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Fear of Flying: How to Deal with Flight Anxiety

Stefanie Schornsheim 0

Roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population suffer from flight anxiety or the fear of flying. This can start with an unsettling feeling, leading to severe panic attacks. Symptoms can be different, but the frightening feeling is shared.

I was also not able to set foot on an airplane for many years. But I wanted to travel the world, and I even had to for my job. So I worked hard on overcoming my fear of flying. Here is how you can do that too.

*All links marked with AL are affiliate links. If you buy through this link, you incur no additional costs, but I get a small commission. All mentioned and showed products were paid for by myself because I personally use them.


Flying can trigger a more uneasy feeling than other possibilities of transportation. But why? One reason might be that many passengers only fly once a year for vacation but travel by car or public transport nearly every day. There is a lack of a routine.

Also, passengers have to completely relinquish control when hopping on an airplane. There is no way to take control. You cannot stop for a pause or get out at the next stop in five-ish minutes. You have to trust the crew and the technology. After all, the plane is not moving on the familiar solid ground – it’s flying freaking high up in the air. Lastly, the limited space in and around the seats can be very uncomfortable. Plus, you might sit very close to or in between strangers, which can trigger even more anxiety.


The fear of flying is very unpleasant, primarily because of the pronounced physical symptoms. Your heart might beat faster, and your muscles tense up. Breathing is quicker and more shallow. As a result, you can feel dizzy. Typical symptoms of fear of flying include diarrhea or a strong urge to urinate, abdominal pain, trembling, and weak knees. The closer the flight gets, the stronger the physical symptoms become.

What makes it worse is selective perception. If an airplane accident happens anywhere in the world, people suffering from the fear of flying, like us, take this as confirmation that their fears are valid. You only focus on the negative exceptions instead of realizing how many flights go well. Those negative thoughts nurture the vicious cycle of anxiety because they trigger thinking about every tiny detail that could go wrong. Then your body might react to those thoughts. Because of those bodily changes, you now believe to be in danger. The result: intense fear and maybe even a panic attack.


STEP 1 – Learn About the Science

Before I even considered setting a foot into a plane again, I needed answers to open questions that triggered my panic attacks. „Why does a plane fly,“ for example. So I did some research to understand more about the science behind that. And it’s actually pretty exciting to see that it makes sense those big planes stay in the air (physics, yay!). You can find many good videos explaining all of this on YouTube. Let science assure you that there is a reason why traveling by plane is the safest way of transportation we have.

STEP 2 – Trust the Statistics

The next step was fighting the fear of death that came with the fear of flying. Do you also think about „What if my plane crashes?“ The real question is, „From all planes up there, why would MY plane crash?“ What really helped was looking at the statistics and doing the math. In 2019, there were approximately 38,9 million flights per year worldwide (that’s 38,900,000!).

Now we look at the flight accidents of 2019. There were 17 in total. But if you look closer, commercial flights with 50+ people on board come down to those:

Of those 6 accidents (that is the total number for the whole year), 3 had fatalities. The probability of being on a commercial flight that will end up having fatalities is 3:38,900,000 or 1:12,960,000. This translates to 0,000000077%. Even if we take all flight accidents into account (17 in total in 2019), the probability for you to be in one of those plans is 0,00000043%. That is less than a hundredth.

Screenshot from radarbox.com

If you’re more into visuals, I recommend checking out some flight radar websites like this showing all planes currently up in the air doing well. Realizing how many planes fly safely above your head right now might help you feel more comfortable and relaxed. Every time you have to go on a plane, just open the website and remind yourself about those numbers.

STEP 3 – Exercise and Meditate

When flying cheaply, you do not have a lot of space in your seat or around. This can be very uncomfortable, especially when you have a long-distance flight. When we moved from Germany to Los Angeles, I bought a book about yoga on a plane (AL).

Those exercises are easy to do even when you don’t have much space. I also set the alarm to 30-45 minutes to drink more water and get up to exercise for a couple of minutes. Staying hydrated in a plane is very important to not feel dizzy over time.

In addition, I always bring a notebook and a pencil to do writing meditation. I’m using affirmations most of the time to program my mind to positive thoughts.

STEP 4 – Prepare Coping Strategies

Pack your bag with essentials that can help you cope with anxiety. I still get some uneasy feelings when going on a plane from time to time. Your thoughts may wander around before you realize it, which triggers a reaction in your nervous system. Coping strategies are therefore necessary.

I always have an anti-stress ball and Bach flower extracts (AL) in my handbag. Squeezing the stress ball and putting some Bach flower extract drops under my tongue always helped me to calm down in an airplane. The anti-stress balls are also available, filled with herbs like lavender. This has an additional calming effect when you smell it.

Another gadget that I enjoyed using whenever I got too anxious was an acupressure ring for the finger (AL). Studies have come to the conclusion that „acupressure seems to be effective in providing immediate relief of pretreatment anxiety among adults.“ They are super easy to use: Put them on your fingers and slide them up and down to improve blood flow and ease anxiety. You can also combine using the rings with essential oils. Rub your hands with the oil first, and then put on the rings. It also provides a nice mini wellness retreat feeling. I am using Lavender (Primavera (AL) or Baldini (AL)) and Bergamot (Primavera (AL) or Baldini (AL)).

STEP 5 – Stick to a Routine

Routines help us to stay on track. Develop a habit that supports your feelings during every stage of the flight. For take-off, I always put some Bach flower extract drops under my tongue, put on my headphones, and listen to the same song. I chose „Pistolero“ by Juno Reactor as the synthesizers, voices, and guitar fit the start like a soundtrack (no wonder it was featured in the movie „Once Upon a Time in Mexico“).

I close my eyes until the song is over (six minutes). During that time, I used the power of imagination. I never thought this would work, but if you picture powerful images, your body actually adapts to them and calms down. This could be anything from not being on an airplane (maybe you imagine you’re in a cinema) or being on a plane but having it safely accompanied by angels. Whatever works for you is fine.

STEP 6 – Don’t Focus on Sounds

The noise coming from the turbines or other sound sources in the planes can be intimidating. And you never know who you end up sitting next to. Maybe the stranger is making weird noises as well? Make sure to pack some excellent noise-canceling headphones so you can zone out into your music or movie. And don’t forget to charge them before going on the plane. I’m using the Beats Studio 3 in red (AL) because they have a long lasting battery, can be folded, and do a really good job in cancelling out the noise.

What are you doing to deal with the fear of flying? Let me know in the comments below ⬇️

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