How to Overcome Fear of Flying: Top Essential Tips to Cope

by Travel & Adventure, Personal Development37 comments

I have a fear of flying — yet here I am, still booking flights and chasing my dreams of traveling the whole world. Oh, the irony. (Overcome Fear of Flying)

But actually, in the past… I didn’t have this kind of fear.

My Flying Background

Growing up in the remote islands of Batanes in the Philippines, I often went on airplane rides with my family at such an early age. It might sound fine and dandy, but given the sub-par standards of the aviation industry at that time (hello, 3rd world country!), most of my experiences weren’t exactly pleasant.

I may not have been a part of a plane crash (fortunately) but my dire experiences were enough to put anyone into a ‘flying trauma’. They ranged from regular trips with small planes from hell — think 4-seater planes that looked like they can be ripped apart in seconds: loose screws and cracked panels attached together with masking tape — to normal and military planes that often did emergency nose-dive descents or full-on sprees of turbulence.

Despite all of those, however, I grew up as a teenage lass who had zero fear when riding airplanes. I guess you can say that I have been ‘well-conditioned‘ since birth because I did survive every ordeal, so any fear-inducing actions of any aircraft were things that I just naturally ignored. In fact, you would often find me calming down friends, family, and even strangers whenever they get freaked out during airplane rides.

» My ‘Trigger’

Overcome Fear of Flying: Big Plane

Fast forward to when I was 21, I was sitting in a big plane headed to Europe with over 18 hours of flight before me.

When it reached the 4th hour, I was suddenly overwhelmed by crippling fear.

My palms were sweating and I couldn’t relax — and that surprised me. It surprised my friend too who was with me during the flight.

As the roles were reversed with him calming me down in my seat, I tried to analyze my situation. “Okay, what changed here?” Am I suddenly scared of flying because I’ve become more conscious of flight accidents? Of the concept of life and death? Of the fact that there are two strangers flying this plane who I’m placing my life’s fate on?

But I shook my head and told myself that all of that just sounded absurd because I was never bothered by those thoughts before!

When the plane started go through turbulence yet again, I suddenly realized what was wrong: 1 to 3 hours of turbulence was fine — I was programmed to withstand that since childhood — but to stretch the experience for over 18 hours…?

Obviously, that stressed me out and that’s what changed me, and clearly, it suddenly triggered an irrational fear in me.

Besides, I wasn’t well-informed about turbulence either. I just knew that they typically happen but as I sat there for long hours, I wondered…. what is it really about? Does it signal potential danger?

Having absorbed these concerns, every fiber in my being was screaming and yearning for land; I badly wanted to get out in order to clear my thoughts but I was clearly stuck in that flying piece of metal with nowhere to go… Jittery and afraid, I didn’t know what else to do but I clearly didn’t want to inconvenience anyone (bad move of course).

So for the rest of the trip, I just sat there clutching the sides of my seat until my knuckles turned white, telling my friend that I was fine, and letting myself be caged inside my own poisonous thoughts — thoughts that were forming ghastly scenarios while I slowly inched my way towards developing pteromerhanophobia or aviophobia (fear of flying).

When our plane finally landed, my anxiousness naturally subsided… but of course, at that time, I was terribly frustrated.

I absolutely didn’t want to experience that EVER again, nor did I want to fully develop my newfound fear of flying! Besides, I had to take another flight back home after that trip — add the fact that I had more international trips planned for the future. I made the decision to start a travel lifestyle after all because it’s my one true dream; so for sure, I’m not going to let yet another fear stop me!

That’s why starting that day, I took the steps to manage my fear so that it wouldn’t get any worse.

That being said, I bet that you had a different situation that triggered your fear of flying — it could definitely be something worse than mine — but I can assure you that it’s always something that you can cope with, if not overcome.

With the help of the tips below (that I have personally done and of which I have gathered from people who have also managed to overcome fear of flying), it is with my hope that you too can get over this hurdle!

• • •

How to Overcome Fear of Flying

» Find out exactly what you’re afraid of, and then face the facts

Cope with Fear of Flying: Anxiety

The various types of ‘fear triggers’ are vast, some of which are: turbulence, landings, take-off, crashes, and terrorism — they can surely range from small things to big ones and it’s important as early as now to identify what’s making you fear the concept of flying.

Once you identify this, “battle your fear with facts.” It always helps to make the conscious effort of researching data that would counter or correct the misconceptions that you may have. This is also often a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) wherein it’s a kind of treatment where people can learn to question their negative thoughts and be more realistic.

Let’s take the fear of TURBULENCE as an example. This was the trigger for me; to be more precise, prolonged, and constant turbulence. After doing some research, I realized that my fear was unfounded.

Turbulence DOESN’T mean that the plane is going through problems or that it is going to crash: it’s simply going through a change in airflow. Hence, it’s perfectly normal and natural — much like that bump on the road that you experience while you’re out driving your car. In fact, if you ask pilots, it’s more of an ‘inconvenience’. They’re not worried about the plane going down, they’re more worried about passengers who might feel uncomfortable about it. The top thing that they’re worried of ‘falling down’ will be items like bags, cups, or plates.

I can go on a long discussion about the scientific explanation for this but I think it’s best that you just read this article or simply Google about it.

As for other related occurrences that make you think that the airplane will go down, it helps to know this as well: driving and riding cars are actually more dangerous than flying. You’ve probably heard someone saying this and believe me, it’s true.

Statistically speaking, you would have to take a flight every day for 123,000 years in a commercial plane before encountering an accident. Yet of course, when an airplane crash does happen, we make a big deal out of it! Have you wondered why…?

That’s because they are SO rare.

So why are flying accidents happening rarely as compared to driving accidents? One of the reasons would be because the ‘vehicle’ (a commercial airplane) is operated by experts — two of them at least.

You might not know this but pilots spend a lot of time in school and it’s not because flying is hard to learn (I’ve been told by a pilot friend of mine that it’s not that complex to do take-off or landing) but because flight schools simply train pilots over and over again so that they can handle EVERY possible occurrence that may happen while flying an aircraft.

Overall, whatever your fear may be, Google is just a click away.
Otherwise, the following resources and courses can help you manage your fear better. There are even apps that can help you out!

Now I know that some people can still retain their fear of flying no matter how you feed them with concrete facts and statistics (like me). Hopefully, the following tips can help to further alleviate it…

– – –

» Confront your anxiety and fear of flying

Airport: Traveler

There is a thing that psychologists call “gradual exposure“. It’s where you expose yourself to the thing you are afraid of… bit by bit.

As an example, if the idea of flying makes you anxious right from the moment that you step foot in an airport, it’s therefore advisable that you start by hanging out in those airport terminals at first, or by volunteering to drop off your traveling friends over there until you come to acquaint yourself with the environment.

Spend some time watching those planes take off and land too so that you can slowly ease your mind with the idea of being in a plane again.

When that’s done, proceed to the next level of confrontation: “constant exposure” — in this situation, it means that you should fly often.

It’s very effective for overcoming your phobia of flying because every flight will provide you the opportunity to make the next one a lot easier to deal with. In a way, it’s an act that will help you train not only your mind but also your body.

As a whole, this kind of plan is an example of ‘controlled exposure’ to slowly ease you to overcome fear of flying.

Now once you are on that plane…

– – –

» It helps to distract yourself

Airplane Entertainment

Your mind is powerful — but that can be a two-edged sword. It’s super powerful in that it can easily fill your head with drastic thoughts in a nanosecond; but on the flip side, it’s also very powerful that you can make it tune out any fear.

You should take advantage of this latter capability by ignoring your woes, by pretending that your anxiousness doesn’t exist, and by constantly thinking happy thoughts! You are absolutely capable of training your mind to do these.

How exactly do you do this?

  • Distract your mind by focusing it somewhere else: a movie, a book, a soundtrack (pack a noise-canceling headphone!), a game, etc. — anything that could keep you busy.
  • By picturing the destination NOT the journey. Fill your mind with wondrous thoughts of what you’ll be doing once you arrive! This will help give you feelings of anticipation instead of dread.
  • Chat with your ‘flight neighbor’ or your travel partner.
    • One of the things that often alarms passengers other than changes in movement are the changes in sounds within the aircraft; so if you keep on yapping away (or if you distract yourself with the things listed above) you can distract yourself from overthinking every suspicious noise that could trigger your fear of flying.

– – –

» Seek ‘outside’ help

Cope with Fear of Flying: Seek Outside Help

If all else fails, you can do either of these two things:

Talk to the cabin crew. Seek their help and advice. They are trained to handle passengers and any kind of situation inflight; so if you are ever anxious, don’t be afraid to ring the bell because they can surely aid in making you feel more comfortable all throughout the flight.

Seek a professional’s help. As a type of anxiety disorder, there are various trained therapists that can help you cope with your fear of flying and who can better manage ‘controlled exposures’ as discussed in the second point above. There are also some formal courses that will help you overcome fear of flying (I have listed some of them in point #1)

NOTE: You can also go to your doctor to ask for a suitable medication/drug that you can use during a flight to overcome fear of flying. Some people have used sleeping pills, herbal teas, etc. and it’s possible these could work best for you as well because they are proven to work most of the time.
.
But personally, I don’t recommend medication as a permanent or sole solution since it could never really be the most effective answer to the problem; it can rather be a form of ‘escaping’ the problem. I also personally don’t want to depend on medication… yet of course, I understand if this might be the only way for you for now. That being said, do use medication with caution!

While we’re still on the topic of substances, if I may add, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol. For one thing, the properties of caffeine can inadvertently cause nervousness and anxiety. In every flight, it’s important to keep yourself well-hydrated and your blood sugar in check — coffee is something that won’t fulfill this goal. Therefore, it’s rather best to stick to water and juices.

Whereas for alcohol, though it helps for a short while, you should know that drinking one glass during a flight would equal to drinking nearly two. This is because when you’re high up in the air, there is less oxygen than what you would normally breathe when on the ground thereby making you more intoxicated.

Additionally, you can get more motion sickness because of it and that definitely wouldn’t be pleasant at all. (Save for the fact that you might inconvenience the people around you once you start to reek of alcohol or become too tipsy).

• • •

• • •

How to Overcome Fear of Flying

Overall

I still have my fear of flying BUT it only comes and goes in just a matter of seconds. I can absolutely say with confidence that I have fully come to learn how to manage my fear and not let it control me — and I bet you could too!

Like what I’ve said, I don’t think you would let this kind of fear stop you from seeing the rest of the world (take note that sea and land transportation won’t bring you fast to a lot of far-flung places).

Besides, you’ll be surprised at how most of your fears are actually irrational to the very core. So again, with the help of these tips, I dearly hope that you’ll soon be flying again fear-free!

• • •

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About Me

About Aileen : Sidebar

Hey there! I am Aileen Adalid.
At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to pursue my dreams. Today, I am a successful digital nomad (online entrepreneur, travel writer, & vlogger) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.

My mission? To show you how it is absolutely possible to create a life of travel no matter the odds — and I will help you achieve that through my detailed travel hacks, guides, resources, tips, and MORE!

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CURRENTLY BASED IN: The Philippines

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37 Comments

  1. Donna Wanderlust

    I am happy to here that i am not the only travel blogger with this. I arrived in the Philippines 4 days ago after 3 panic attacks leading up to the flight. I have stressed myself out so much i am now really sick and exhausted and have spent my whole time in manila so far either in bed or at the hospital getting tests. I tried hypnotherapy last year but it didn’t have a lasting effect. I will keep trying because my fear is physically crippling me.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Oh my, I’m sorry to hear that!! I hope you’re doing better now, if not get better with those tests. It can really be a pain, that’s for sure! Try the courses as well I’ve mentioned above like SOAR since a friend of mine who had it worse than I did loved it and worked for her. I wish you all the best Donna!

      Reply
  2. Daniela

    I travel three times a year, yet I go through hell every time I board a plane. It actually gets worse the more I travel! I’ve tried sleeping pills and over-the-counter anxiety medications, but to no avail. I think I ‘ll be looking at the courses you listed in this post – they might help! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Aww I’m so sorry to hear that Daniela :( I dearly hope one of the courses above will help you. SORA so far is the highly-rated one!

      Reply
  3. Kathryn

    I don’t have a fear of flying but I have trouble with being in a confined space with a lot of people. It really puts me off flying, it doesn’t stop me but I don’t enjoy it. I actually used to love flying but I think just the general level of manners on board, especially on budget flights, is so gross now.

    I do find noise cancelling headphones help and having a little cocoon around me.

    Reply
  4. Claire

    Thanks for the tips, Aileen! I used to take long haul flights from London to Mexico three times a year with no problem, yet in the last few years i’ve gotten increasingly nervous about taking flights… I think it comes down to reading the news more! But the statistics are a great way to remember how rare plane crashes actually are – I guess for a lot of people it’s the fear of the unknown.

    I find when I can coax my mind off thinking scary thoughts, I actually really enjoy the flying experience, but it just takes a bit of training!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Yeah, true, the media can really heighten anyone’s phobia about it; but plane crashes are unfortunate instances that are really are just rare. I’m glad that the method of controlling your thoughts works — it works for me too, as well as imagining how lovely my destination will be :D

      Reply
  5. Alison

    I don’t have any problems flying – I actually kind of enjoy it. My friend however, and travel buddy, is absolutely terrified! The least bit of turbulence and you have to scrape her off the ceiling, or brace for a broken hand….I’ll have to share this with her.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Your buddy sounds like me years ago ;) I dearly hope this article helps her! Let me know.

      Reply

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