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12 Tips For Anxious Fliers

A few suggestions for making your next flight a little more manageable.

1. Buy tickets early so you can pick a seat that best suits your needs.

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If you wait until the last minute to buy tickets, chances are you’ll be stuck with the worst seat on the plane (Hello middle seat within wafting distance to the bathrooms). Buying tickets early gives you the option to pick your seat and take control of your comfort. For an added fee some airlines offer “economy comfort,” which gives passengers roomier seats closer to the exit row.

2. Ritualize packing to reduce stress.

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The night before your flight lay out everything you’re going to need: passport, wallet, keys, phone, charger, packed luggage, outfit, breakfast, etc. You’ll sleep better knowing the only thing you’ll have to do on flight day is show up and fly.

3. Arrive to the airport early.

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This is a good tip for any flier but it’s especially important for nervous ones. Giving yourself ample time to arrive and get through security means you won’t be rushing around worrying about peripheral concerns, like missing your flight. You can use the extra time you have when you arrive at your gate to unwind and mentally prepare.

4. Dress comfortably, but not too casual.

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Sometimes there’s an instinct, in times of distress or discomfort, to dress oneself in one’s rattiest rags in order to feel at ease. But, unfortunately, sweatshirts probably can’t settle your nerves — and may in fact worsen them. (Dressing to be comforted might sort of be a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Put yourself together like a capable adult who flies, and maybe one day you will feel like one.

5. Don’t rely on distraction techniques.

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It might seem counterintuitive, but exposing oneself to one’s fear is often the single best thing you can do to get rid of it. Placing too much importance on surrounding yourself with stimuli (books, magazines, food, movies, etc.) can work as an avoidance tactic for more directly dealing with your fear. You don’t need to sit still for 10 hours on an international flight, but try not to rely too heavily on distraction. Allow yourself to *be* on the plane. (For a much longer read about that, here’s a story about one of the authors’ experience with exposure therapy for fear of flying.)

6. Don’t trick yourself into thinking your superstitions are effective.

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Fearful fliers can develop any number of “signs” that convince them they shouldn’t take a particular flight — avoiding certain flight numbers, plane types, departure types, etc. But none of this is rooted in science or reason, and don’t let yourself form patterns from coincidences. You didn’t have a safe flight because you wore a tie around your head and hovered three inches above the seat the entire time. You had a safe flight because flying is safe!

7. Know what you’re allowed to bring with you.

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Turning to alcohol is probably not the healthiest way to deal with your anxiety, but if a Jack and Coke mid-flight will calm your rattled nerves, know that you are allowed to bring mini-liquor bottles onto the flight in your carry-on as long as they are sealed in your liquids bag (and you are of age). Prescription anti-anxiety medications are also permitted.

8. Avoid caffeine, if you can.

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For those of us who can function without caffeine, it’s worth skipping the morning coffee in exchange for calmer nerves. Caffeine has the potential to cause anxiety attacks, so try a chamomile instead of a cappuccino and your brain will thank you.

9. Let a flight attendant know you’re a nervous flier.

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Sometimes it’s nice to be babied a little — if you’re comfortable, tell a flight attendant you’re a nervous flier when you get on the plane, or when they come around with drinks. They’ll likely check on you periodically, and MAY even give you an extra pack of peanuts. And when you get extra nervous during a patch of turbulence? Look to the flight attendants, who are almost certainly completely unbothered. For them, this is just routine.

10. When it’s safe, go for a walk.

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If your anxiety makes you restless, take a walk up and down the aisle — as long as the seatbelt sign is off and it’s safe. If you’re going to be jumping around in your seat and clutching the armrests anyway, it’s a better use of energy to actually get up and move. (And keep your circulation going!) It’s easier said than done, but it certainly can’t hurt.

11. Try a deep-breathing exercise.

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Like, REALLY deep. If your heart is racing, place one hand on your upper chest and another over your belly: When you inhale, your belly should actually move outward. That means you’re using your diaphragm. The kind of deep, relaxing breathing that might actually help you calm down requires using your diaphragm. Take 10, or however many you need to slow your heart back down to normal.

12. Don’t fight it!

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It’s 100% normal to feel nervous during flights! Anxiety is your body’s natural physiological response to uncomfortable situations and it is not easy to control. Take comfort in the fact that your feelings are valid and your brain isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Your flight anxiety may never completely disappear but it can, and often does, get better. Happy travels!

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