Coming to Grips with My Fear of Flying

The rattling overhead compartments, the minimal space between fellow passengers, the acknowledgment of risk stowed away, itching the back of my mind. You would think that after countless trips moving across country and visiting family and friends that I would acquiesce with the feeling of being airborne. As my last flight to Portland proved, this is definitely not the case.

It’s hard to love traveling and seeing new places when your mind always expects the worst to happen. Although I constantly maintain this mentality during my flying endeavors, there are a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way that help me cultivate a more practical mindset when it comes to enduring long, turbulent flights. 

row of airplane seats with monitors Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Before the flight:

To prepare myself mentally for a flight I like to make sure I don’t forget anything when I’m packing the day before. I normally make a list because I know that if I don’t write down “phone charger,” I will forget it in a frantic rush. One of the most important things I require before a long flight is a good night’s sleep. Although sleeping through a flight might seem like the answer to all my problems, my trepidation of flying normally doesn’t leave much room for peaceful naps 30,000 ft in the air. Another more extreme step I like to take is monitoring the weather of my future flight. This allows me to better understand what exactly I am getting myself into.

During the flight:

Sitting down and strapping in for liftoff is always a challenge for me. To my daredevil sister, it’s a roller coaster; To me, it’s a life or death mission to Mars. Or at least that’s what it seems like most of the time. I find that stealing my dad’s noise-canceling headphones distracts me from the constant buzz of the engine firing up. With these headphones on I can block out the children screaming, the closing of the overhead compartments and maybe even watch a long movie to help the time pass swiftly. Also, a very important step is to (if possible) acquire a window seat or the middle seat at the very least. When we take off, it sometimes helps to look out the window and watch the clouds below.

~Bonus Tip~

I find that my hands are the first to fidget and go clammy when I feel turbulence. To prevent my hands from putting the armrest in a chokehold, I like to make sure they’re occupied in other ways whether that be playing with the rings on my finger, typing in the notes section of my phone or just flipping through the airline brochure till the chaos subsides.

After it’s over:

At this point, my muscles will usually relax and my heartbeat will return back to normal. When the plane rolls onto the runway I know it was another successful flight. This feeling of ease that washes over me is comparable to finishing a marathon, or at least I think it is (I’ve never run a marathon). After I get off the plane, all I can think about is the great adventures lying ahead and the fact that I have yet another aerial experience under my belt.

Girl clutching to her white dotted skirt Photo by boram kim on Unsplash

From reading the things listed above, it is clear that my flying anxiety is a process. My racing thoughts, sweaty palms and overactive imagination might deter the enjoyment of many future airborne experiences, but it won’t stop me from flying indefinitely. If you share these sentiments with me just know that there are ways to work through this anxiety, but it takes time, resilience and a willingness to experience it over again with the hopes that you’ll succeed the next time.

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