July 10, 2019

A full-sized commercial plane can be a daunting sight when you’re standing at the foot of the aircraft, preparing to ascend a tiny staircase into the giant metal bird. Once you take off, at 30,000 feet above sea level, there’s the trepidation of knowing that it will be a long plummet down to the ground. While our worst nightmares don’t always come to pass, the forces of nature like teasing us with a little thing called turbulence.

It’s no surprise 2.5% to 6.5% of Americans suffer from aviophobia, a crippling, irrational fear of flight, even if it’s in fact the safest way to travel. Think about it. With no traffic in the clouds, there’s a much lesser chance of getting into a crash. Still, it induces fear when you’re unable to escape a plane mid-flight the way you could jump out of a car just before it runs off a cliff. For the most part, the majority of passengers simply don’t understand how aircrafts work. If the thought of getting on a plane still gives you sweaty palms, here are a few tips to calm your nerves.

Self-medication only makes it worse.

You might be tempted to reach for a Xanax right before you board as a temporary relief for the period of your flight, but that’s all it provides. A temporary remedy. Relying on substances such as drugs and liquor could lead to abuse. Besides, you’re not tackling the root of the problem. It’s like slapping a plaster over a splinter. Over time, it will only get worse. Your fear will increase every time you reinforce the fact that you can’t handle a flight by using sleeping pills as a crutch.

Avoid fixating too much on the flight.

Pay attention to your train of thought pre-flight. We tend to start off small and enter into a downward spiral, before we overthink and fall prey to our irrational fears. Instead of allowing those negative thoughts to take hold of your mind, be aware of what leads you down that dark road, so you’re able to nip it in the bud before it turns into a panic attack.

Identify the real source of your fear.

When you find yourself deep in the throes of anxiety and clutching onto your suitcase like it’s a security pillow, it’ll be helpful to go through a list of questions that digs deeper. They may even aid in the process of identifying the sources of your fear, whether there are underlying fears that have nothing to do with the flight itself, how this phobia began, and how you think the flight is going to go. This could help you think logically, thus overriding your inner, fear-based maniac.

Educate yourself on the mechanics of air travel.

Fear typically comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. That’s why the best way to quash those groundless thoughts is to educate yourself. Learn about how a plane actually works, how it stays in the air, and what it would take for the machine to malfunction. You might realise how safe it is, and find comfort in knowing you can trust this magnificent man-made marvel, just as you trust a well-built chair to keep the ground from touching your behind.

Distract yourself while in the air.

The moment the pilot announces that there will be a bit of turbulence, our knee-jerk reaction is to latch on to our seats, squeeze the arm rests, stiffen our bodies and brace ourselves for impact. Yet, this only adds to your fear. Before the turbulence even hits, you’ve already placed yourself in a state of panic, when you’re far from being in a position of danger.

A better way to deal with this is to react in a healthier way that doesn’t send signals to your head that you’re about to die. This could mean distracting yourself by talking to another passenger, reading a book, watching a movie, or even smiling. You could also take a few deep breaths as a method to relax. Inhale through the nose for four seconds, and exhale through the mouth for four seconds. Repeat those steps for as long as you need to calm down.

Just because there’s fear doesn’t mean there’s any real danger. But if all else fails, especially for those with more severe issues with aviophobia, consult a psychiatrist for professional therapy. At the end of the day, remember that it’s all just mind over matter.