Tips for nervous fliers: How to keep calm on a plane

Holiday season is here, and for most people, that means there’s a lot of traveling to be done. If weren’t a nervous flier already, everything that’s going on from the downing of the Russian Metrojet airplane to the threats against air travel services from groups like ISIS, and even regular old holiday travel stress is enough to make the most hardcore road warrior a little anxious when flying. So Yahoo Travel talked to psychologist Reid Wilson, author of "Don’t Panic," to get some easy-peasy tips to help you stay calm, cool, collected during air travel. “Don’t sit and quietly concentrate on your worries while checking your watch,” says Wilson. “Take supportive action.” Here’s how.

1. Pack a goody bag.

Unrecognizable woman reading a book during her flight.

Unrecognizable woman reading a book during her flight. (iStock)

The issue behind fear of flying is a lack of control (even if that’s not what it feels like on the surface). So having a book, puzzles, or some music to listen to — whatever you would find most enjoyable — will bring your attention to other things and take your mind off the fact that you don’t have any control over the situation (or that you don’t have any control over most of life, but that’s a topic for another time). Distraction works wonders.

2. Watch a few planes take off.

Waiting in the airport terminal watching planes

Waiting in the airport terminal watching planes (iStock)

Get to the airport a little early. Not only will you be more calm if you don’t have to rush, but then you’ll have time to hang out at the gate and watch a few planes take off before you board your flight. This helps you get more comfortable with what to expect during takeoff: how long it will take, what the angle will be like, where it could be bumpy, etc. Familiarity is much more calming then the unknown.

3. Chat with the cabin crew.

Flight captain talking with businessman on airplane

Flight captain talking with businessman on airplane (iStock)

Say hello and tell them you’re a bit of a nervous flier. This does several things, according to Wilson. First, it makes the crew real to you — you’re not in this alone. Also, just voicing that you’re nervous can actually help calm your nerves. And if they know you don’t love to fly, they can come check on you. Plus, during the flight, you can ask the flight attendants about any noises or sensations that bother you — they’re been through them all before, and 99.9 percent of the time, they’re totally normal.

4. During takeoff, wiggle your toes.

feet touched the airplane window

feet touched the airplane window (iStock)

Getting off the ground and into the air can be one of the more stressful part of the flight. So wiggle your toes for those 30 to 50 seconds. Why does it work? Once again, it’s the magic of distraction.

5. Do the 10-second grip.


Grab your airplane seat’s armrests with your hands and squeeze as tight as you can. At the same time, tense your stomach and leg muscles, while continuing to breathe. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat two more times. These actions release endorphins throughout your body, which are calming.

6. Take a calming breath.

Airsickness. Man feels very bad on the plane.

Airsickness. Man feels very bad on the plane. (iStock)

Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, filling your lower lungs, and hold it for three seconds. Then exhale slowly through pursed lips, while relaxing your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach. Repeat this three or four times. Next, shift around in your seat, shaking loose your arms, shoulders, and legs. Gently roll your head side to side. Finish off by closing your eyes and breathing gently for about 30 seconds. Let your body feel warm, relaxed and heavy during that time. “By shifting your breathing rate and pattern, you can stimulate the body’s relaxation response,” says Wilson.

Bonus: Reason with your fear.

Use self talk like: “The pilots are well-trained professionals whom I can trust.” “This plane is safe.” “Turbulence may feel uncomfortable, but it’s not dangerous.” According to Wilson, when you are worried, “Find statements that you can believe in that will help you let go of negative thoughts. Think about what you need to hear to reverse your worried thinking, then say, ‘It’s okay to relax now.’”

More from Yahoo! Travel

Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers Perfect for Travel Lovers

South Carolina BBQ Trail: the Most Delicious Road Trip of Your Life

Airport Insecurity: The 10 Most Terrifying Airport Security Fails