Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover for their medical conditions.

8 min read

Are you one of those individuals whose heart pounds at the very thought of boarding an aircraft? If the prospect of air travel fills you with dread, you’re not alone. Flying anxiety, also known as aviophobia, affects a surprisingly large portion of the population and can put a real damper on the excitement of travel. But fear not; by employing a few simple strategies, you can face your fear and step onto that plane with confidence. Here are some top tips to help anxious flyers take to the skies with a calmer mind and an open heart.

The Pre-flight Blueprint for Peace of Mind

The period leading up to your flight can often be filled with anxiety for those who are nervous flyers. Managing the anticipation and stress can make a significant difference in your travel experience. In the following section, we will carefully outline the steps you can take to ensure a calm and smooth take-off.

Understanding Your Anxiety

Recognising the signs and understanding your triggers are crucial initial steps in addressing your fear of flying. Many individuals experience this phobia due to fears related to loss of control, the physical sensations during flight, or the anxiety of being confined in a limited space, which can all be quite overwhelming. By pinpointing the exact sources of your anxiety, you can effectively start crafting a strategy to combat these emotions and gradually overcome your flying phobia.

Booking Smart

Choose your seats wisely when flying. Sitting near the window can offer a feeling of openness and control, allowing you to gaze out at the passing landscape. On the other hand, selecting an aisle seat provides convenient access to move about during the flight. Consider planning your journey during off-peak hours for a more relaxed travel experience.

Pack a 'Distraction' Toolkit

Pack your carry-on with comfort in mind. Remember to include items that not only make you feel secure but also provide a pleasant distraction during the flight. Consider packing your favourite playlist to relax to, a gripping book to get lost in, or a stress ball to keep your hands and mind occupied. Having these personal comforts can enhance your travel experience and make the journey more enjoyable.

Mindfulness and Mental Prep

Start training your mind to associate flying with positive experiences. Before your flight, try visualising a successful journey from takeoff to landing. You could also consider engaging in supportive talking therapy or counselling to address any specific fears or concerns you may have about flying. Remember, nurturing your mental well-being is just as crucial as making physical preparations for your flight.

Speak to Your Doctor

If your fear of flying is severe and you are experiencing physical symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, or an increased heart rate, it may be worth speaking to your doctor for guidance. Seeking professional advice can lead to tailored recommendations, including potential medications or coping strategies. Your doctor may also suggest relaxation techniques or cognitive behavioural therapy to assist in managing anxiety and ensuring a smoother flight experience.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE

How to manage travel anxiety

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Talking therapy can help with the fear of flying, but it's rarely available on the NHS for this specific phobia. Consider taking an airline-organised course such as Flying without Fear course from Virgin, Flying with Confidence from British Airways or Fearless Flyer from Easyjet.

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Taking Off: In-flight Strategies to Stay Grounded

The moment of boarding is where your pre-flight preparations truly pay off. As you step onto the aircraft, you can feel a sense of anticipation mingled with excitement. Finding your seat, stowing your belongings, and settling in for the journey ahead are all part of the ritual that seasoned travellers know well. Here's how to maintain a sense of calm and control when your plane isn't cruising at 30,000 feet yet.

Keeping Distracted

Have a variety of distraction techniques ready to use whenever needed. You can immerse yourself in a movie marathon, challenge your mind with a crossword puzzle, or unwind with a soothing podcast. Redirecting your focus away from flying and onto other activities can greatly improve your comfort during the journey.

Breathing Through the Turbulence

Deep breathing exercises can be a real godsend when it comes to managing stress levels effectively. By practising rhythmic breathing techniques, such as inhaling slowly for a count of four and exhaling even more slowly for a count of six, you can truly harness the power of controlled breathing to calm your mind and body.

Support in the Skies

Don't be afraid to lean on the cabin crew; they’re extensively trained to handle all kinds of passenger needs, including emotional support and reassurance. If you’re feeling uneasy or just need a friendly ear, a quick chat with them can provide you not only with reassurance but also a sense of comfort and a helping hand whenever necessary.

Think about Food and Drink

Certain food and drink choices can impact your hormones, especially if you're feeling anxious. Limit caffeine intake, as tempting as it might be to turn to wine, spirits, or beer to alleviate worry; alcohol can exacerbate symptoms. Prioritize a balanced diet, avoid hunger, and stay well-hydrated with water to promote physical and psychological well-being.

Harness Plant Power

You might find it surprising that plants have the ability to offer a profound sense of calm and positivity during air travel. Various essential oils, like lavender or chamomile oil, are renowned for their soothing qualities. These oils can effectively diminish anxiety levels and encourage a state of relaxation, enhancing the overall flying experience.

Touching Down: Post-flight Calm

Your flight journey has come to an end; now, let's focus on ensuring a smooth landing for your anxiety as you prepare to touch down and transition back to your everyday routine.

Rest and Recover

Plan some relaxing activities for when you arrive at your destination. Consider taking a leisurely stroll along the sandy shores of the beach, feeling the gentle breeze against your skin and listening to the soothing sounds of the waves. Alternatively, you could opt for a peaceful evening in your hotel room, perhaps indulging in a good book or enjoying a warm cup of tea while gazing out at the night sky. Give yourself the precious time and space needed to unwind and decompress fully.

Reflect and Rationalise

Take a few moments to reflect on the experience once you’ve landed safely at your destination. Frequently, you might find that the reality of the flight doesn’t quite align with the intensity of your initial fear. It can be a beneficial exercise to carefully assess how things actually unfolded during the flight and to consciously incorporate these positive insights into your preparation for your next journey.

Onwards and Upwards

Incorporating these strategies into your pre-flight routine can help to demystify the flying experience and reduce anxiety. Every successful flight is a step forward, and with time, you might find that air travel becomes not just a necessity, but something you can enjoy. Remember, the sky is not the limit—it’s just the beginning of your travel adventures. Safe travels!

Flying anxiety is a common struggle for thousands of travellers. If you need further support or advice, remember there are many resources available, from in-person fear of flying courses to self-help books and apps. Don't hesitate to reach out for the help you need to make your flying experience a better one.

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