Top tips to beat your fear of flying

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The chances of a plane crashing are about one in 5.4 million, according to statistics from The Economist, and actually dying from a plane crash is one in 11 million. To put this into perspective, you have more chance of being struck by lightning or being attacked and killed by a shark.

Nevertheless, there are still many people who are terrified of flying and dread traveling anywhere by plane in case of turbulence, wheels squeaking, being in a crowded space or skidding on landing — and of course, crashing.

A fear of flying is also known as aviophobia and usually manifests itself in symptoms like panic, breathlessness, shallow breathing and a racing mind. It’s possible that aviophobia can develop from a bad experience but it can also be borne without a known cause.

Aside from going to the doctor to get some medication support or a referral to a psychological service, there are some simple things you can try to combat your fear of flying. Below are nutrition and lifestyle tips to help you conquer that panicked feeling as the plane pushes back.

Photo by Getty/martin-dm
Photo by Getty/martin-dm

Foods that might help

Salmon

Salmon contains vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids which may help regulate the chemical messengers — neurotransmitters — our brain releases which can calm and relax the mind. Omega-3 has also been researched to help the brain adapt to changes so may support anxiety symptoms.

Chamomile tea

This can be good for reducing anxiety because of its anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant content, meaning it helps fight damage in the body and protects cells.

Turmeric

The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which is known to support brain health and relieve anxiety. You can buy the spice and use in curries or stir-frys but it’s also available as a supplement.

Dark chocolate

While this is a mild stimulant, dark chocolate contains antioxidants that support brain function and is also rich in magnesium which is a key nutrient for the nervous system — so helps you relax. Eating dark chocolate is shown to increase serotonin (the happy hormone) and improve levels of stress hormones.

Natural yogurt

The live bacteria in yogurt can promote mental health and reduce anxiety by supporting levels of healthy bacteria in the gut.

Green tea

This contains L-theanine which is known to support brain health and anxiety. It’s also rich in antioxidants which can play a role in calming the brain. Both can support levels of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in the brain.

Read more: Should I take supplements during air travel?

Things to avoid

Alcohol

Whilst you may think drinking is a good idea to calm your nerves, alcohol can in fact depress the nervous system, ultimately making anxiety worse. Alcohol changes the levels of the chemical messengers in the brain making you more anxious when it wears off.

Caffeine

It’s bad news for coffee lovers who have anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulate and stimulates the same fight or flight response that the fear of a plane crashing does. If you overdo caffeine before a flight it can trigger a panic attack so either switch to decaf or avoid for a few days before your flight.

Smoking

Like alcohol, smoking may give you the immediate feeling of calm but this is temporary as the underlying issue isn’t solved. Additionally, the effect of smoking before you check in to calm your nerves will wear off by the time you board. You’ll then have to deal with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms as well as your fear of flying.

Photo by Getty/Hoxton/Tom Merton)
Photo by Getty/Hoxton/Tom Merton)

Some lifestyle tips

Meditation

Practice meditation for 10 minutes per day every week before your flight and in the morning before.

Get plenty of ‘good’ sleep

Try your best to get your sleep hygiene right as this may play a role in your mood and anxiety. Try going to bed at the same time every night, sleep in a dark room and limit screen use before bed.

Exercise

Regular exercise can alleviate chronic anxiety and may also reduce panic attacks before your flight. Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, especially in the morning before your flight.

Read more: Things you should before, during and after traveling to stay healthy

During the flight

Breathing exercises

Breathing helps regulate the body’s stress response and calm the mind. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for three and breathe out for a count of six. You can also try alternate nostril breathing — breathing in and out of one nostril at a time —  to help calm the nervous system.

Play soothing music

Find a playlist that calms you or makes you feel good and listen to it as you take your seat, even if you are feeling calm at that moment.

Eat right

Don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar before your flight — coffee, energy drinks and sugar are all stimulants and will make your anxiety worse.

Bottom line

Anxiety can be treated with medication and psychology support but and some foods and lifestyle interventions may support brain health and support anxiety symptoms when flying. But remember, it’s important to understand the root cause of anxiety rather than just living with the condition.

Featured image by Getty/SolStock

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