This Year, Conquer Your Fear (of Flying!)

If you have flight anxiety, however severe, keep these tips in mind next time you travel. You have more control over your fears than you think, and once you manage them, flying will become a more enjoyable experience.
04/16/2014 03:17 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

It should come as no surprise that I love flying, but many travelers don't share my passion. In fact, plenty of people are nervous to even step onto a plane -- according to several studies, up to 40 percent of people have some degree of anxiety about flying. Everyone has their own way of self-soothing, but I often see customers try to calm their nerves with medications and alcohol, which actually only impairs their judgment versus calms fears.

So, for this month's post, I worked with clinical psychotherapist Lorie Meiselman (she developed a multidimensional approach to managing flight anxiety) to who has provided tips for nervous travelers to naturally alleviate stress throughout the entire air travel experience. Whether your plans call for travel or not, take it upon yourself to become an informed and able flier. Arm yourself with these anxiety-relieving techniques Lorie created, plus pieces of knowledge I've acquired throughout my years in the sky, to help manage your anxiety from when you leave for the airport to when your flight lands.

Lorie and I have broken down the air travel experience into five stages, each of which can cause travelers to have different feelings of anxiety and should be managed uniquely:

Stage 1: Before Leaving Home
Lorie: Bring objects onboard that will comfort you onboard. These can include a blanket, a stuffed animal, calming music, even something to refocus your attention, like a movie or video game. If you forget to bring them, similar items are often available for purchase on the aircraft, and definitely are worth the cost if you feel they'll calm you down.

Stage 2: At the Gate
Tracy: Nervous fliers should get to the gate early and speak with the customer service agent to let him/her know they are experience flight anxiety. Request to board first or early, and to speak to the flight attendant and even a captain, if available. The inflight crew can give you give you information on the weather and flight conditions so that you will know what to expect after takeoff.

Stage 3: When Taking Your Seat
Lorie: Once you get to your seat, buckle up, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Take long, deep breaths in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Concentrate on any parts of your body that feel uncomfortable and imagine sending your breath to the areas that are the most tense. Pull out the comforting objects you brought from home as you continue to gently inhale and exhale. As you begin to take control of your anxiety, feel your heart rate slow down and continue to relax.
Tracy: When boarding the aircraft, greet the flight attendants, and remember they're there to help you, so be sure to let them know you are a nervous flier. They will do everything possible to make you more comfortable. Depending on your level of fear, flight attendants may seat you near them, so they can keep an eye on you and be readily available to your needs, especially during turbulent periods of flight.

Stage 4: During Turbulence
Lorie: Remember, turbulence is a normal occurrence during air travel, and it doesn't mean you are at all unsafe. If your flight gets a little bumpy and causes you to experience uncomfortable sensations in your chest and stomach, open your eyes wide and focus on your breathing. Concentrate on the seat in front of you as you breathe in and out slowly. Take in your surroundings and you'll observe that everything around you is continuing to operate normally. Remind yourself that other than being a little shaky, you are safe.
Tracy: If you hit a turbulent patch and you're genuinely concerned, don't hesitate to use the call button above your seat to get the attention of the crew. It's our job to keep you safe and comfortable, so we'll do our best to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. In the past, I've even sat down in an available seat next to nervous passengers to talk them through the turbulent event and let them know everything is okay.

Stage 5: Landing
Lorie: When preparing to land, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This time, though, exhale for longer than you inhale. Imagine the plane as a very gentle object, lowering and softly landing. Just think about floating through the air and slowly, delicately touching back down on the ground.

If you have flight anxiety, however severe, keep these tips in mind next time you travel. You have more control over your fears than you think, and once you manage them, flying will become a more enjoyable experience.

Do you have any tips for managing anxiety about flying? Leave them in the comments below and tell me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy).