Fly Me to the Moon (or don’t… please, don’t)

It’s painful for me to admit this, but some time in the last four years I developed mild flight anxiety. I have an overactive brain that tends to visualize everything that could go wrong (although, scientifically, the things I imagine probably can’t go wrong). I’m not going to go into it because I know that I’m being dramatic and I don’t want to put my false mental images of doom into your head, too.

But, you know, just let it be known that I have flight anxiety.

Here’s where I imagine all this anxiety stems from… In 2010 I totaled my car on some black ice and it took me 2 years to get comfortable behind the wheel again. In 2012 I flew to India and we hit turbulence that dropped the plane and nearly shook me from my seat. Traumatic events tend to shake me to my core and send my imaginative brain into overdrive.

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Two weeks ago K and I flew to San Antonio for a business trip. (Details about our trip are happening next week hopefully.) I have flown a few times since India, but the anxiety gets worse with each trip. I was seriously dreading these flights.

The self-talk that happened in my head during our time in the air was unreal. I channeled Chelsea and repeated to myself, “You can do hard things.” I prayed like a mad person. I turned my ear buds all the way up and tried desperately to lose myself in books. Every once in a while I panic-grasped K’s hand or thigh.

When the smallest hint of turbulence rocked the plane I told myself that the flight attendants were still standing and smiling and passing out drinks- it’d all be ok.

Before our last flight home I looked up the dangers of turbulence on my phone. (I knew this was a risk… sometimes ignorance really is bliss.) Turns out, turbulence is very rarely the cause of air troubles. It’s totally normal and does not bring planes down. That little bit of knowledge helped immensely on the last flight. (All our flights were smooth- my brain had the turbulent issues.)

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Of course, when I really boil it down, what the hell am I going to do if something were to happen on a plane? Like, really. What exactly are my options? I jokingly told K that if something goes wrong and we’re taking a nose dive to the ground, please punch me and knock me out. Neither one of us can figure out if I’m kidding about that still…

But back to the point… I survived our flights and, though I was mentally exhausted, I found ways to cope with the stress I was feeling and walk away confident and happy (to be on the ground ).

So how about some mediocre advice from an inexperienced* flyer…

  • Create a playlist and bring a book that will grab & keep your interest. Dave Matthews Band calms me down when driving in stressful situations so I loaded up my Amazon Prime playlist with some DMB for the flight.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Watch the flight attendants. Chances are they’re laughing and smiling and jovial, even when buckled up and bouncing along in the turbulence. Be friendly with them, too. They’re your biggest allies in the air, especially on longer flights.
  • Repeat to yourself, ‘I am brave. I am OK. I can do hard things.’ (You’d be surprised how effective this is. )
  • If praying is your thing have a laid back, honest conversation with God.
  • Research flight and turbulence. First I read this article, then I found this site: http://www.fearofflying.com/ . It actually has a ‘program’ to cure those with flight anxiety. I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking into it…
  • Some people drink alcohol or take relaxers. If that works for you, cool. I’m pretty sure I’d have just started crying uncontrollably if I’d been drinking. I needed my brain to be clear and strong for the trip.

It sounds backward- and maybe this just helps me- but looking out the window helped me relax. The beauty and the stillness of the sky/clouds/ground below was helpful.

(* truthfully, I’ve been flying my entire life… I started when I was a toddler and I’ve been around the world… so, you know, I’m kind of experienced… just inexperienced with this newfound anxiety)

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It’s weird… I’m not afraid of heights. I’m not afraid of death. I’m not afraid of travel. I just hated the feeling of the plane dropping out from beneath me like it did on the India trip.

It’s funny, but I suddenly understand Lylee’s irrational fear of thunderstorms.

So let’s open the floor for outside advice πŸ™‚ Do you get shaky on flights? How do you entertain yourself on a plane?

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38 thoughts on “Fly Me to the Moon (or don’t… please, don’t)

    1. The only thing about long flights that really drives me nuts is the difficulty I have sleeping. Travel to and from India took over 24 hours each way, but I couldn’t fall asleep long than a few minutes here and there. My anxiety really kicks in with taking off, so longer flights are better for me because air-time is less taxing on my nerves.

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  1. I can see why someone could be terrified on a plane! I’ve had some scary flights in my day, but I usually only get a little nervous at takeoff. My anxiety is usually about motion sickness. I’ve had many flights where I’ve used every barf bag on board because I get motion sickness so bad. I’m not as much worried the turbulence is going to bring the plane down (though I’ve had flights where I thought that was happening), I’m more worried it will make me puke on the person next to me (been there, done that).

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    1. Take off is my least favorite. I should probably be thankful that I don’t experience motion sickness…
      On one of our flights K and I were separate by 10 rows and I had two strangers on either side of me. I was *moments* away from grabbing the guy on my right’s thigh at one point during light turbulence. Lol

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  2. I LOATTTTHHHHEEEEE flying. I’m the worst. The hubs says he was a nervous flyer until he flew with me – I can make everyone nervous by the time I’m done.
    I think for me, its a control thing. If I could pilot the plane, I think I’d be fine. But Its no control, its sitting in a container full of germs… plus, there’s the plunging thousands of feet to death…. oh Lordy, give me strength.
    When I did have to fly, coloring was my go-to. I could never concentrate on reading but coloring always would calm me down. I’m like a 6 year old with my coloring books & markers.

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    1. I definitely sympathize with you on the control factor. I agree completely. I’m glad that my anxiety doesn’t affect K- I need one of us to be confident, ha!
      A former flight attendant recommended playing cards at takeoff/landing. She said reading isn’t a big enough distraction for many people. Fortunately I was really into my book πŸ™‚

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  3. I never grew up riding planes so when I was 18 I flew on my first one during the height of my anxiety, needless to say it was an awful experience. Now that I have control over my anxiety, I haven’t had too many issues getting on a plane. I still hate landing but taking off I’m totally fine. The brain is a weird and mysterious thing!

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    1. The brain is SO strange. There are moments when I can *feel* the panic setting in and I have to force my brain to stop and settle down, and push confident, positive thoughts. If I just let myself spiral I think I’d have a panic attack or cry uncontrollably. Fortunately I haven’t lost control yet.

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  4. I hate flying. It’s the main reason I don’t travel. I get so so so so drunk, although I’m always still very pleasant! John’s uncle is a long haul flight attendant and he says they’ll be smiling and laughing as you crash into the ground so I don’t look to them for comfort at all. But, he says the same thing about turbulence. Things that can actually take down a plane you would never even know about at all, it stays in the cockpit.

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    1. I would be bawling if I was drunk. Haha. A family member offered me a relaxer but K and I decided I need to be in control. Ha.
      I’m sure those flight attendants are trained for anything. I’d like to live in the fantasy world where if they’re happy and smiling then I’m 100% safe. Ha.

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  5. So here’s the weird thing, I am terrified of heights but enjoy flying. I have no idea how this happened. πŸ˜€ But I hear you. I don’t like turbulent flights because I suffer from motion sickness. I am generally not afraid of the plane crashing but more of me projectile vomiting over everyone! My brother came to visit me once and had a mini-freakout for some reason on a bridge and got the point where he struggled to cross any bridge, even baby bridges. What helped him was listening to some hypnosis tapes so that might be another option for you too.

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    1. Hmmm… never thought about hypnosis! I didn’t realize how many people suffer from motion sickness. I’m thankful I don’t have to worry about that on top of the anxiety.

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  6. UGH I would be so upset if I developed this fear going forward. It’s hard when you have always done something and you no longer feel secure doing it, but you still have to do it and you have to force your adult brain to adapt and cope in ways you didn’t before.

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    1. The first time I started showing anxiety it completely confused K. I really have been flying forever. I was talking to my brother about it while I was in Texas and he was shocked. He thought I loved flying- which I used to!

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  7. These are all such good tips! Also, I’m so sorry about that flight to India and the car crash–those definitely would have scared me too!! (And Kyle being there for you on the flights when you’re scared–SUPER precious.) Devin had never flown before he traveled with my family to Colorado and he was so nervous, too!

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    1. Such is life πŸ™‚ I’m glad I walked away from all those incidents relatively unharmed.
      K has only flown a handful of times so it’s funny to me that he’s so calm and relaxed while I’m the basket case.

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  8. I’m really glad that you didn’t let your fear of flying prevent you from going to the trip and that you were okay. Facts help me too. Sometimes I get nervous before a long flight and Nick likes to remind me how statistically unlikely it is that anything will happen. I started taking dramamine on long flights because I get really sick. One time I threw up as the plane was landing, right in my seat, after being nauseous for 10 hours. Luckily for me the dramamine also helps me sleep. Now that we can download Netflix shows I like to have something light like 30 Rock on my phone to help me calm down. I also like to have music and a book. Choice of book is crucial! I learned to keep it light and easy. Sometimes I can’t read because I feel nauseous so TV and music is the best for me.

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    1. I’m glad you’ve figured out what works for you!! With being on Hawaii it’s probably good to have a flight plan πŸ˜‰ I won’t ever let my anxiety keep me from flying, but I might have to invest in some classes or therapy or drugs to keep me calm in the future. Lol

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  9. I absolutely hate flying and until I started my job three years ago, I had only been on one flight my entire life. Now I have to travel at least once a year via plane for work and I wont ever move up in my company because I refuse to travel like the rest of the guys I work with do. Nope nope nope no thank you! I will say my flight last year was a lot easier than the year before but I was still a ball of nerves.

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  10. Glad your flight turned out okay! I don’t get much flight anxiety but Jerry really does. I get motion sickness though so I’m not a fan of flying at all. Our last flight had TV screens and I chose a comedy to watch. It helped pass the time.

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    1. I am MUCH better on flights with TVs in the seats πŸ™‚ Those are great! I’m also thankful that I don’t get motion sickness. I bet that’s really tough to deal with 😦

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  11. I have no advice, but this has been me the last year. I’ve always flown completely fine, and now suddenly, NOPE. So no tips, but solidarity!

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    1. I’m sorry to hear that, friend 😦 I think that my anxiety is worse when K is with me because I fear for his safety. Maybe the same can be said for you with Jack? *Sigh* Hopefully we both silence this fear quickly!

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  12. I am glad that your flights were ok. I have SO much anxiety all the time, I assumed that I would hate flying, but I don’t mind it. Turbulence isn’t my favorite thing, but I can get past it pretty easily. I like your tips, and I am legitimately reading this right now thinking about all the upcoming dentist appointments I’ll have this year to get everything fixed. It freaks me out so much. Even that stupid xray thing they shove in your mouth makes my heart race. It’s so irrational. Anyhow, I am going to use these tips to get through my awful appointments. If the first one is still awful, maybe I’ll opt for laughing gas like a child. I’m glad that these things helped you, I think that anxiety comes out of nowhere or at any time in life. I seriously worry about everything now that I never did before. It’s good of us to challenge our fears though! πŸ™‚ I think I’ve read that drinking makes people think it’s helping but it actually makes things worse… ha. I just read and read and read if I can. Thanks for this post, it’s encouraging to read that other people have anxieties that popped up, and they really struggle with them but are working through it. Even though mine is completely different… I just feel better after reading it. πŸ™‚ XO – Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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    1. (Sorry this reply is so late! For some reason wordpress marked this as spam.)
      I HATE the dentist. I avoid going for years and years at a time. It’s not so much anxiety as it is terrible past experiences (read: cavities every single visit for my entire childhood). Anyway, I totally understand where you’re coming from.
      And I worry about everything, too. It’s progressively gotten worse, but I’m tried to have a more positive attitude which has helped in recent years. Our brains are so odd…

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  13. ohhhh you know i feel you and guess what – you DID do hard things (like surviving flight anxiety) so YAY!!!

    i am also a BIG fan of watching the flight attendants too. i remind myself that they CHOOSE this job and fly multiple times a day. i think that’s a great one. i also listen to harry potter audiobooks (although i just lost my ipod – which i’ve had since 8th grade containing ALL of the books so trying to figure out what to do for our flight on monday uuuuugh).

    i also remind myself that by doing hard things – i get great things on the other end (like exploring a new place i’m flying to or when i’m coming back home – i get to sleep in my own bed!) glad you shared this and GO YOU!

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    1. I can’t tell you how many times I suppressed anxiety and fought off panic attacks with that phrase. It was definitely helpful! (So thank you!)
      Good luck with your flight tomorrow!! I hope you find a good distraction!
      Thank you!

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  14. I appreciate this post because I’ve never been one who experiences any anxiety about flying. So, when I hear others that do, I respect it, but I couldn’t relate. You’ve explained it more to me than anyone else has, so thanks for that.

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    1. No problem, Erin πŸ™‚ And I’m SO glad you don’t have to deal with this feeling. It’s weird because I love adventure and traveling (and airports, actually), but the feeling of the plane dropping four years ago is something that stuck with me and made an impression on my brain.

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    1. I’m glad you don’t have to deal with the anxiety yourself. Have a spouse that stays calm and confident is a very, very helpful thing! I’m grateful for K’s serenity- I’m sure your husband feels the same way!

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  15. my flying anxiety has definitely gotten worse over the past few years. turbulence makes me cry, immediately. i wish i could control myself but i can’t. and i hate that i make KC nervous because i start to freak out, and when he is nervous it makes me so much worse. so our last few flights i’ve tried really hard not to grab his arm, or i try and keep my tears silent. haha. because me calming down keep shim calm which keeps me from going completely nutso.

    but like you, i looked into it and read statistics and that definitely helped me. when it gets a bit bumpy i just remind myself of the statistics, and remind myself of how when i drive, i feel bumps, but i do it everyday so i’m used to it, and etc etc etc. it absolutely helps. i look at the flight attendants and even if they sit down i tell myself they deserve to be safe too. most injuries and whatnot happen because people aren’t wearing their seatbelts during turbulence, so i am perfectly safe in my seat, so they deserve to be too.

    i have an instrumental playlist that i keep on hand for turbulence, i can’t read or watch TV while it’s happening, i just close my eyes and try and calm myself. when it’s fine though, i read. keeps me busy and entertained, and i don’t notice light turbulence if i’m super into a book. the longest flight i have been on is 16 hours and i have flown back and forth from australia to the US several several times and i’ve never had an issue. ever. i have slept on a flight ONCE and it was the most glorious flight ever. 13 hours but felt like 2 because i slept most of it. good lord if i could make that happen every time it would be amazing. but i can’t.

    anyway. medication/alcohol absolutely do not work for me. statistics and reminding myself where i am going – to see my family, explore a new city, or back when KC and I were dating long distance it was to see him. it all helps.

    sorry for the late comment by the by, super behind.

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    1. Lol, late comments are totally ok πŸ™‚

      I feel lucky that a) I don’t get motion sickness [I had no idea so many people do!], and b) K isn’t affected by my anxiety. He seems totally immune to it. It does seem a little helpful that you force yourself to be calm to help KC’s nerves, though. Extra motivation and all.
      I actually do much better when I fly alone. I hate the idea of K being on a plane if something goes wrong, but I’m ok with accepting fate if I’m all alone. (If/when we fly with kids I’m sure I’ll be the biggest mess in the airport. Ugh.)
      I WISH I could sleep on flights. I might get an hour or two off and on, but it’s tough for me. On our flight back to the US from India the flight attendant kept checking on me and pampering me because everyone was sleeping and I know she felt bad that I couldn’t. (Fortunately, that was before my flight anxiety appeared.)
      I’m glad you’ve found ways to cope and ways to make your brain stay focused and positive. I really think that’s the most helpful thing! πŸ™‚

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