Staying Calm 30,000 Feet Up | 5 Tips for Dealing with Flight Anxiety

“There’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…”
_Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (movie)*

 

dealing with flight anxiety
Flying to New Orleans, LA

For those of my lovely readers who remember one of my earliest posts to D.C., I confessed that I suffer from flight anxiety.

I remember the throb of my heartbeat before I boarded the Delta flight in June 2002. Off-beat and loud, I imagined ladies dancing to the rhythm pounding through my ears. I couldn’t erase the images in my mind of tragic possibilities–and my friends didn’t help at all; teasing that the plane would crash. Looking back, remembering my sweaty palms and hazy vision, I don’t even know how I made myself board the plane. Time slowed and my heart pounded in my head.

Takeoff was a nightmare, the roaring engine coupled with the screeching pitch of the plane echoed in my ears, the sounds almost blurring into each other. I gripped the armrest so tightly, my shoulders cramped. Air clogged in my throat, in my chest as we flew higher…and higher still. I prayed while I waited for the plane to level, feeling every inch we angled up…

Slowly…

Slowly…

Slowly… the plane fell into a level ride. But I didn’t let go of the armrest.

And I never stopped praying.

Obviously, I landed safe and sound on my first flight. And I would go on to fly over five more times before I turned 18, each flight bringing on the same anxiety, the same crushing weight, the same prayers for safety. It’s quite exhausting, actually.

Now, fifteen years and multiple flights later, I no longer grip my armrest, I love the window seat (which helped, actually. I explain why later), and while I always pray, I trust more than I worry.

despite flight anxiety, I can sit in the window seat for this shot in the airBut how did I deal with my flight anxiety? How do I make myself get on the plane every time despite the loud throbs of my heart and the still present, but more silent fear of something happening? Well, I’m going to share some of my tips for flying that I hope will help others who fear to board…

1. Sit in the window seat.

view from the window despite flight anxietyWait…did she just say what I think she said? Um, I can’t sit by the window, that only makes it worse. Trust me, I completely understand. For the first view years, I refused that coveted seat. I sat in the aisle, needed an aisle seat just to breathe. Middle seats only make me more anxious as I’m slightly agoraphobic as well.

But I digress…sitting next to the window helped me tremendously. Why? Well, seeing what goes on around me comforts me. Call it part of my being a control freak, but if I can’t steer the wheel, I must see what happens when someone else does.

Take this a step further? I always sit near the wing or engine. Because, then I can watch the wing move and elongate. I can watch flaps fly up as we land, watch the soft white hue of wind as it speeds over the beautiful design of the wing. Then, I marvel more at the miracle of a heavy metal bird gliding a couple hundred people from point A to B than I do my anxiety.

2. Listen to Music

Music magically lifts my mind away from reality and carries it off into fantasy where I am on solid ground in my next perfect destination, enjoying my first cheat meal. Music allows me to close my eyes 30,000 feet up and believe I’m dancing with a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. Music lifts us up where we belong, like love.

Personally, I make a playlist for each flight. Soothing, sweet, seductive. Rock, punk, blues. Hardcore, loud, bold. Gospel, hip hop, neo-soul. Doesn’t matter as long as sweet crooning sounds lull me into a sense of comfort. If I close my eyes, I’ll truly believe I’m the middle of a music video…

view of a wing from a window seat, flight anxietyBut, if music doesn’t work, try books. Or the combination of both. Like music, books take you away from reality. Basically, use anything that (legally) takes your mind away from the fact that you are, indeed, high in the sky. Although, I’d hesitate with using alcohol. I mean, I’m sure the smooth ride helps, but for some, the liquid courage only makes the flight anxiety worse. Hopefully, using a healthy distraction leads to my next tip…

3. Sleep

enjoy your in flight drink, flight anxietyProbably the best way to pass the time between take off and landing into a new city. If you manage to score a first class ticket, you can even sleep in style… And comfort can lead to longer, deeper sleep.

For short flights, by the time you close your eyes and REM kicks in, the pilot breaks into your dreams announcing your descent. You thought you had your eyes closed for ten minutes and instead, two hours passed you by. Time suspends in sleep. At least, that’s your mind’s perception as you dream…

4. Travel With People You Trust First

As opposed to people who will only make you feel bad or crazy for your anxiety. As opposed to people who tease you about the plane crashing, the plane having a problem, the plane getting lost…

I don’t know about, but I worry about enough things in my day-to-day life. The last thing I need is a friend sending my anxiety riddled body into  comatose state.

flight anxiety and a view from a window planeI wouldn’t recommend flying solo for the first time if you struggle with anxiety. I’m not condemning it either; some of us face our fears head on and say f*ck you… But I’m thankful my first flight was with a large group of people I knew. If I’m with a group of friends or people I trust, I feel like I’m in familiar territory. I’m less likely to freak out or call a flight attendant.

5. Know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Because you are one of many in a club none of us asked to join, but all pay high membership dues to. You aren’t odd. You aren’t crazy. In fact, you are one of millions in America who suffer and deal with flight anxiety. And that’s okay.

fleet of planes in an airline tarmac, flight anxiety
Landed safe and sound…

Something else that helps me get back on the plane? A bonus tip… the surreal feeling once I finally land. The realization that I made it through another flight and I’m in a new place. The sheer freedom in solo travel, even when I’m afraid every time I buckle my seatbelt. I did this. I’ve taken more flights in the last 5 months than I ever did in my entire life. And that reality feels amazing.

“The danger must growing for the rowers keep on rowing,
and they certainly aren’t showing any signs that they are slowing…”
_Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (movie)

*I use quotations from Willy Wonka because during my last flight, the way the sunrise cascaded into the hull of the plane through the slits of window shades, orange and red, pink and yellow bounding against the walls, reminded me strongly of the boat and tunnel scene. Both quotations are from that scene.

 

Did I miss some tips? Do you have any other suggestions? What helps you get through your anxiety? Comment below and let me know!

 

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6 Comments

  1. Window seat works for some, but not for all. One of the anxious guys I know swears by sitting in aisle seat, saying this way he stresses less as he doesn’t see what’s going on. I am normally not worried at all when I fly, but when turbulence is strong, if I am in an aisle seat I imagine that it is actually a train I am riding and it helps.
    Same guy I mentioned above says it’s also easier if the flight is in the morning – you wake up and take it, rather than worrying about it all day.

    1. spioaertriac

      Alina, I completely understand. For years I had to sit in aisle, never the window for the same reason–I couldn’t see what was going on so I felt a little better. But for me, not knowing brings on a new level of anxiety. And you know, I always fly in the morning–maybe that’s how my anxiety has gotten better.

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