I’ve been flying commercially since I was a baby. My grandfather flew B24s in WWII and then became a commercial airline pilot. You would think flying would run in my blood. Truth be told I used to love flying…from Philly to Tampa. My mom would pack special snacks for me and my sister, and we would be armed with word searches and books. And the flight would last about two and a half hours.

Now I live on an island in the middle of the Pacific, and unless I am island hopping, the shortest flying time to get anywhere is at least five hours. Tack on another flight to the east coast of the US or down to Central America, and that’s an additional five hours minimum. One of those flights is always a red eye.

The First, But Not the Last

My first panic attack on a plane happened about 19 years ago. (Did you know that people report their first fear of flying “attack” at the age of 27 on average?) It’s one of the worst feelings ever when your fight or flight response kicks in and you have nowhere to go. I tried deep breathing, but once that adrenaline started to flow, I didn’t have the tools to make it stop.

On one flight, I tried ¼ of the lowest dose of Xanax, but that felt worse – I still had the thoughts but didn’t have the emotional reaction to match. Some people do well with that, but for me, the disconnect was too much. On yet another flight, I tried an herbal sleep aid, valerian. Bad idea. It was my first time ever trying the herb, and I had a panic attack about the possibility of an allergic reaction.

It’s okay, you can chuckle because maybe you can see the pattern of irrational thoughts (or maybe you’ve had similar experiences?). I started talking with some friends, and it turns out, I’m not alone. According to the National Institute of Health, 40% of Americans feel some form of anxiety when it comes to flying. Anxiety about flying is no joke (about 3% of Americans experience clinical-level anxiety called aviophobia), but over the last 20 years, I have learned to manage my sub-clinical type.

Tips and Facts

Flying is still considered the safest way to travel. Between 2012-2016, there was a 1 in 3.37 billion chance of passing in a commercial airplane crash. The media provides detailed and lengthy coverage of tragic events making us think otherwise.

Before flying, I check flightradar24.com (thanks, smn) – this website shows all the planes in the air at the time you look. They also have an app! This serves as a visual reminder that I’m not on the only airplane in the sky. Around 10,000 planes are safely carrying passengers around the world, and for whatever reason, that gives me some comfort.

I also try to schedule acupuncture before a flight. That helps me relax in the days leading up to the trip. My acupuncturist also tapes tiny seeds on certain acupressure points on each ear that I can press on during the flight (thanks, Jamie). Pressing on those seeds is a gentle affirmation that yes, I have anxiety, and like the previous hundreds of flights I’ve taken since I was a baby, I am going to be okay.

I know now that I don’t really sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time on a red eye flight, and I have come to terms with that. Instead of word searches and books, I go armed with an arsenal of episodes and seasons of a variety of shows.

When all else fails, a play-by-play journal entry of every thought, feeling, and emotion I am experiencing, and what I’m going to do when I hit the ground, is my saving grace. The physical act of writing every single thing I am thinking allows me to become the observer instead of the experiencer.

Private Jets and Hot Air Balloons

Private jets and charters have been known to reduce the fear of flying because people feel more in control of their surroundings. Ah, being in control. There’s the root cause of my anxiety anyway. I’d wager that if I could talk to the pilot before each flight, I’d feel way better. Maybe the airline industry should add an optional channel that takes you through step-by-step what the pilots are doing – I’m a science geek, I’d LOVE that. (By the way, if any of my readers has a private jet, I’d be happy to test that theory out with you!)

Speaking of feeling more in control…I went for a hot air balloon ride with my sister on our latest sisters’ trip. I asked myself why I had zero fear of rising 1200’ above the ground and being blown downwind. I can think of a number of reasons, even though I wasn’t in control. I could see the ground (in this case, Napa vineyards), I could see and hear the fire heating the air in the balloon above us, and I could see what the pilot was doing. I could have a conversation with (grill) him and found out he has over 10,000 hours of flying hot air balloons. He has flown over the Swiss Alps, across the Serengeti, and in multiple places in the US. We had a personal connection during that ride.

I know that all pilots go through major training, certification, and continuing ed hours, but actually seeing our hot air balloon pilot in action was reassurance that all was well. If you ever have a chance to go for a hot air balloon ride, I highly recommend it but with the reminder that the wind is actually the one in control…you may only go a mile or two at a snail’s pace or be as fortunate as we were and go 10 miles with a top speed of 12mph!

For those of you who are flying, via commercial plane, private jet, or hot air balloon, over the holidays, safe travels and don’t forget to strengthen that energy shield. Remember that if you have anxiety, you are not alone, and there are ways to overcome it. If you need help with some tools, let’s connect.

Love and light,