How to cope with your flight anxiety
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
When you’re 30,000 feet in the air, squashed into a small cramped space, like sardines, with complete strangers, it’s not exactly the most natural place to be. If you have a fear of flying, don’t worry you are not alone; the fear of flying is the second most common fear, after public speaking. Why is it that when flying, we start imagining the worst possible scenarios and freak ourselves out?
I wasn’t always an anxious mess on flights, in fact- I was quite the opposite. At one point a few years ago, I wanted to be an air hostess and had applied for a role with Emirates, and now I have such a big fear of flying. It started in 2017 when I flew from Rome to Dublin through storm Ophelia after a weekend away with my friends. The storm was causing havoc across Ireland, with most flights cancelled after the highest weather alert level was issued, but somehow our flight still took off as normal. The winds from the storm were so strong that the plane had to circle the east coast of Ireland for over an hour, after two failed landing attempts. On our third attempt, where the plane felt like it was almost on its side, we somehow managed to land and it was beyond bumpy. The experience was terrifying and it’s something I hope I’ll never go through again. This traumatic flight definitely triggered my flight anxiety, which I have experienced on every flight since.
Now when I fly, I constantly check the weather before take-off and spend the entire flight with my eyes are glued on the cabin crew, always checking for their reaction to any little bumps or noises. I think to myself “Do they look worried, are they freaking out? They look pretty calm so everything must be ok..”. As soon as the fasten seat belt sign turns on, my anxiety multiplies tenfold. Why is this happening to me and how can I stop it?!
Last week I flew to Amsterdam and decided, I would try to kick my flight anxiety. I did a bit of research the days before my trip and then tried and tested some tips and tricks to help out any fellow nervous flyers. Here are some of the tips I found helpful:
1. Separate your anxiety from actual fear– It sounds simple, but when you’re on a flight, try to remember (and tell yourself) that fear and anxiety are two totally different things. When you start to feel anxious, make a conscious effort to remind yourself that its anxiety making you feel this way, you are not in danger. Don’t feed you anxiety by telling yourself that you’re worried because that’s when your body feels like it’s in danger when it’s not, and your adrenaline will kick in making you feel like something terrible is about to happen. Tell yourself it’s just anxiety that you are feeling and not fear, separate the two.
2. Mind yourself – Before flying, most people are in high spirits, and why not? They’re (usually) finished work for a few days and taking a trip away, to unwind. In Ireland, we have a habit of going to the airport bar and having a few drinks to kick start the holiday. Alcohol is known to enhance feelings of anxiety and is something you should avoid if you are an anxious flyer. Coffee can also stimulate the feeling of anxiety as the caffeine can make your brain go into overdrive, anxiety-wise. Last week, I avoided both and instead, drank camomile tea before my flights. I felt more calm than usual and felt it actually helped a lot.
3. Try new flight apps – I downloaded some new flight anxiety apps to see if they would help me with my flight anxiety: Calm, Fearless Flight and Soar.
I. Calm is a brilliant app which I bought last year and already use quite regularly for general anxiety and meditation. It has some fantastic clips for flight anxiety but unfortunately, I didn’t realise you have to download all of the clips while you have internet - before flying, so I couldn’t use it on these flights.
II. Fearless flight was helpful. It’s free to download, didn’t require internet at all and has some good clips to listen to when you’re on a flight and about to start panicking. I used this during both flights and found it quite helpful. It gave me some breathing and distraction techniques.
III. I clicked into the Soar app on my flight home when the seat belt sign came on and we were approaching some turbulence. It kept asking me to create an account/ sign up etc. so I can’t really say if it is good or not as I needed a quick fix at that moment and this wasn’t there for me, so I didn’t use it and went back to the Fearless flight app instead.
4. Talk to the flight attendant – I didn’t feel like I needed to do this on my most recent flight, however in the past during a long-haul flight I told a flight attendant, who saw me looking upset about my flight anxiety. The crew were so helpful telling me how normal everything was and continued to check up on me during the flight. This made me feel way more comfortable during the flight.
5. Distract yourself - When I focused on the apps, music and games such as candy crush on my phone, it definitely helped ease my anxiety. When I tried not to focus on what could potentially go wrong, and instead focused my mind on something else, (even if it was just on a mind-numbing game), I found myself feeling more relaxed and less anxious.
Overall, the two flights I took last week have been the least stressful flights I’ve taken since my storm Ophelia flight. I think this is because I made a conscious effort to try reducing my anxiety before and well as on board the flights. I would definitely recommend that you take the tips into consideration before your next flight.
I wrote this piece for Image.ie and if you would like to check out that post, click here.
Thanks so much for reading. Happy flying!