There are two types of people: Those who look forward to their flights as an opportunity to catch up on podcasts, and those who dread the experience entirely. If you identify with the latter, you’re not alone. Research from BMC Psychiatry found that 25 percent of adults report having flight anxiety, with 10 percent opting out of flying altogether due to a debilitating fear.
If you’re a nervous flyer, consider implementing some of the following habits; you might just find your next flight to be the start of a perfect trip.
Start prepping before your flight
You’ll thank yourself later if you do some legwork beforehand. According to Ora Nadrich, president and founder of The Institute for Transformational Thinking and author of Live True: A Mindfulness Guide to Authenticity, first try meditating. (Headspace is a great introduction to guided meditation). Then, perform calming exercises like yoga, which have been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
“The sooner you perform calming exercises like stretching or yoga before you get on a flight, the better. So, if you know the day of your flight beforehand begin those exercises right away,” she said.
From a scientific perspective, a little pampering goes a long way. Aromatherapy oils like lavender, patchouli, or chamomile each induce a sense of calm, she says, or you can buy a blend specifically designed for relaxation, like the Way of Will Calm Down Pure Essential Oil. Feel free to bring your essential oils on the plane for a pick-me-up mid-flight — so long as they’re under 100 ml.
Finally, close your eyes and listen to calm, meditative music to help slow down your breath. By breathing slowly, she explained that you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest and relax response. “This also helps get more carbon dioxide to enter the blood, and that calms the brain. All of this is extremely helpful for anxiety,” she said.
Ready for boarding?
Hitting the airport bar pre-flight or indulging in endless drinks on cross-Atlantic flights can sound tempting. But because alcohol is a depressant, it might magnify your flight anxiety.
“Resorting to taking sleeping pills or anxiety meds and alcohol to help make your flight easier is a personal decision, and everyone should do what feels right for them,” said Nadrich. She explained that it’s likely more effective in the longterm to work through and confront your fears, which helps strengthen your tolerance for future stressful situations.
For a natural boost, Nadrich recommended homeopathic supplements like melatonin, chamomile, valerian root and Natural Calm, “which is high in magnesium and good for decreasing stress,” she said. (Word to the wise: You might want to drink the 250 ml bottle before you hit security).
Make your own space
Rarely do we think of personal space when it comes to our economy middle seat.
“As small as a seating arrangement may be on a plane, we can still make it our own personal space by what we tell ourselves internally, and by bringing a few things with us on our flight,” said Nadrich. That could include those trusty aromatic oils, a statue or figurine that holds meaning to you, a journal to document your thoughts, a comforting book you can get lost in, or a blanket that smells like home — just make sure it fits in your carryon.
The plane is the perfect place to practice mindfulness since you have nowhere else to be but there in that very moment.
“Bring your focus and awareness to the present. Take a few deep breaths in and out,” said Nadrich. She suggested repeating silent mantras to yourself like “I am in control of this moment” or “I am protected on this flight” or “Nothing will happen to me on this flight” or “I will move through this flight with inner calm, and trust that I will be alright.”
Mantras, which mean “instruments or tools of the mind” in Sanskrit, are helpful because “[they] literally tell the mind what to do,” she said. “By repeating a positive mantra, you are sending a very clear message to your mind that you are.”
Nadrich also recommended visualizing yourself surrounded by a white light. “Know that you can connect to an energy field that feels good and comforting to you throughout the flight,” she said. Mind over matter.
It can be tempting to skip all the plane-induced discomfort and drift off the moment you buckle up. If you’re tired or are flying overnight, by all means, squeeze in some shut-eye. But if you’re feeling particularly wired, use it as an opportunity to combat your nerves.
“Whenever we face and confront a fear or challenge, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we feel so much more empowered when we’ve gotten through it. This builds what I call ‘positive present memory’ and once you’ve overcome a difficult situation by literally staying awake to confront it, you now have a victory as your reference point,” said Nadrich. “You know you’ve succeeded in dealing with your anxiety, and that will make it easier if, or when you are facing [a similar] situation again.”
You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. “You certainly can mention it to a flight attendant or tell the passenger next to you if you sense that they’re available to talk,” said Nadrich. “Fear of flying is something millions of people experience, and you might be surprised to hear that the person sitting next to you feels the same way, and you can share some of your calming techniques.”