Tips for anxious fliers

With the most recent aviation tragedy fresh in our minds, many are concerned about the safety of flying. The fact that flying has small planebecome so reliable that one could fly every day for 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash may comfort some. For others, the anxiety stays regardless of what our minds tell us. For business travelers, it doesn’t matter how you feel, you still have to fly somewhere to get to work. Here are some ways to deal with it.

Distraction. Just sitting there, thinking about all the things that could go wrong is a recipe for an anxiety attack. Get your mind off of potential issues by reading, watching a movie, working, knitting…. Basically doing anything is way, way better than nothing. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly nervous about something I am unable to focus enough to be productive, so I read instead of pretending to work.

Breathe. Use yoga breathing or visualization to calm your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine yourself someplace peaceful. Really listening to and focusing on your breathing, can calm you down. I will sometimes listen to meditation or yoga podcasts and imagine myself in yoga poses, while my mom will often listen to sounds of nature.

Choose your seat wisely. If you are claustrophobic at all, sit in the aisle even if it costs a bit extra. The ability to get up whenever you need to is worth it! If you are sitting in the window, it may help to close the shade. Sit as close to the front as you can, as turbulence is worse toward the back of the plane. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better to be near an exit row. You also may want to avoid small planes for a while (pictured).

Take care of yourself. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing, are hydrated, and have enough snacks. Wearing something with a restrictive waistband can upset my stomach during a flight, which compounds any negative feelings I have. If this happens to you, try some ginger ale or ginger candy, and (of course) don’t wear tight clothes.

Therapy. If nothing works to reduce your flying anxiety, consider therapy. When you fly regularly for your job, there’s not really a workaround. The constant dread can wear on you, eventually affecting other parts of your life. Don’t let it get that far!

Switch to trains. For some routes, it may make sense to choose a train instead of freaking out over a plane ride. It’s very safe, much safer than by car, but not as safe as air travel (which doesn’t necessarily matter in the middle of a panic attack).

Readers, have you had increased anxiety about flying since Malaysia Air 370 went missing? (I know I have!) How have you dealt with it?


  1. I love traveling…and once I’m in the air I’m fine…but taking off is the worst. I get super anxious and have to madly do crossword puzzles or knit or just mutter to myself the entire time. One other thing that helps me (besides taking something) is to at least make a little small talk with my seat mate. Knowing that person isn’t a TOTAL stranger is somehow comforting!

  2. Like Amber Anna, I love traveling but hate take off. I’m usually fine once we reach the right altitude and can just lean back and read, turn my music on and pretend I’m down on the ground.

    I even set a mantra for myself on my iPhone once when I was flying and I realised that this was the case, so I could drag it out in the future before a flight.

    “You’ve just got tea, from the stewardess, the sun is shining and everything is alright during the flight. Remember this.”

    I’ve never been fond of flying – as I am terrified of heights and always have been, but over the last ten years it has really become horrible.

    (And logically, I know all the stats.)

    For a while it seemed like whenever I was taking a flight, there had been a major airplane accident somewhere in the world either as I was flying or just before. And naturally because I’m about to fly, I notice these things more.

  3. As nuts as it sounds, therapy works. I did 8-10 sessions with a therapist a few months leading up to a few large flights.

    Relaxation exercises, visualization, strategies on when your brain goes to that anxious space, and what to say to yourself when you get unreasonable. Then baby steps. First drive to the airport. Then drive to the airport and sit in the terminal. Then go to a local museum and sit in a plane.

    I know, it sounds silly. But I went from not being able to fly without either A)being drunk, B)on anti-anxiety pills or C)crying on the flight, to flying once or twice a month for work while watching Modern Family calmly.

    It’s worth the few hundred dollars for peace while traveling if that first description is you.

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