Overcoming Fear of Flying

I love travel, and always have. And up until a few years ago, I had no problem with flying whatsoever! It was only after a particularly stormy, bumpy, turbulent ride in a small propeller plane (complete with jolts so heavy I grabbed my neighbors’ hands and started praying, for reals), that I developed a serious fear of flying. And now, with every trip, I find myself busy overcoming fear of flying. I guess, more specifically, it’s a fear of turbulence. Let me explain.
Overcoming fear of flying
I’ve done a lot of reading and I see over and over again that  fear of flying or turbulence often comes from a perceived lack of control. And I supposed that’s true. I, as a passenger, have zero control over what happens to the plane, the way it’s flown, the weather we fly through, and on and on. And I find that to be partially true. But for me, there’s another layer to it — it’s the lack of knowledge. I’ve found that when we’re going through some bumpy air and the pilot comes over the intercom to explain what’s going on, I can maintain my cool much more easily. If there’s a simple, “Folks, we’re going through some bumpy air trying to navigate through this storm, but we’re trying to find some smooth air and it should be better in 10 minutes,” I’m pretty good. Uncomfortable, but… hopeful? But if there’s radio silence from the cockpit during substantial turbulence, I spiral. My mind immediately imagines that the turbulence is so bad the pilot can’t take his hands off the controls and we’re definitely going to die any minute.

How I’m Overcoming Fear of Flying

I also know logically that flying is one of the safest methods of transportation, and you’re way more likely to be injured in a car crash than in a plane crash. They always say the most dangerous part of flying is the drive to the airport. But when that turbulence kicks in, that logic doesn’t stop my heart from racing or my eyes from filling with tears or my breath from getting short. So over the years, I’ve developed a couple of (possibly weird) tricks that I do in the air when it’s bumpy and I just can’t calm my brain. Here’s how I work on overcoming fear of flying.

Sit By the Window

Some people tell me it seems counterintuitive, but I always feel better if I can see the ground. As soon as turbulence starts I always find myself looking out the window. (Partially because if the ground isn’t rushing up to meet us I know we’re okay so far. 😉 ) I also find that if I can see clouds nearby outside, the bumps make sense. My mind wants to equate the smoothness of the flight with the status of the weather, I guess. Once we start getting closer to the ground for landing, it’s also comforting to see landmarks getting bigger. Instead of just seeing mountains or bodies of water, soon you’ll see cities. And then roads. And then cars. And then you land.

Counting

It might be bordering on OCD, but my number one go-to for getting through a bumpy patch is counting. Once the bumps start, I look out the window and breathe as calmly as I can, while I count seconds. I try to get to 100. Then 200. Then 300. Most of the time, the bumps end before I get to 300 (five minutes) and I stop counting without even realizing it. If I get to 300 and it’s still turbulent I start over and take comfort in the fact that we haven’t crashed yet. 😉 This actually started on a bumpy flight back from Japan. The pilot told us to expect turbulence for 15 minutes, so I counted to 300 three times, and sure enough — the turbulence ended right on cue. I always take comfort in that.

Find a Mantra

This is sort of along the same lines, but if counting doesn’t work for you, maybe a repeated phrase will. Sometimes I say, “It’s just like a bumpy road,” over and over again in my head, to a solid rhythm. It helps to have something to focus on and even zone out with while you’re riding out the bumps.
None of this is to say that it’s curing my fear by any means. But the goal is overcoming fear of flying so that I can go through the fear and travel anyway. Because I’ll be danged if this gets the better of me — I have too much world to see! Are you working on overcoming fear of flying? Do you have any go-to tricks? Leave them in the comments — I’d love to know what works for you. Happy travels! xoxo

8 Replies to “Overcoming Fear of Flying”

  1. Funny you posted this because this past week I just flew for the first time in 18 years (I’m 28 years old). I’m definitely a nervous flyer, partly because I get motion sickness easily and the changes in pressure during take off really messes with my stomach. I sat by the window once and the aisle seat once during our return flight home, and actually found that the aisle seat made me feel better. I have more room and feel less claustrophobic, PLUS I feel like it’s cooler and I have more air (which helps me feel less sick). My other two tips are having something to chew on during the flight. I like mint gum and then I keep ginger chews around for take off.

  2. I have a horrible fear of flying as well. Mine started similarly, with a ride on a small sea plane in Alaska. Now, 15 years later, it’s still going strong. Take off is the worst part for me, mostly because, statistically speaking, takeoffs and landings are the most dangerous part of flying. Landings don’t get to me as much because, hey, its almost over, right? But no matter how calm I think I am before takeoff, as soon as the plane begins to speed up on the runway, my heart starts racing and my hands get all sweating. I’ve started a habit of plugging my ears (while looking insane, haha!) and counting backwards from 100. It forces me to focus on something else, and usually by the time I’m done, we are in the air and leveling off. It’s the one trick with flying that has actually really helped. It’s also comforting to know how many others are also afraid, yet don’t let the fear stop them from living life and seeing the world. Go us, haha!

  3. I also have a fear of flying but it’s take off for me that does it. I start to have a panic attack no matter what I do. I also need to look out the window the ENTIRE flight (I don’t fly often or far) and I hate all the noise the plane makes and I hate when i sounds like the engines have turned off (because we don’t need as much power from the engines anymore). I seriously have to take Xanax before I get on a plane. It’s awful and I wish I could make myself NOT freak out but…

  4. In two weeks I will be flying on a commercial flight across the country. It’s been 22 years since I was last on a commercial plane . It will be my first flight alone without friends or family by my side. I have been very nervous about the flight, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to travel. I always have hated take offs.
    This past weekend I had a very random opportunity to fly in a small propeller plane. That has been a bucket list dream and yet a huge fear. I jumped at the chance knowing I had this trip coming up. I was super anxious, but decided to just go for it. I figured if I could make it through the small plane flight without dying I could make it across the country on my own. I LOVED that flight!. The crazy part was I even had a student pilot flying the plane for part of the flight. (I did not know until we were in the air LOL).
    I think my biggest thing is that I just have to jump right in and just do it, tell myself that everything will be just fine and if it’s my time to go at least I know I was having fun and not sitting home in fear. Reading or other distractions during take offs also help a lot.

  5. This was amazing to read. It was like I was reading my own thoughts in my head. The more I fly the worse I get and it got worse after we had kids too. It’s so frustrating and definitely a lack of control thing. I always say that I’d probably be totally fine if I was riding in the cockpit! Once I’m in the air and it’s smooth I’m ususlly fine. Watching movies helps a lot to take my mind off it. Traveling with my husband helps too cause he loves flying so it calms me down. Thank you for this! Nice to know I’m not alone.

  6. My husband has flying experience and is pretty solid on a plane so when things get scary he can tell me why things are happening and that it’s nothing to worry about. I’m not afraid of flying but we’ve had some rough flights where it’s hard not to freak out and think the worst.

  7. I have struggled with this since 1999 and a a particularly turbulent flight. I use many of the same techniques as you plus check out the work of Capt atom Bunn – soar.com for his great fear of flying program. He’s a retired pilot and a therapist…on his app he has a G force meter that lets you see in real time that in turbulence the plane is actually moving very little. Download it! Xoxo

  8. Hi there! I’m an airline pilot so this blog post caught my attention right away. It’s interesting to get a passenger’s perspective of turbulence and the things that might be going through their mind. It’s also nice to hear that you appreciate and are reassured by our announcements, since we usually don’t get any direct feedback like that. I promise that we’re not holding on for dear life up there if we’re being quiet! Most turbulence is caused by a wind speed or direction change in the atmosphere, and many times the shifty layer of air is very thin, so we often climb or descend a couple thousand feet in order to find a better ride (although some days there’s just no smooth air at any usable altitude). That means we’re busy talking to air traffic control and other pilots in the area, trying to determine what altitudes have a better ride and then coordinating the altitude change. We also call the flight attendants to make sure they know about any bumps ahead so that they have time to stow their carts. Then we may need to get in contact with our dispatcher to let them know our new altitude and new fuel consumption numbers. Needless to say, we’re busy up there. Thanks again for your perspective and please reach out to me if you have any questions!

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