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Managing Your Fear of Flying: Mags’s Take

Several folks have emailed us questions after reading Abs’ blog about her conquered fear of flying. Most of you want specifics regarding how to start flying again after fear has kept you away—in some cases, for years…

Not that I’m trying to one-up anybody, but my own flying phobia is legendary among my family, friends, and international airline personnel. Images from my flight history: (1) being relocated to first class (several times) mid-flight by a very overwhelmed but kind flight attendant

(2) dry-heaving in the lavatory for the entire duration of the flight while passengers and crew knocked worriedly on the door, and (3) the EMS (called by the crew) meeting my plane to escort me off while other passengers watched. Yes, that was me—the absolutely terrified flyer.

But, believe it or not, I too can now fly relatively comfortably. So how did I do it?

First of all, unlike Abs, I never stopped flying. Yes, I would dry heave, be sick, cry, and lose all feeling in my hands before and during the flight, but my therapist used to tell me that I had to do it anyway.  As with all phobias, doing it anyway is essential.  It is much harder to get back on the plane after a long hiatus, so, if you have stopped flying, get back in that saddle ASAP. Make a rule that you will no longer miss events, vacations, etc. because you are too scared to fly. Like Nike says, “Just do it.”

Of course this is easier said than done, so I’ve written some tips to get you through it:

  • You may need Ativan (or another similar medication) to help you get on the plane.       My doctor recommends putting small amounts (a quarter of a pill) in your system every few hours starting several days before you fly in order to help establish and maintain calm. If you have never taken this type of medication before, ask your doctor if it is appropriate for you, and test it out before you travel. Lots of people feel really sleepy or even a bit loopy the first time they take Ativan, so make sure you aren’t driving or operating heavy machinery until you know how your body reacts.
  • Bring what Abs and I have termed a “spin kit” on the plane with you. Your spin kit should contain anything that will help you get through the flight. Mine included things like lavender spray (trial size), a crochet project, sour apple sucking candies, Xanax, Excedrin, and peppermint tea—all things that help calm my senses.
  • Wear the appropriate anxiety wardrobe.  You should feel cool and comfortable.  Avoid tight waistbands, push-up bras, or turtlenecks. Instead opt for loose layers that are easily removed (anxiety makes you hot).
  • Tell the flight attendant that you are petrified, can’t breathe, want to jump out of the plane, etc.  Sometimes a really nice person will move you up to first class (where the space and air will lessen your anxiety). At the very least, he/she will check in on you to see if you are okay.

Here’s the thing: the only way to beat a fear of flying is to do it and do it a lot.  Start with short trips.  If you live in New York, look for a discount fare to Boston or Washington. If you live in Miami, hop on a shuttle to Tampa. LA to San Fran is another good fear-beating route. You don’t have to be in the air for very long—even a 40 minute flight counts.  The more often you fly, the less fear you will have.  My husband once planned a European vacation that had us on 6 (short) flights in 8 days. After that ordeal, I was cured of my phobia.  I no longer need drugs or even a spin kit to fly…and if the Anxiety Sisters can do it, so can you!


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