How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying For the First Time [13 Tips]

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You have a big holiday planned, and you’re probably preoccupied with your wardrobe, your plans after you arrive, and you’ve just realized that it’s going to be your first time flying. This is not good, you think. This is going to be a disaster, you think, as your mind begins to race. How did you let this happen?

What is a fear of flying?

If the worst thing about vacation for you is going to be the actual flight, it’s quite likely that you, like millions of other travelers, suffer from aviophobia – which is the technical way to say “fear of flying”.  Although it may not seem like it, when you’re white-knuckling the armrest and sweating, a phobia is actually defined as “an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger” by the Institute of Mental Health.

So, what does aviophobia consist of? Like any phobia, the common symptom is fear – and it manifests in many different ways. In its most severe manifestations, the mere thought of getting on a plane will produce the fear response.

You probably already know what fear feels like – but phobias can be sneaky. In addition to normal reactions like increased heart rate, cold sweats, and a dry mouth, they can also make you nauseated, dizzy, and actually vomit. Blame the adrenaline. Even when the threat is not real, all those unpleasant feelings are.

What causes Aviophobia?

So how do you “get” a fear of flying? For some, it’s a feeling of losing control – after all, they’re not actually operating the aircraft. Others worry about mechanical problems. Some have a fear of heights, and some have a fear of flying over water. But really, the cause boils down to not being able to control your thoughts. Even if you know the statistics – that there’s a 1 in 11 million chance of being in an airplane accident – you can’t stop the fear and anxiety.

How many people are affected by Aviophobia?

Fear of flying is common. Out of an estimated 12.5% of Americans who suffer from phobias, those with aviophobia take up a good percentage – up to 6.5%. There are a lot of fears out there, and extreme fear of flying affects millions of people. You’re not alone, and there are a lot of useful tips out there to help you deal with your anxiety.

13 tips to get over your fear of flying

There’s no quick solution to cure a phobia, but there are some great tips to help you overcome your fear of flying for the first time. Follow along and learn what the experts recommend – there’s sure to be something that will help you on your first flight experience.

Knowledge is power

Understanding more about the whole process of air travel and the aircraft can help reduce anxiety about the unknown. Check out some of these ideas on increasing your knowledge.

1. Learn about how planes actually fly

Reading up on the actual science behind flight can help you understand just how your plane is getting into the air, as well as how it stays up there. Do a little research on the concepts of  gravity, drag, lift, and thrust, watch some videos on how the process of wings and flaps work, and you might find yourself watching the airplane wings with interest, rather than dread.

2. Know the facts about turbulence

When you’re up in the air, there are pockets of low and high pressure – the same things that the weatherman on the news talks about all the time. When your plane moves through them, there are bumps – just like the occasional pothole in the road, or bouncing over some speed bumps.  Pilots are fully aware of them, and will give you plenty of warning to fasten your seatbelt – which will hold you firmly in your seat. Turbulence will never knock a plane out of the sky. Check out our other article about what causes turbulence on an airplane for some more insight on this topic.

Consider medication

From over-the-counter to prescription medications, there may be something out there that helps take the edge off your flight jitters.

3. Doctors recommend

If you talk to your physician, they are likely to recommend a popular anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax or Ativan. Either of these works quickly and will last for the length of most flights. Talk to them about any risks, and follow any guidelines you are given about mixing them with other medications or alcohol.

4. Visit your local drugstore

There are also over-the-counter medications and other supplements that may work well for you. One surprising entry in the field is Dimenhydrinate – the generic form of the anti-nausea drug Dramamine. It can do double-duty for anyone who is suffering from motion sickness or feeling so anxious that they’re nauseated. In addition to helping with the above, it also induces some drowsiness and can take the edge off your anxiety – much as a couple of drinks would.

The use of melatonin can both help with jet lag after an overnight flight, as well as reducing your anxiety – all by inducing sleep. For the best effects, begin taking it a few days before your flight, and schedule it so that your internal clock is in sync with the time you’ll be going to bed at your destination. If you’re particularly sensitive to time changes, and affected negatively by lack of sleep – and who isn’t? – this may help calm your nerves.

Address noise issues

A big part of airplane travel is dealing with noise. Once you get on your flight, you’re likely to find that your anxiety is being heightened by the sounds of the aircraft, the crying baby in the row behind you, the chattering couple in front of you, and the loud headphones of the passenger next to you.

5. Find the quietest parts of the plane

If it’s your first time flying, you may not realize that some sections of the plane are more likely to be quiet than others. To cut down on the noise from the wings, try to sit further up in the cabin, in front of them. The noise from the engines will be behind you. Also try to avoid the areas that are closest to the lavatories and the galley area. Both of these will be busy throughout the flight, and you won’t have to listen to the constant rolling of carts or the doors sliding open and shut.

6. Bring earplugs

A good pair of earplugs is a traveler’s friend. Not only will they cut down on the noise around you in the airplane, they will also help you sleep soundly at the motel after you arrive. They’re discreet, comfortable, and you can pick some up at the airport shop if you happen to forget them.

7. Consider upgrading to headphones

If you really want to shut the world out and try to relax, pick up a set of noise-canceling headphones from Amazon. They actually cut down on the ambient noise, producing a calming effect. And, unlike earplugs, you can still enjoy your music, video, or audio books. The technology of noise-canceling sound frequencies works particularly well on planes, so they’re a natural for your first flight. Just make sure they are comfortable – you don’t need the irritation of poor-fitting headphones when you’re already dealing with a fear of flying.

Pack distractions

Preparing for your flight with some self-pampering items will also help with keeping your mind focused away from your fears.

8.Stay entertained

Don’t depend on any in-flight entertainment. You’re better off bringing along music, games, or videos that you know you’ll enjoy. When you combine them with noise-canceling headphones, you’ll feel more in control of your surroundings. Load up your laptop or Kindle Fire HD with your favorites, turn up the sound a little, and focus on winning the next level or getting lost in the plot. You can binge away on episodes without a hint of guilt. But remember – this is not the time to watch disaster movies – keep it light, and don’t raise your stress levels.

9. Use apps to help you relax

You may find that using a meditation app or one designed to help you stay calmer could help. There are plenty out there, everything from guided visualizations to meditation sessions to ones that produce soothing sounds. Shop around well before your trip begins to see which ones are the most appealing. You might not be a great candidate for a guided journey through clearing your chakras – but you might find you really enjoy the sounds of singing bowls or birdsong.

10. Bring something fun to read

Indulge yourself with the latest paperback novel, the magazines you never take time to flip through, or the silliest romance or mystery you can find. Reading can help get your mind off your fears, and the sheer pleasure of allowing yourself to enjoy something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power can help counteract the anxiety you’re experiencing.

11. Bring great snacks

If you’re up for it, pack along some small snacks to treat yourself during the flight. A little bit of comfort food does us all good now and then. So, pick up some sweets, some beef jerky, or some salty goodness and allow yourself a nibble when you’re experiencing nervous moments.

Address your fears head-on

You may feel better if you just acknowledge your fears, and work to challenge them as they occur.

12. Apply some proven tactics

Sometimes, a physical distraction is useful for helping break our train of thoughts. A common recommendation is to wear a rubber band around your wrist during your trip. Whenever you realize that your fearful thoughts are returning, give it a good snap. The brief sensation of pain can help bring you back to your body and get you away from your anxiety. Likewise, you can try squeezing your armrest for brief periods, or take turns tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles in your body. Throughout it all, focus on steady, regular breathing.

13. Take a fear of flying course

If your fear of flying is threatening your trip, you may want to consider fear of flying classes. They’re specially designed to help anyone who is affected by aviophobia that keeps them from enjoying life. A good fear of flying course will help a truly fearful flyer by explaining and preparing them for airplane flights, without shame. They can be incredibly effective and produce results with plenty of time to spare before your flight.

One real advantage to these types of courses is their online access. For anyone who is a little embarrassed about their fear, or who would like to address it on their own schedule, a good self-paced class is the perfect way to face their fears with a high level of privacy.

Conclusion

A real phobia – like the fear of flying, can affect your life in harmful ways. Skipped vacations, wasted time driving, and missing out on the fun of travel are all common results of a severe case. Although it may be difficult to identify the exact cause of an extreme fear of flying, tips to help deal with it are widespread and available.

Depending on your circumstances, you may find that various approaches can help address your fears, if not cure them. Combining tips like controlling noise, managing your distractions, and even medication will usually prove to be useful, but may not get to the real root of the problem. If the usual tips are just not working to budge your phobia, a quality fear of flying class can be the answer to getting you off the ground on time and actually enjoying your journey.