Stress & Anxiety | Written by: Jeana Marie

How to Relax on a Plane & Beat Flight Anxiety

Traveling by plane is a necessity in today’s global world. You may need to take a plane to attend university, an important work conference, or to visit family or friends who live thousands of miles away.

However, if you suffer from aviophobia or the fear of flying, it may stop you from boarding the plane and living your life to the fullest. 

Whether you live with severe aviophobia or a mild form of flying anxiety, there are steps you can take to calm your fears and relax while flying.

Here's how to relax on a plane so that you don’t miss out on important events, visiting family, and seeing the world due to your anxiety. 

What Causes Flight Anxiety?

Before treating your flying fears, it is helpful to understand where they may come from.

There are many reasons you may experience aviophobia. It could be as simple as having seen traumatizing news coverage of a plane crash or seeing a crash portrayed on t.v. or in a movie. 

Your aviophobia may come from a negative past experience on a plane or from anxiety related to busy airports, intense security checks, and other aspects of the preflight process. 

Most commonly, aviophobia stems from co-occurring root phobias. These include: 

  • Claustrophobia - fear of closed-in spaces
  • Acrophobia - fear of heights 
  • Enochlophobia - fear of crowds
  • Agoraphobia - fear of being trapped somewhere you cannot escape
what causes fear of flying

In addition to these phobias, you may also experience fear at the thought of:

  • Experiencing a terrorist attack
  • Flying over water
  • Having to sit still for a long period of time
  • Feeling turbulence 
  • Not being in control 

What Are the Symptoms of Aviophobia?

Aviophobia can elicit a number of different emotional and physical symptoms.

If you experience the following at the thought of flying or when boarding a plane, you may suffer from aviophobia or mild flight anxiety. 

  • Nausea
  • Intense sweating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness or faintness 
  • Heart palpitations
  • Inability to focus
  • Anger or irritability 
  • Shaking or trembling
symptoms of flight anxiety

General Ways to Manage Flight Anxiety

If you have aviophobia, you may or may not be able to force yourself to board a plane.

Before you even book a flight, there are ways you can treat and manage your fear of flying.

These treatment methods include educating yourself about flying, seeking professional help, and exploring alternative treatment options such as virtual reality training. 

Educate Yourself

As a general approach to managing your fear of flying, educating yourself on various aspects of flying and anxiety can help.

You can focus on learning about what to expect on a flight, such as why turbulence is normal. You can also focus on obtaining a realistic view of the dangers of flying. 

For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  reports that an estimated 38,680 Americans died in traffic collisions in 2020.

In opposition to this number, there were only a reported 349 air traffic deaths worldwide, none of which were on a commercial aircraft. 

Although these numbers might not erase your fear, educating yourself on the reality of flying can give your mind a framework to build on. 

how to manage flying anxiety

Seek Professional Help

Obtaining treatment from a trained therapist can also help you work through your flying fears.

Professional help is useful for mild to moderate flight anxiety, but if you suffer from severe aviophobia that prevents you from living your life it may be necessary. 

A therapist can use exposure-based therapy to help you explore your fear of flying.

Typical exposure therapy requires you to face your phobia a little bit at a time while implementing coping techniques. The eventual goal is that you can desensitize yourself to your fear.

In addition to exposure therapy, a counselor can teach you anxiety coping techniques and help you find the root cause of your anxiety.

They may also use methods such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to aid you in working through past trauma or prepare your brain for your flying.  

Explore Alternative Options

Another general approach you can take for managing aviophobia is to take part in virtual reality desensitizing programs or fear of flying courses.

Many airlines offer some type of fear of flying course which allows you to walk through boarding a flight and ask questions of actual airline pilots. 

Virtual reality courses and phone apps like ZeroPhobia: Aviophobia are in the early stages of study, but show promising results.

A 2019 study exploring the efficacy of the ZeroPhobia app found that participants had reduced general anxiety and increased feelings of mastery after using the app.  

combat flight anxiety

How to Relax On a Plane

Aviophobia treatments are an excellent way to learn how to manage your fears and get on the plane, but what can you do to relax on a plane once you are on board?

What can you do if you don’t require aviophobia treatment, but still suffer from a feeling of nervousness while flying? 

The following are eight simple actions you can take while sitting on a plane to calm your nerves and make the flight if not enjoyable, then at least tolerable. 

1. Use Relaxation Techniques

If you are feeling anxious on a flight, use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and relax.

A breathing exercise like box breathing is easy to learn and can be performed almost anywhere.

To perform box breathing, breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold for found counts, then repeat the cycle.

Here's a video to help guide you through it. 

Familiarize yourself with a variety of breathing relaxation techniques you can perform when feeling anxious. 

2. Shift Your Focus

Sometimes all it takes to relax is to shift your attention away from your anxiety.

On a plane, you can watch a downloaded video, movie, or t.v. show or listen to music offline.

You can also read a book or magazine to take your mind off your anxiety.

Make sure to plan ahead and download content that will keep you occupied as you won’t have internet access on a plane (without paying for it). 

3. Utilize a Meditation App

If you prefer guided meditation or visualization, you can utilize a meditation app like Calm to reduce anxiety on your flight.

Calm offers several offline options for download. Take some time before your flight to download a few sessions before your flight so you can access them when you feel anxious on the flight. 

relax on a plane

4. Sleep

Sleeping is a good way to minimize your flight anxiety and relax on a plane.

If possible, schedule your flight early in the morning or late at night when you are more likely to fall asleep naturally.

Sleeping can help you tune out your anxiety and space out during the flight. Sleep also helps to clear your mind. By getting in a good nap, you may wake up refreshed and less anxious than before. 

5. Take Medication

Although it is not recommended to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to manage your flight anxiety, medication is a viable option if it is prescribed by your doctor.

You may obtain a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication like lorazepam or alprazolam or a motion sickness medication like dimenhydrinate for your flight.

As long as you take it as directed and don’t over-rely on medication, it can be a helpful tool for managing flight anxiety. 

You might also consider gentle herbal remedies like chamomile, valerian root, or passionflower to calm your nerves. You can drink tea with these herbs before boarding to create a sense of inner calm.

drink water to relax on plane

6. Hydrate

Lack of adequate water intake is closely tied to anxiety.

Although water is not a magical cure for fear of flying, drinking water before and during your flight can help your body maintain homeostasis and a sense of calm.

Plane cabins circulate dry, stale air, so drinking clear, crisp water can refresh your mind and body, helping you to relax on the plane. 

7. Choose Your Seat Wisely

If your flight anxiety is due to claustrophobia, consider planning ahead and choosing an aisle seat.

This can help give you a feeling of control and keep you from feeling trapped in a middle or window seat.

Alternatively, if you struggle with open spaces, a window seat might provide a sense of comfort. '

best seat for flight anxiety

8 . Talk to Your Neighbor

An effective way of dealing with anxiety is to interrupt your anxious thought patterns.

Simple distraction is a great way to do this. If you find that you can’t shift your focus using a book or movie, try talking to your neighbor.

Strike up a conversation to distract your mind from its anxious thoughts.

Connecting with another person can help you avoid giving in to your anxiety and help you meet a new friend in the process. 

Try Multiple Approaches and Don’t Give Up

Aviophobia and mild flying anxiety can be debilitating conditions to live with, which is why it’s important to address your fears to live your life to the fullest.

Try multiple approaches to treating flight anxiety, from professional help to implementing simple techniques once you’re already on the plane.

Try to relax as naturally as possible and don’t give up making progress on your journey to flying with confidence.

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