Tips for Surviving Flight Anxiety Before and During a Flight

When I was 15 years old, my family took our first international trip in my conscious existence, and I remember the sheer anxiety I felt from boarding the aircraft all the way to landing. I had not an ounce of faith in the pilot or machinery. Every sound, bump, or fuel smell was sure to lead to a tragic crash, and I would be forgotten at the bottom of the ocean spending my last moments shitting myself as we spiraled down.

Weirdly, I still feel almost the same way about flying, and while I clearly love travel, flying continues to send me into near panic attacks thinking of all the possible scenarios that my time on this earth will end. Fortunately, I have found ways to manage my anxiety with little hacks (that don’t involve a Xanax prescription) that you may or may not find useful.

Leading up to the flight:

Book reputable airlines - Okay, so this isn’t a surefire way to avoid crashes or general anxiety (there have been mishaps with even the best airlines), but it puts me at ease knowing that the pilots of these airlines undergo more stringent safety procedures than some of the more budget-friendly airlines. Typically, these will lead to more comfortable experiences anyway. Of course, if you are in somewhere remote like Papua New Guinea, you will not have the luxury of doing this.

(Don’t) sleep a lot the night before - I do this depending on the timezone I am traversing, but I find that when I am truly exhausted for a flight, I fall into relaxation, no cares mode much quicker than if I am wired and wide awake. Don’t drink coffee beforehand - The caffeine will sometimes have adverse effects on anxiety. I’ve had far too many hopped up starts to my trip where all of my senses are heightened, and not in good ways.

Book morning flights - I find when I book super early morning flights, I am much more exhausted (from having woken up at too early of hours) and end up falling asleep again on the flight. Weirdly this doesn’t work as well with overnight flights.

On the flight:

Play “Ocean” by Jon Butler Trio on repeat with noise-cancelling earphones - One of the things that invoke a lot of anxiety in me are the sounds of taking off. Noise cancelling earphones do a lot in these scenarios, and this amazing instrumental track of over 12 minutes automatically helps to send me into a more relaxed state of mind (this has been a song I meditate to for years as well).

Drink wine (or maybe two) - I am not advocating for alcohol here, but if your flight offers it, a little bit of wine really does wonders with permanently taking off the edge of flight jitters. Don’t go overboard, because nobody wants to be that ‘drunk’ mess on the plane (or dehydrated for that matter), but one or two glasses (or mini bottles) helps me immensely.

Sit next to your loved ones or friends - I do a great job holding in my flight anxiety in front of others, but it makes me feel safer having somebody I care about right next to either engage in conversation or just being in their vicinity. Ohh, all the times in China when I barely could speak the language and everyone on the plane was Chinese except for me. That alone feeling doesn’t help.

When turbulence hits pretend to try to grab something from your bag below the seat - I know this sounds ridiculous, but when a huge bout of turbulence hits, I start rummaging through my bag below. Somehow this eases my nerves and makes me feel the turbulence less.

When landing:

Pop on that meditative track again and look out the window, knowing you have made it through yet another flight! By this point I will hopefully have nipped the anxiety in the bud using the techniques mentioned before. Occasionally I feel it if it is a rocky trip down, but as the ground gets closer, relief will take over.

Okay, so these are my coping techniques, none of which may work for others (these are probably better, hehe) How do you cope as an anxious flyer?


Read more posts by this author.