How to Handle Flying Anxiety: 11 Ways to Help You Cope

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I don’t like flying and would go so far as to say I have a touch of flying anxiety. I don’t like flying. At all. There is nothing about the experience I find enjoyable, even with the tinges of anticipation I have. Kind of ironic as I love traveling so much and I’m sure people who know me would be surprised to know.

As much as I dislike flying, I have found some different helpful ways to cope. Now it’s not something I necessarily look forward to, but it won’t detract from my trip. There are a lot of ways you can manage flying anxiety (even without prescription drugs or alcohol). Here are some of the tips I’ve learned along the way that may help.

plane, flying plane

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What Builds Flying Anxiety for Me

Everything about the process is excruciating, from standing in the long line waiting to board, waiting for that guy with the oversized bag trying desperately to stuff it into the overhead, waiting again for the woman who needs “just one thing” from her overhead bag, even though we waited in line for 15 minutes.

Then once you take off, you hear the chorus of sneezing, coughing, and kids screaming. You’re mashed into your seat often next to people you don’t know, and likely never would. Your seat gets kicked if you’re lucky, and if you’re unlucky, the shlub behind you puts his feet up so they are resting right next to your arm.

Not my idea of fun at all.

I’m already a little nervous about flying, to begin with. Add to it my impatience to get to my destination and the crowd of people I have to do it with, and flying is an anxiety-provoking thing.

The Crux of My Flying Anxiety

And I especially don’t like landings. I know it beats the alternative, and I’m all for getting back to the earth and knowing I’m that much closer to my destination. However, they fill me with dread. The air pockets you hit on the way down that jostle you, the feeling of being in a roller coaster (it might surprise you to know I’m not a fan of them, either!) the generally firm smack into the ground, and the engines revving up once you hit ground make me shiver.

For me, it’s also my complete lack of sleep.

Sleep Could Be the Cure, If Only..

For short flights, I can often sleep and I joke that I am asleep before the plane starts backing up. I fly from Phoenix to Albuquerque a lot; a 1-hour flight. I get a killer nap. However, transatlantic flights, and even transpacific, when I’m flying for 10 hours or more, are not fun at all. I remain wide awake the entire time. I have tried Ambien, melatonin, and other methods to sleep and end up being a draggy, cranky ogre.

Fabulous. When it really counts, I can’t sleep!

And of course, spending 10+ hours in that state doesn’t lend to stepping off the plane feeling refreshed, happy, and excited to be at my new destination. Because when you step off the plane, you have to wrangle your bag from the overhead that now feels like twice your body weight.

You go through immigration and customs, or the equivalent requirement in the country you are now in, weaving and bobbing through a mass of other equally dazed zombie travelers. Then you have to find transportation to the place you’re staying. Did you think you’d just take public transportation? With your eyes crossing you now have to navigate that.

Almost makes me want to stay on the plane.

Here are some of my coping strategies for the long flight, so I don’t stuff a pillow over the face of a friend, or on someone sitting next to me blissfully dozing. Because that would be wrong.

Bring Creature Comforts

I always bring a small bottle of hand cream on the plane. My hands tend to get dry in the recycled air and this is a small but nice way to comfort myself and to feel a bit better. I also bring a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste in my carry-on bag so I can brush my teeth at the end of a long flight. Something about both the act and the minty freshness makes me feel better and ready to brace the airport beehive.

Do you like a soft scarf (this one is made by a small business)? Fuzzy socks (I love these)? A neck pillow (this one twists to the contour you need to be comfy)? Bring what fits in your carry-on bag and makes you feel more comfortable during the trip.

The Sniffs

Also for comfort, I usually will bring either a small bottle of lavender oil, or I’ll bring a small piece of cloth with some lavender oil on it to smell periodically during the flight. Or they have this convenient rollerball bottle with a brand I love. The scent is soothing and comforting to me and I find it’s effective to help me reduce my flying anxiety. I’m careful with it, though, as people may have allergies so I do what I can to keep the scent to myself.

Additionally, I think of airplanes as giant Petrie dishes incubating all sorts of germy goodness, and who wants to get sick when you’re on an adventure? I’m no germophobe but I have found I often get sick after flights. So I bring Nasya oil and put some in my nose before the flight, and sometimes refresh during a long flight for protection.

Bring Lots of Different Things to Do

Believe it or not, there are a lot of things that you can fit in your carry-on bag to entertain yourself during a long flight.

Entertainment

I load up on books on my iPad, Netflix downloads, games, and above all, I make sure to bring my power cord in an easy-to-access spot. There’s little worse than staring at a dead piece of electronic equipment you brought to literally save your life.

I am a bit of a last-minute packer, but even so, I take some time planning for what I’ll bring and make sure I have a lot of interesting things to do. Music and earbuds are also always in my bag to further try to distract myself. And if I can’t hear the clunking of the landing gear getting ready for our arrival, all the better.

flying anxiety
Bring a Bag Full of Tricks
Photo Credit: Bambi Corro, Unsplash

Phone Clean-up

Another thing I do sometimes is clean up my phone. You know, those pictures I’ve been wanting to file in a folder, deleting old contacts I’m no longer in touch with, and removing apps I no longer use. There are lots to do on my phone and a long flight is a great time to get it done. If that doesn’t provide enough entertainment, there are always games on my phone.

Trip Planning

There’s no minute like the last minute, eh? In truth, I’m a bit of a planning and don’t usually leave things until the last minute except for some of the nit-picky details. When I’m not feeling like I have everything planned out to the level I want, I will sometimes bring material on the plane to read to give me something to focus on.

Of course, you can often get on WiFi on the plane or can download documents to your phone, tablet, or laptop. So, it’s a great time to finish those late details to get ready for your trip, or even to review what you’re doing to get you through the flight.

Meditation

Meditation is a work-in-progress for me. I have “monkey brain” and when I try to quiet my mind, my brain takes this as a challenge to do everything but! Everything from my prior day, my upcoming trip, my to-do list, my interest in learning another language—you name it! It’s all there spinning in my head.

However, I like the idea of meditation and I do continue to try it. I have found guided meditation works a little better for me as there are words for my brain to focus on, but sometimes soothing music can really help me to get in the groove. Whatever works for you is fine, and it’s a good time to focus inward.

I have also read articles about yoga poses you can do on your long flights. If you’re so inclined, I think they might be worth a try.

Select Your Seat

I’m an aisle girl. Though I’m not claustrophobic and have no height excuse for wanting an aisle seat, I prefer not squeezing into a seat where I have to pass multiple people to get out to the row to stretch. Or to go to the bathroom.

I generally choose an aisle seat, though sometimes on the larger planes with a  2/4/2 seat configuration, I’ll choose the window on one of the two-seated sides with the hope of sleeping a bit. It rarely happens, so I generally just go for the aisle.

If you prefer the aisle seat, then absolutely go for that. Whatever makes you comfortable is the goal. Be sure to plan in advance to reserve your preferred seat when you can.

flying anxiety
Pick Your Seat
Photo Credit, Sofia Sforza, Unsplash

Mental Meanderings

I often find the best way to distract myself on a long flight is by thinking about my adventure ahead. I remind myself of why I’m doing this to myself and think about all of the fun and exciting things I have planned. Though the process of getting there, wherever there is, is challenging to me, I really do love everything about going to new places. Everything else, at least, except for the flying part.

Trip Planning

Sometimes your flight is a great place to do some last-minute trip planning. I have read notes, organized my itinerary, and done research while flying to my destination. It’s a great time when you really have nothing else to do and can focus on the work. You’re also excited and motivated!

Bring a Snack (and a Bottle for Water)

What is more fun than being thirsty, or having a coughing fit when the food cart is a football field length away? I always bring snacks, generally something filling and healthy like some almonds, and often something little and sweet as I’m a huge sweet tooth.

I usually bring a bottle that I can fill with water at the airport, another reason to get an aisle seat. Yes, I don’t want to be that girl making two or three other people get up multiple times during the flight.

Carry on Only

In my last few years, I have taken up the challenge to only bring a carry-on bag for all trips, even those of a week or more. I find it a fun challenge, but I also dislike waiting for my bag once I get to the airport. You may have noticed how spectacularly impatient I am!

It’s one more thing to stress about during my trip: will my bag arrive?  And then there’s the impatiently waiting in a sea of people looking and feeling like a zombie. I do myself, and those around me, a favor and carry all of my bags on whenever possible. No need to make zombie Sam cranky Sam. Or perhaps, cranki-er Sam.

Treat Myself to Uber

I’m all about budget travel as it enables me to travel more, but after a long flight, the last thing in the world I want to do is haul my stuff around multiple subway trains. I always plan for it should I feel up for it, but generally treat myself to a cab ride or an Uber. Both for my benefit and for my fellow travelers. It’s a splurge, perhaps, but it’s worth the cost to me.

Download the SOAR App

Another option to help either before or during your flight is the SOAR app. SOAR was established back in 1982 by Captain Bunn to help travelers overcome a fear of flying. His course is based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques designed to desensitize a nervous traveler.

The app is available on Android and iPhone. It’s no cost to download and offers audio and in-app provides for purchase. There are a number of lessons designed to help you control your panic and in-flight anxiety. It can help provide peace of mind during flights, even at times with significant turbulence. If you’re managing flight anxiety and looking for a new tool in your arsenal, check it out!

Get TSA PreCheck

Another great way to reduce flying anxiety is by not allowing it to build up in the first place. I don’t know about you, but I get really stressed out going through security.

I’m a bit impatient (read: very impatient!) so standing around waiting in line is no fun. Add to that my attempt to get to the airport early was unsuccessful and I’m a bundle of nerves. Getting onto a plane like that doesn’t set me up for success.

It’s worth it to get TSA PreCheck if you’re eligible. (Generally speaking, a US citizen, though others may be eligible as well.) This post has all you need to know about TSA PreCheck to decide if it’s right for you.

If you do a lot of international travel, Global Entry may be a better bet. Check out this post on Global Entry to see if it may be a better fit.

Traveling is Still Worth It, Even With Flight Anxiety

Flying anxiety for me is about all of the stress associated with flying, including before, during, and after the trip. Though I still experience flying anxiety, incorporating these activities has helped to significantly lower my anxiety so I can focus on my trip and enjoy the time from leaving my house. I do love traveling, and I’m willing to accept flying as a means to an end.

Here are some other tips for air travel that might help as well!

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