If the idea of boarding a plane makes your palms sweaty and a turbulent bump makes your stomach flip, you may be a nervous flyer. Flying can be an overwhelming experience, and with all the stresses that come with travel, we want to help you do what you can to ease your flying anxiety for your own well-being. Even if you’re traveling with others, self-care is important — you should always secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others, after all. Here are five ways to calm your nerves before takeoff.
1. Imagine yourself somewhere else
If you feel overwhelmed by the fact that you’re 30,000 feet in the air somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, try closing your eyes for a few minutes and simply imagine you’re somewhere else. This therapeutic tool is called “visualization,” and experts say the technique can work to distract yourself in stressful situations. According to research conducted by clinical psychologist, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D, individuals who spent five minutes visualizing themselves somewhere else when they were in a stressful environment found significant relief from their anxious feelings.
2. Write with your non-dominant hand
It might sound crazy, but after you board your flight, take out a pen and paper, and practice writing your name with your non-dominant hand. Captain Ron Nielson, a pilot of over 40 years, said on “The TODAY Show” that this distracting exercise can really help ease the nerves before the plane even leaves the ground. The activity forces your brain to focus on an attention-consuming task, concurrently steering your focus away from your anxious thoughts.
3. Try a mental rehearsal
According to licensed psychologist Nancy Mramor, Ph.D., relaxing before a flight takes a little bit of advanced prep — or “mental rehearsal,” as she calls it. “A person needs some preparation in order to reduce the anxiety,” Dr. Mramor told us. “If they know how to relax in general, through mindfulness perhaps, then they will be in a good place to use the same methods before and during the flight.” Dr. Mramor also says that individuals should work actively to get rid of any negative associations with flying. “If they have had a traumatic flight experience,” she says, “they may need help to break the negative association and reset their expectations,” which can be done with therapeutic methods, such as counting backward and imagining oneself going downstairs. By distracting your mind with specific motions, you can snap out of your current mindset and focus on something else entirely.
4. Reject the “what Iif” thoughts
Often we build on our anxious thoughts internally once we keep thinking “what if” without stopping ourselves. Instead of falling down the overwhelming rabbit hole, try writing down 2-3 fears of yours on paper to get them out of your head. You can even give yourself a pep talk, according to Debbie Joffe Ellis, Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. “Focus on the good in your life and think about what you’re grateful for,” she told us. “Refuse to think about ‘what ifs’” by focusing on positivity instead, and physically getting the thoughts out of your head.
5. Don’t breathe too deeply
Finally, breathing. The typical advice we hear when we’re anxious is to take a deep breath — but according to New York City-based physiotherapist Patricia Ladis, ECC, taking overly exaggerated breaths may actually make you more anxious when you’re already in a panicked state. The alternative? Work on taking quiet, soft breaths, suggests Ladis. “Bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth — this is the ideal position for relaxing the neck and the upper chest,” she explains. “Then, with your mouth closed, gently breathe in and out through your nose, from two to five minutes.” It may not feel natural at first, but the slow rhythm of your small breaths will help relax your body and bring you to a more mindful state.