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10 Tricks for Conquering Flight Anxiety

You know that flight turbulence isn't the same thing as being chased by a lion. But how do you explain that to your adrenaline system? Simple—you employ time-tested strategies for keeping nerves in check. Here are 10 of the best from the experts.

Skip the coffee—and the wine

Captain Allright says to avoid both caffeine and alcohol, as they can leave you feeling more dehydrated during the flight. Nervous fliers should avoid a seemingly comforting pre-flight alcoholic beverage, since alcohol can also make it harder for your body to adjust to being airborne and bring on a nasty bout of jet lag. Instead, opt for water and a light meal pre-flight, or carry along a light snack like carrot sticks, nuts, or an apple to keep you feeling nourished.

Bring a book you've already started or tune into a television series you already know

In a nutshell—distraction works. Airlines now provide the little comforts of home—like televisions, music channels, and magazines—to help distract you from noises and bumps during the flight and make you feel more at home in a strange place. One of the best ways to distract yourself during a flight is to bring a book that you've already started and are deeply engrossed in or a season of your favorite television show. Farchione says if people associate televisions with being safe at home, and there's a television on the plane, they will feel similar familiar feelings of comfort.

Share your secret with the flight attendants

Dr. Seif says it's a good idea to let others know you're not too keen on flying—you may be able to speak to the pilot briefly while you board the plane or receive extra attention from flight attendants during the flight. If you're traveling with friends or family members, talk to them about what makes you nervous so they can help alleviate the tension, but don't let the conversation spiral into a contest over who has had the scariest flight experience. Sometimes just knowing that others are available to help you in case your anxiety surfaces is enough to help keep that anxiety in check.

Embrace safety information—especially this video

No, your plane is not going to crash (and whatever you do, do NOT start envisioning disaster scenarios). But knowing that you're prepared for anything can be empowering. Watch an airline safety video while you're still in the comfort of your home so that you can "master" the procedure in your head (Air New Zealand did an especially entertaining take on the safety video, featuring characters from The Hobbit). Once you're on board the aircraft, take time to read the airline safety card in the seat pocket in front of you. If it makes you feel better, you could even go so far as to book your seat in the back of the plane, which has been repeatedly shown to be the safest part of the aircraft in the event of a crash.

Use this breathing technique

Allright says deep breathing is very important during takeoff and other points during the flight where you experience anxiety. "If someone is very anxious, it is actually very difficult to change their breathing pattern," he says. "Try holding your breath and then deep breathing, or better still, force yourself to breathe out for as long as you can and then take a long, deep breath." Seif and Farchione both recommended taking deep breaths, since this triggers the calming response and can help to prevent hyperventilation. Try to maintain a relaxed posture as well, and not cling to the chair's armrests, since this can heighten any anxiety you may be feeling.

Have one or two relaxation remedies handy—but use them only as a last resort

Some doctors prescribe anxious fliers with fast-acting anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium, but Farchione warns that you should be aware that each has its own side effects and that you may feel tired for hours after the plane has landed. If you don't have a prescription, herbal remedies like St. John's Wort or Scullcap may help calm nerves too, according to an article by USA Today. Bring the medication or the herbal remedy, but hold onto it as a "last resort" option. When you feel jitters coming on, start by employing a minor relaxant, such as sipping chamomile or peppermint tea. Farchione says that doing the things you associate with being calm and content will help remind you to remain calm as you fly. You may find that simply knowing the medication is there in case of emergency is comforting enough—and you can reap the benefits without the side effects.

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