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Fear of Flying: Easy Coping Strategies

Do you feel your heart speed up the moment you step into an airport? Does every bout of turbulence send you into a silent panic? You're not alone — studies suggest that 40 percent of people have a fear of flying. This anxiety can ruin vacations and cause months of low-level stress. Intellectually, you know the plane isn't going to crash, but that knowledge does little to quell the wave of fear that accompanies every flight.

If you're a nervous flier, it's helpful to have an arsenal of coping strategies. That way, you can try a variety of methods to ease your mind and travel with confidence.

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01Sit on the aisle

Senior man with beard sitting in airplane aisle seat using a phone AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

The feeling of being trapped can exacerbate the fear of flying. An aisle seat can help; the open space gives you a mental escape route. Once the fasten-seatbelt sign switches off, you're free to roam around the cabin or walk to the bathroom without inconveniencing your seatmates. Even if you stay seated, it's surprisingly relaxing to know that you can get up if the need arises.

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02Choose flights strategically

An airplane flies high above the clouds with the rising sun on the horizon Egorych / Getty Images

If turbulence is a concern for you, choose flights carefully. Start by booking morning departures. Early fights tend to be smoother because the ground temperature is cooler. As the sun rises and the ground warms up, it sends heated air up into the atmosphere. The warm air mixes with the cooler high-altitude air, creating bumpy currents.

Direct flights are another great option; they minimize the time you spend in the airport and in the air, not to mention stressful takeoffs and landings. After you pick a flight, select a seat over the wing or close to the front of the plane. Since the wings deliver balance and stability, you'll feel fewer bumps.

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03Stay busy and distracted

Two female friends talking as they walk through an airport with luggage AzmanL / Getty Images

The more time you have to think about a flight, the worse your anxiety will be. The solution? Don't give yourself time to dwell. Stay busy on the day of departure. Review a packing checklist, make sure everything in the house is clean, and decide where you want to park. Chat with your travel companions; deep conversations are a fantastic distraction. If you're flying solo, pop in your earbuds and listen to a book or podcast.

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04Treat yourself to a lounge pass

Female traveler sitting in an airport lounge overlooking the terminal Edwin Tan / Getty Images

Airport terminals are loud, chaotic places. If the extra stimulation adds to your anxiety, a lounge pass is a worthwhile investment. For about $50 to $75, you'll be able to wait for your flight in a quiet, soothing environment. Sip a glass of wine and indulge in a selection of snacks until it's time to go to the gate.

Do your research — some lounges provide massages, nap rooms, and showers for an extra relaxing experience. Choose a lounge you're excited about; the anticipation will displace some of your worry.

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05Review the facts

Man sitting in an airplane seat and looking at a smartphone izusek / Getty Images

Anxiety fills your mind with worst-case scenarios. Counteract irrational fears by running through a list of facts. Review airline crash statistics, and look up how many people have died on commercial airplanes in the past 50 years.

It sounds strange, but you might also find it soothing to read about situations where airplanes lost an engine and still landed safely. Every time you come across a statistic or story that makes you feel better, add it to the notes app on your phone. That way, you can pull it up whenever you feel panic rising during a flight.

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06Learn about turbulence

Airplane wing with an island and ocean far below Tyler Tomasek / Getty Images

A bumpy flight can skyrocket your stress level. Before you fly, try educating yourself about the actual risk that turbulence poses. (Spoiler: it's perfectly safe.) Read up on airplane design, and learn how each component is engineered to handle rough air. The more you know, the less likely you are to fear the unknown.

For example, the wings on commercial jets can bend to almost 90 degrees without breaking — even if it flexes, it won't snap off.

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07Use a turbulence-prediction app

woman checking phone during flight RossHelen / Getty Images

Do you feel calmer when a pilot warns you about turbulence in advance? It makes sense — knowing what to expect brings peace of mind. Apps like SkyGuru, SOAR, and Turbcast provide the same service: they predict turbulence and tell you why it's happening, in real-time. The simple scientific explanations can help break through the fog of fear.

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08Interrupt your anxiety

Nervous woman sitting in an airplane seat by the window globalmoments / Getty Images

For many people, anxiety happens automatically. A tiny, intrusive idea, such as "What if the plane goes down?" can quickly become a storm of stressful thoughts. If that sounds familiar, try interrupting the pattern.

Every time you start worrying about your flight, say to yourself, "No. I'm not thinking about that." This concrete, conscious command interrupts the flow of fearful, negative thoughts. Repeat it as often as necessary to prevent yourself from spiraling.

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09Recite helpful mantras

Woman in headphones closing her eyes on an airplane EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER / Getty Images

Once you stop negative thoughts, replace them with positive mantras. If you're stressed before the flight, say something like, "I am safe and I am calm." If the flight is rough, try, "It's just bumps on the road." Repeat these phrases in your mind, focusing intently on the words. At the same time, force yourself to breathe slowly and deeply to keep your heart rate in check.

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10Take a therapeutic or medicinal approach

woman taking pills AsiaVision / Getty Images

If you need to travel frequently for work or personal reasons, the fear of flying can be debilitating. When the worry and anxiety start to affect your everyday life, it's time to seek professional help.

How do you know that your anxiety is out of control? Red flags include losing sleep, having panic attacks, or canceling trips at the last minute. Your doctor may recommend therapy or anti-anxiety medication.

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