these strategies and fly. Because, hey after all, you can’t learn to ride a bike if you never get on one.

Helpful Strategies for Fear of Flying

-Ask yourself, what is it that you’re scared of happening? In full disclosure, I’ve experienced a fear of flying and used to believe that turbulence meant the plane was going to fall.

-Know the facts. Once you know why you’re scared play detective and question your thoughts, is this really accurate? Will this really happen? For me, I learned that turbulence is just air against the plane. Once I knew that, I immediately felt better.

-Catch unhelpful thoughts (“oh my god, oh my god, the plane is going to fall”).

-Develop a coping statement using facts. For example, “It’s just wind, I’m safe, planes are designed to fly.” Practice your coping statement in response to unhelpful thoughts.

-Practice a relaxation strategy. It’s impossible to be stressed and relaxed at the same time. This includes deep breathing, visualizing and then immersing yourself in a relaxing and peaceful scenery (i.e., beach, mountain, forest), etc.

-Practice distraction. This includes listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book/magazine, playing a game, having an unrelated conversation with your girlfriend/partner/ neighbor. It’s important that it’s not focused on the fear. 

-Most important, practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the more automatic it will be for you to stop thinking unhelpful thoughts and feel more comfortable in this setting.

-Reward yourself for practicing these skills. This includes anything as small as a manicure/pedicure, or a special treat like that bag you’ve been eyeing, or a much needed massage.

As always, thank you for reading!

Dr. C

Disclaimers: If your anxiety and fear is interfering with any of your relationships, school, or work or if you’d like more help with this topic, reach out to your local insurance provider to locate a licensed psychologist with experience with systematic desensitization and exposure based therapies.

Information being provided on this page is general in nature and is not intended to replace or serve as therapy. Should you be experiencing emotional distress or difficulties at school, work, or with relationships, it is encouraged that you contact your insurance health provider to locate a mental health professional in your area. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others at your nearest emergency room.