How to Get Over Fear of Flying

By Kathryn Walsh; Updated September 26, 2017

Ease your mind before flying the friendly skies

How to Get Over Fear of Flying

It's one thing to dread flying, considering the hassle of long lines, the frustration of delays and the irritation of landing in the middle seat. It's another thing to fear flying. If just the thought of getting on a plane fills you with terror, you're in very good company. A Chapman University study of 1,511 Americans found that 12.1 percent of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of flying. (For context, flying was more feared than zombies or clowns.) But this phobia shouldn't keep you from seeing the Sydney Opera House in person or achieving other lifelong travel dreams.

Study up

If your fear is rooted in the possibility of crashing or having lack of control on a plane, it may comfort you to do some research before your next flight. Read up on plane safety statistics and about the ways that planes are specifically built to withstand turbulence. Check the status of the previous day's flights to remind yourself that thousands of flights take off and land each day without incident. Watching your airline's safety videos online may even help you feel more prepared for the journey, because you'll be armed with the knowledge you need to keep yourself safe if something does go wrong.

Identify your triggers

It's advice that psychologist Dr. Martin N. Seif shares in his fear-of-flying workshops. Think through the whole process, from arriving at the airport through walking out of the destination airport, and try to identify the pieces of the experience that give you the most anxiety. Sometimes being prepared for the fear makes handling it more manageable. So, if you know that takeoff is the scariest part of flying for you, you can make a point of spending the 15 minutes before takeoff taking deep breaths, listening to funny podcasts or reminding yourself that planes take off safely every day.

Try some DIY exposure therapy

Exposing yourself to the thing you fear is a common strategy suggested by therapists and other professionals who work with anxious people. But flight costs and intense security make it difficult to do any trial runs before your next flight, so you'll have to get creative. Watch plane takeoff simulation videos online. YouTube has many videos created just for people with your fear. They give you a first-person view of the flight experience, so you can hear plane noises and flight attendant announcements and see the view outside from the perspective of a person sitting on the plane. Watching those every day, while reminding yourself to breathe calmly and deeply, may help you feel less anxious when faced with the real thing.

And if it's the actual taking off and landing that scare you, you might even find it comforting to park near your local airport and watch planes go up and come down safely, over and over again.

Consider professional help

Unless you travel constantly, you probably don't need to enter prolonged therapy just to deal with your fear of flying. But a few sessions with a good therapist can help you work through some of your fears and develop specific strategies that will help you feel more comfortable on a plane.

In some cases, taking anti-anxiety medications proves incredibly helpful. Your doctor or a psychiatrist may be willing to prescribe a medication that you can take just before flying to help you pass the time in relaxed comfort. These medications can have side effects, so talk to your doctor about the safest way to use them.

About the Author

Kathryn Walsh