Afraid of flying? How to keep your nerves under control

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Despite the ease and frequency with which we travel huge distances around the world by air, one of the most common and debilitating phobias remains a fear of flying. In even mild cases, it can cause flying to be a stressful and uncomfortable experience, and in extreme cases, it can seriously limit your holiday or career plans. To help you get up in the air, here are a few ways you can beat your fear.



Know your fear

One of the first things you’ll need to do when tackling your fear of flying is to identify what it is about flying that scares you. It’s rarely the flying itself that is the cause of the phobia; more often than not it’s other elements of the experience. For example, claustrophobia caused by being in cramped conditions, a fear of heights during takeoff and landing, or the general loss of control you might experience.

By identifying what triggers your phobia, it’s possible to address those issues specifically. The benefits of this are twofold: on the one hand, it means you can give proper attention to the actual cause of your fear and set up mitigation strategies, while on the other hand, it means you can relax about other elements of the flight that don’t cause you specific anxiety and enjoy the whole experience more.


Practise at home

While it might seem silly to practise flying at home (we’d recommend leaving the important parts to professionals) you can still practise controlling your reaction when you’re on the plane. While you may not be able to free yourself entirely from the negative thoughts which cause your anxiety, it’s definitely possible to manage the way you react to those thoughts to ensure you don’t lose control of them.

Firstly, controlling your breathing is one big step to managing your fear. It’s impossible to panic when you’re breathing steadily, so mastering a few simple breathing exercises and performing them under pressure is a great way to ensure you can keep your panic levels low. Combine this with other exercises such as rolling your neck and straightening your back and you’ve got a handy routine you can get yourself into should you feel the panic rising.



Educate yourself

One of the most stressful things about flying is the fear of the unknown and trusting your safety entirely to someone else. It’s a totally understandable reaction, but just a bit of reading can help calm your nerves and show you that there’s nothing particularly scary or mysterious about what’s going on.

Part of this is overcoming reservations about flying itself. All aircrafts obey the laws of physics, so lift and thrust work the same the world over, and understanding exactly how a plane takes off means you don’t need to worry that it’s suddenly going to go wrong.

A second element of this is the many sounds you’ll hear on the plane as it makes preparations for take-off and during the flight. There are all kinds of strange bangs, whirring and roaring noises, shakes and shudders that you’ll encounter, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with what they are so you won’t be afraid of them. A loud bang just before takeoff is just the ground crew slamming the cargo door shut, just as you would your own car boot. Whirring noises on the wings are just the flaps being adjusted to ensure the plane has the correct amount of lift. A whining noise just before landing is the landing gear being lowered into position.

Every noise has an explanation, and the more you know about the flight, the less there is to worry about.


Fake it until you make it

One relatively simple trick to help you overcome your fear of flying is simply to act like you’re not afraid. This sounds easier said than done, but when combined with strategies to help limit negative thoughts and distract yourself, it can actually be a really powerful tool.



Smiling, walking slowly and calmly, chatting with the cabin crew and your fellow passengers; all of these actions help calm your body and present a sense of normality to your brain, keeping up the supply of happy endorphins and repressing the release of nervous adrenaline. Fooling your body is the easy part, so the next step is fooling your brain too.

Your brain loves patterns and regularity, which is why you get distressed when things happen that you don’t expect or can’t control, so tricking your brain into establishing positive patterns and breaking negative ones is the way to go. Simple distraction techniques like snapping a rubber band, sucking on a sweet or reciting a poem or mnemonic when you’re feeling stressed give your brain something else to focus on so that it stops thinking too much about what’s causing your fear.

Get it right, and you can deploy these strategies as soon as you feel nervous and break the negative cycle of panic before it really gets going.


Replace the old with the new

Your brain starts its journey with a disadvantage because it’s already got a big, scary picture of what flying is like built up in your head, and it’s hard to tear that down. Your goal is to take a wrecking ball to that picture and to replace it with something positive.

During your first flight, or on subsequent ones, it’s important to visualise all the positives that come with flying: your destination, the holiday you had there, the nice cabin crew who helped you, your seat neighbour who calmed you down. All these images are baby steps towards getting rid of the scary picture you had of flying completely so that there are no lingering negative thoughts waiting for you the next time you fly.

A really easy way of helping you do this is to bring photos with you, so you can look at them as you fly. If it’s your first time, bring photos of the place that you’re going so that you’ll feel motivated to go on. If it’s your second or third time, bring photos of your last holiday to remind you of what you’re going back to. It can also help to make yourself as comfortable, so bring your favourite music to listen to or your favourite films to watch on a laptop or tablet. All of this is helping to associate positive experiences with flying, so eventually, the negative ones are pushed right to the back.

Flying can be a scary event, but there’s no need to let a fear of flying hold you back. By following a few easy steps, and sticking to the mantra of calm and positive thinking, it’s entirely possible to banish whatever demons were preventing you from enjoying your flight and to replace them with positive thoughts. It’s addictive once you start, and soon you’ll have no end of positive memories to remind you why you’re up in the sky in the first place!