How to deal with the fear of flying

Dealing with the fear of flying

Fear of flying is quite common – approximately 30% of the people who fly are scared of it to a degree from simple uneasiness to real, terrible panic. I am a quite frequent flyer who have managed to cope with my fear and this article is about giving advice (from my personal experience) on how to keep your fear under control while flying. I’m not saying my fear of flying is gone for good, but I am managing to keep calm and relax, especially during turbulence.

About 9 years ago while returning from Brazil to Madrid I had a terrible flight over the Atlantic – so much turbulence and “free falling” that I hardly believed we were going to land safely. I was really scared and could hardly relax – have pictured all my life so far and tried to see if I was happy with how I have lived it, as it was going to be over for me; of course I was really relieved when we landed. But the difficult part started only about one year later – while I kept flying at least once a month. I was developing a fear of turbulence that was increasing with every flight; I was having a very hard time relaxing while flying and I was even close to panicking at the first sign of turbulence. Flying became a nightmare and I couldn’t find ways to relax.

I tried not to sleep the night before – but still couldn’t close an eye during any flight. Lately, I have been using anxiolytics for a while, but had to give them up as I was flying quite frequently and they weren’t doing me any good long term – they weren’t helping me overcome my fear of flying nor were they good for my health.

So I had to learn to be less panicked when flying while also controlling my fear when it starts kicking-in (or when the plane hits turbulence) – I love travelling and my job involves a lot of travelling – so giving up flying was not an option for me.

So, here is what I did to control my fear of flying – some of these advices can help you too, I am sure!


Understand the flying principles and why turbulence happens

Read all there is to read about how a plane flies. Just google “flying principles” and you’ll get elaborate articles on how planes fly, what forces are used, how a plane is built to fly in almost any condition, how tests are made on planes before they are used. For me, the most important things to learn were what turbulence means, why it happens and how the plane is built to face turbulence commercial planes will probably never hit in a lifetime. Understanding all of this helped me discover that the reasons for my fear of flying were normal and it was really nothing to be panicking about.

Still, sometimes logical arguments do nothing – especially when panic starts settling in. Fear takes control over your mind and you are not able to think rationally. So this led me to realizing I had to do something to control my mind and my reaction over the fear of flying while hitting turbulence.


Breathing calms the fear of flying

While panicking, we tend to breathe more rapidly, unbalancing the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) in our body. Not having enough oxygen will make us breathe even more rapidly, creating a vicious circle that will leave us feeling both panicking and breathless.

What we need to do is to take deep breathes – inhale as deep as we can, hold till we count at three then exhale slowly, so we control our breath and don’t let it speed up. This way our body will have the oxygen and CO2 needed to breathe normally, think clearly and control the fear and panic about to settle in.

While controlling my breath and keeping it normal with deep breathes, I am able to “talk myself into reason” during turbulence: I am able to think about why turbulence is normal, look at the flight attendants and see that they are calm – so I can calm myself down thinking it’s just like in a car – some bumpy roads. It’s so much easier for me to reason when I am calm. And breathing normally helps me stay calm.


Imagining the plane from outside

While keeping my breathing normally, I like to close my eyes and do the following exercise – I imagine I am outside the plane and that I am just looking at it flying. I have seen a lot of planes flying so it’s easy to do it. I am thinking that from outside, it barely moves so this turbulence must be something really unimportant. Detaching myself from the actual situation helps me a lot to keep my calm while hitting turbulence.


Looking at the wings of the plane

I prefer a window seat during flying. Because seeing the peaceful clouds, or the mountains, sea, rivers, cities – all the beauty below – calms me down. Also, during turbulence, seeing that the wings barely move makes me think that it’s really just a tricky wind or air changing direction. But nothing to worry, really, as the plane can face it so easily.


Audiobooks and music

It always helps to keep my mind busy while flying – it helps me take my mind off the fact that I am kilometers up in the air, or that we are hitting turbulence, or other many thought not so optimistic related to flying. I have an app on my phone and I download one or two books that I want to listen to – and I turn them on before taking off. Of course, I listen to the flight safety instructions and all the announcements made on the plane. But it’s so much easier when I am distracted from my fear of flying, from the fact that I am actually in a plane, up in the air.


Listen to the pilot

It’s very reassuring and helps me calm down when I hear the pilot giving us the flight info – his tone is very relaxed and it indeed puts me at ease. I am always happy when they announce our flying time is less than expected and I celebrate every shortening of the flight time!


Placebo pills

I use some pills with 100% natural ingredients to help me face better my fear of flying – the key ingredients are melatonin and St. John’s wort plant. I think it’s more of a placebo effect, but if I take them I manage to stay calm during turbulence and I usually fall asleep for a little while during the flight.

This is how I cope with my fear of flying – it hasn’t been easy but everyone told me it was possible so I did my best to achieve this. Especially that I wasn’t afraid of flying in the first hand – it was a fear that developed because of a really bad experience. I can’t say I’ve had a similar experience since then but I do hope in case I will – to be able to control my fear and be calm, thinking about the exciting destination. Let me know if you have some other tips and tricks that worked for you!

2 thoughts on “How to deal with the fear of flying

  1. Breathing exercises, though frequently recommended, do not work. I know that from years of experience treating flight phobia and also from research. For effective methods I can fix it read

  2. Most of these tips are helpful. But one can lead to trouble. Though breathing exercises are widely recommended for fear of flying, research (as well as my experience flying with hundreds of fearful fliers) is ineffective. Though it can be used as a distraction, a movie, a magazine, or a novel works just as well. But, don’t be misled. Distraction is not a dependable strategy because when turbulence starts, distraction stops. This is because stress hormones are automatically and unconsciously released each time the plane drops. Stress hormones hijack you mind. There is nothing you can do to prevent this unless you have trained your mind to produce oxytocin when there is turbulence. To learn how, read

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *