Feeling anxious about getting on an airplane isn’t uncommon. Research has found that one in three Americans are either anxious about flying or afraid of flying. Other estimates have said that as many as 25% of Americans suffer from nervousness about flying. You can include me in the aforementioned statistics. I’m afraid of flying, and I hate the idea of getting on a plane. The problem, though, is that I love to travel, and in order to travel, I have to fly. So to get myself through it, I’ve created what I call an “airplane anxiety kit” that you can, and should, copy for yourself.
I know it doesn’t seem like an airplane anxiety kit will help with an innate fear. Trust me, I get it. Whenever I have to fly, I start to panic so much that I can’t even allow myself to look forward to my vacation. I spend the weeks before dreading the day I board the plane, and the days before feeling so nervous I can’t eat. I almost always cry in either the airport or on the plane (or both), and I jolt awake at the slightest feeling of turbulence. (This sensitivity is not ideal.)
If this sounds relatable to you, know that you aren’t alone. Also, that you can work on this. While I don’t know if my fear will ever go away completely, I do know that I can bring and do certain things that make me feel a little more at ease, like packing my airplane anxiety kit.
If you want to ease your nerves a bit, making your own anxiety kit is definitely worth a try. Of course, these tips are from my own experience and might not work for everyone, but they’re worth checking out.
1. Your therapist’s phone number.
If you get serious anxiety about flying, you should absolutely speak to a professional about your fear. My previous therapist helped me work through some of my own issues, and again, my fear isn’t gone, but it has diminished. In fact, many of the below tips are inspired by suggestions from her. If I ever got really, really freaked out before my flight at the airport, she always encouraged me to call her and try to talk through it. This is a good idea for anyone.
If you don’t go to a professional or can’t afford one, be ready to contact a friend or family member you feel comfortable talking to. Talking to someone close to you might bring you comfort when you’re panicking.
2. A routine you set in motion every time you’re on the plane.
One thing that always gives me a sense of stability when I’m nervous about flying is sticking to a routine. It’s not just me: research has found that having a stable routine can help patients suffering from anxiety and depression. This is because feeling like the basics are covered can make you feel better equipped to handle challenges. I personally find routines comforting when I’m dealing with a significant amount of stress.
You can come up with a routine that you follow each time you fly. For example, one of my routines is that I always buy peanut M&Ms at the airport. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I can find them in pretty much any country (and if not, I can find something comparable). I did it once before a very long flight that ended up being perfectly fine, and ever since then, I do it all the time. Having those stupid candies in my bag makes me feel a little bit better. Find your version of peanut M&Ms!
3. Any item that makes you feel physically comfortable.
Another item you’ll want to have with you is something that will make you feel physically comfortable. It’s hard to ease your anxiety when you’re sitting in a cramped seat, shivering and wondering if you’ll ever be warm again. Bring along some items that will help you feel slightly more at home.
If you need suggestions, I always bring these with me on any flight, no matter the length: cozy socks, an eye mask, a travel pillow, a big scarf or sweatshirt to stay warm, gum for whenever I think my ears might pop, and a packet of mints.
4. Medication that will calm you down and help you sleep.
If you have serious anxiety about flying, no amount of comfort items is going to make you feel better about being on that plane. You might need to consider medication that will help you relax and fall asleep. I like to get myself to sleep while flying because it makes the time go by faster. If you don’t want to or can’t get a prescription, try something over-the-counter. I personally take Dramamine every time I fly, because it mellows me out and helps me fall asleep. Melatonin is another popular choice.
If you want or need something stronger, speak with a medical professional about getting a prescription.
5. Good earbuds.
Planes are noisy, and all of those noises can be distracting and scary. Forget about the mechanical noises — the people around you can be loud as well, especially if it’s a long flight. You can’t sleep if you can hear everything happening in your vicinity, so get yourself a good pair of earbuds that will drown out all the noise. In-the-ear headphones are dual purpose: use them to play music, podcasts, or watch movies and TV shows, or just put them in your ears, sound off, if you need to drown out the noise around you.
6. An eye mask.
I can’t fly without having an eye mask with me. Not only do they help keep out all of the annoying light around me that I have no control over, but they’re soothing to me. If you want to sleep the flight away, I highly recommend bringing an eye mask. They’re game-changers when it comes to getting some serious shut-eye.
7. Something that is actually going to distract you.
It’s hard to distract yourself from anxiety, because it’s all-encompassing. When I’m nervous about a flight, I can’t do much but lay there quietly, thinking about impending doom. It sounds like a joke, but it’s legitimately awful. I try to force myself to feel distracted when flying, though, because sometimes I’m so full of nervous energy that no amount of meds can put me to sleep.
Make sure you bring something that will keep you occupied, whether it’s a downloaded version of a show you’ve been bingeing, a book you love, or work you need to get done. And don’t rely on the airplane entertainment! On a recent international flight, the TVs weren’t working in my section and I hadn’t brought anything with me. It was pretty awful.
8. A copy of plane statistics and facts to keep yourself in check.
When I first told my therapist about my fear of flying, she told me to go home and look up statistics about planes. If you tell people about your anxiety, you’ve probably heard this advice. It sounds lame, but it does help. I once googled something about turbulence and came upon this great article a pilot wrote about what turbulence actually is. Whenever the plane is super bumpy, I think about it and it really does make me feel better.
Learning the facts on how safe planes are might help you, too. Clinical psychologist Martin Seif, who specializes in anxiety disorders, told The Washington Post, “Fear of flying is a feeling. Feelings aren’t facts. And almost every person who’s afraid will say ‘my fear is out of proportion to the danger, and I can’t reason my way back.'” This is exactly why looking at facts might help you reason your way out of the anxiety spiral.
9. Water and snacks.
Water and snacks aren’t going to cure your anxiety — but you should still have them around. I know that when I’m really nervous about flying, I literally cannot bring myself to eat for days. I get on a plane starving and dehydrated (which might make anxiety worse), and I feel terrible everywhere. That’s another reason I always have my peanut M&Ms with me. I also buy a bottle of water before getting on the plane (I don’t know why — I know I can get it for free on the actual plane).
Bring a snack for yourself, ideally something you actually enjoy that feels comforting. So not, like, a healthy granola bar you’ve never had. Bring something you like. Don’t make yourself physically sick from your stress.
10. A knowledge of your other fears.
Okay, here’s the thing: many experts say that a fear of flying is actually a fear of something else. Seif told The Washington Post, “When people talk about fear of flying, it’s almost a misnomer. It’s actually a confluence of a lot of different phobias.” He went on to say that a lot of people who are afraid of flying are also claustrophobic. He said,
It makes sense to me. I fear the fact that I have no control on a plane more than I fear the actual plane itself. So figure out your other fears, and work on them as well. That could help you get through your next flight. Of course, different things work for different people, and you might find that you need to adjust these tips a bit. That’s fine! But again, anything is worth trying so that you can feel less anxious about your next plane ride.