Holiday Tools: How to cope with a fear of flying

It’s the holiday season, and if you’re like me, you’re going to take at least one trip on a plane to visit family. My Jewish half lives in Florida and my hefty Lutheran bunch are in Minnesota. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll take a flight to each state. That’s four times on a plane in a month.

I get anxiety dreams before flying. It’s not a joke. Understanding and dealing with anxiety is a big part of life. And planes are a horribly small and an inconceivable aspect of reality. Therefore have a very hard time being calm in one that is suspended in air.

But I think I have felt the worst of the anxiety bug, and I believe I have come out the other side – or at least gained some tools to identify anxiety and soothe it like a baby.

Here are some tricks that worked for me.

1.     Listen to music (Sigur Ros is good. Any music that is hardly music at all). But listen to music that’s too narrative and you’ll start thinking again. Which is not what you want to do.

2.     Think of a mantra that makes you feel calm. (Mine is a version of this: There is a higher power, and if it’s my damn time, let it be. I wouldn’t want to control everything in the world even if I could. Because there exists beauty and happiness beyond my reckoning. I know this.)

3.     Read. Just force yourself to read. It’s good for you. (And, for heaven’s sake, make sure you have a good book. Traveling anywhere without a book is irresponsible.)

4.     Watch Real Housewives. Nothing more mindless than this. I probably should have put this first.

5.     Breathe deeply (this should be practiced on a regular basis anyway. And you probably wouldn’t have anxiety if you often did this. Breathing is scientifically proven to lower anxiety. Look it up.)

6.     Draw a picture of your feelings and talk expressly to it. Because you are only experiencing a feeling. The feeling, like anything, just wants to be acknowledged. When I was in the depths of an electric kind of despair I drew a purple bug, a bug that didn’t actually look as creepy as I was feeling.

7.     Touch your body. Not in a sexy way. But if you can’t have the ground, you can have the firmness of your own body. Often that’s enough.

8.     Take your shoes off and force yourself to pretend that this is your house!

9.     Make friends with the person next to you if they seem cool.

10.     Remember: The flight attendant does this every day multiple times a day. Like it’s their job?!

Any way you slice it, fear should not impede you to go forth and see those you love, and do the things you want to do. People have done more amazing things than fly a plane every once in a while. There’s no reason why you should not heroically pack your bags, like the Odysseus you are, and go forth into those brilliant skies, suspending belief for a moment. Trusting in, and perhaps even feeling inspired by, the magic of an airplane.