A fear of flying, also known as aviophobia, can occur in people of any age. But as we get older, it's not unusual for our anxiety to grow. And when that happens, even relatively common habits, like flying on an airplane, can start to loom large in your mind.
"Generally speaking, as you grow older, you become more aware of what could go wrong," says Linda Sapadin, PhD, a psychologist and the author of Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get on With Your Life.
Statistically speaking, the odds of a plane crashing — particularly a U.S. commercial airline — is extremely low. According to the National Safety Council, flying in a plane is one of safest modes of transportation; the organization puts the odds of dying as an aircraft passenger as 1 in 205,552.
Still, when you have anxiety, "emotion can trump reason," says Dr. Sapadin. Use these tips to conquer your fear of flying.
1. Know that, once you're on the plane, you might feel more relaxed.
Oftentimes, the anxiety you feel before you board the plane is more intense than the anxiety that develops once you're actually in the air, says Dr. Sapadin. Psychologists even have a name for it: anticipatory anxiety. The good news: Some of these feelings are likely to pass after takeoff — and it might be smooth sailing (or flying) the rest of the way.
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2. Distract yourself.
Try not to focus on the details — like, for example, the fact that you're flying at 430 miles per hour at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Instead, read a book, turn on an in-flight movie, or listen to music. "You want to cultivate a relaxed mind and think about other things," she says.
Remember, too, that you're in good hands. The pilots can anticipate turbulence, which is a normal part of flying. "Think of it as [the equivalent of] driving on a bumpy road," says Dr. Sapadin.
3. Breathe in, breathe out.
When you're stressed, your body releases hormones that raise your blood pressure and heart rate, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. One way to counter these feelings, however, is with deep breathing.
Starting in a seated position, the organization recommends placing one hand over your stomach and the other hand over your heart. Then, inhale slowly until your stomach rises, pause for a moment, and exhale slowly while letting your stomach fall back down.
4. Give yourself a pep talk.
"You want to turn fear talk into calming talk," she says. Instead of thinking, 'I can't deal with this,' tell yourself that you can deal with it.
Or, you can try singing to yourself. "A lot of calming talk has a nice rhythm to it," says Dr. Sapadin. "When I work with people, I suggest they make up their own song." Choose a reassuring phrase — like, 'I can handle this, yes I can' — and pair it with a tune that's easy to hum, like the Happy Birthday song.
"When you make up your own song with your own words, a lot of people start laughing at that," she says.
It might be silly, but it works.
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