Top tips for nervous flyers

A nervous flyer herself, SJ shares her best tips for overcoming flight jitters.

woman distracting herself form flight nerves

SJ is a regular travel contributor to YourLifeChoices. If she had one superpower, it would be teleportation – the ultimate cure for her fear of flying.

As I write this, we have just risen above the clouds over Stockholm and my stomach is finally beginning to unravel out of the anxious knot it has been tightly twisted in since we boarded 25 minutes ago. A feeling only other fellow nervous flyers will understand too well.

This is my ninth flight in the past four months. I'm 28 and have been flying since I was one. You think I'd have made peace with the whole process, but sadly not. That's the thing about fear, it's not rational and you can only congratulate yourself for continuing to face it despite everything. As someone who knows all too well how the fear of flying can make travelling on planes painful, here are some of my best tips for helping to make flying more enjoyable.

Avoid unnecessary stress

If you already find flying stressful enough don't make things worse for yourself by getting to the airport late, getting to your gate too late to find overhead locker space or, worse, risking missing your flight. Leave enough time to do everything you want – go to the toilet, buy food or water – and board the flight calmly without feeling flustered.

Choose your seat

This may sound like a strange tip but trust me, it is so worth the small amount you'll often pay for the privilege. In the past year I have always chosen my seat – next to the aisle and as close to the wing as I can get, avoiding the emergency exit row. As any nervous flyer probably knows, the turbulence down the back of the plane is much worse. The centre of gravity is over the wings, making it the least turbulent place on the plane. Knowing your seat has that extra level of comfort can help to make you feel slightly more in control and calm as you fly. I say avoid the emergency row as the whole pre-flight safety spiel you'll get there isn't the most reassuring chat right before take off for nervous flyers.

nervous flyer


Distract yourself

Easier said than done but focusing on something other than take off is a great way to take your mind off your fear. Whether it's a book, song, magazine or conversation with the person next to you, distract yourself from what is happening outside. I find writing is a great distraction as you really have to give it your full attention as opposed to just reading words. Also, personally I would avoid looking out the window during take off. The turning can be a rather alarming sight.

Control you mind

They say control your thoughts or they will control you and rarely has this been truer than when it comes to the fear of flying. Meditation is all the rage these days and for good reason. A mindfulness colouring book could be a good start or listening to an app. I have the Headspace one which I highly recommend – they even do specific recordings for flying. Another tactic is to close your eyes and try to go to your happy place, essentially trying to trick your brain into thinking you're elsewhere – this probably requires a bit more practice.

Breathe

I always laugh when yoga and gym teachers remind you to breathe. It sounds so obvious. Yet when you're focusing hard or are anxious you often hold your breath, making you even more uptight and stressed. Focus on your breathing and taking long, deep breaths, in and out. This will automatically calm you down and reduce anxiety.

Sleep

If you really can't deal with the stress that comes with being at 30,000 feet, try to sleep through the whole flight. For long haul flights, I have a sleeping pill prescription from my doctor and on short haul ones sometimes I choose to fly very early in the morning or late at night when I know I'll be tired. Avoid caffeine if you want to sleep through the flight and consider having a swig of your choice pre-flight. That said I would not encourage you to drink too much alcohol or fly hungover as this usually adds to feelings of anxiety and not being in control.

Share this with your nervous flyer friends and family - hopefully it helps them to continue to face and overcome their fears like it has for me. Have you got any other tips or tricks for making flying a less anxiety-inducing affair?

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