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The Guide to Beating Anticipatory Flight Anxiety

Anticipatory Flight Anxiety




Although I’ve written a post advising fearful fliers, anticipatory anxiety is truly another beast because it strikes outside of the airport. To be frank, 95% of the time, anticipating a flight is way worse for me than actually boarding the aircraft. Anticipatory anxiety can occur days, weeks, or even months prior to take off.

If you’re scared to fly, like yours truly, then you’ve probably dealt with some degree of anticipatory anxiety. And remember: pre-flight anxiety is normal.

What Is “Anticipatory Anxiety?”

Anticipatory anxiety occurs when a person experiences increased levels of anxiousness due to an upcoming event.

My flying fears stem from not having complete control over my destiny. So, prior to flying, my brain creates all sorts of scenarios that may or may not happen in the air. For example, I’ll envision myself sitting on the plane and gripping the armrests as turbulence shakes the aircraft and makes me feel powerless. Will this event happen? Who knows, but my mind likes building upon that image. As a result, my body reacts with stomach butterflies, tense muscles, and other unpleasant physical symptoms.

What’s crazy about anticipatory anxiety is your mind has the ability to wreck havoc on your wellbeing while you’re in the safety of your cozy bedroom. Images alone make you ill. Scared. Powerful and unfortunate stuff, huh?

Anticipatory Anxiety

Incoming!! [By English: redlegsfan21 (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons].

“Anticipatory Anxiety” Is A HUGE Problem

“What if the turbulence is severe over the Atlantic? Oh god, what if I throw up or panic, and the captains kicks me off in Greenland?”

“What if my flight is the next Air France 447? I’ll never see my family or friends again.”

“Crap, what if my flight is canceled and I have to go home?”

Thanks, brain. If only my mind would channel all its energy into becoming the next J.K. Rowling instead.

Anticipatory anxiety is a pain in the ass. Sorry, there’s no politer way to phrase it. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of precious hours I’ve wasted angsting over flights. As recent as April 2015, my mom had to remind me to calm down, because she could tell I was on the verge of tears over flying a narrow-bodied 757 to Lisbon from Philadelphia. Both flights were smooth and uneventful, and I was pissed that I wasted all my energy on nothing.

So, I get it.

Anticipatory anxiety, sadly, prevents many people from living their travel dreams. I’m stubborn and anxious, which means I’ll step on that plane even if my heart’s ready to do a somersault out of my throat.

But I know many individuals who outright refuse to fly. It doesn’t matter if the flight is 45 minutes or 4 hours. These people opt to take a train or bus or rented car, sometimes incurring way more costs in expenses and time, simply to avoid flying on an airplane.

Travel shouldn’t have to be a fantasy for you because of anxiety. It’s unfair. Put your mind to it and you can defeat it. I can’t say that I never have anticipatory anxiety (ha, my upcoming flight to Berlin is weighing on my mind), but a few tips can help lessen said-anxiety.

Anticipatory Anxiety

Oddly enough, I’m happy as a clam upon landing on solid ground. [Sintra, Portugal]

Tips For Beating “Anticipatory Anxiety”

  • Suck it up. OUCH. I know. I probably sound like an insensitive jerk. But, honestly, a bit of tough love goes a long way for me, personally. If you live in the USA (like me!) and want to visit the UK, Peru, or New Zealand, you’re gonna HAVE to fly on a plane and no wishful thinking can help you. So, why worry about something you can’t control? You’ll just give yourself premature wrinkles.
  • Commit to flying. Avoiding airplanes won’t help you in the long run. I commit myself to flying on long haul flights, because I refuse to allow my anxious thinking to micromanage my life. Once the ticket is booked, I realize I’ll lose hundreds or maybe over a thousand dollars if I decide to cancel. I love my money too much.
  • Remember: your crappy feelings can’t predict the future. Face it, my friends. If you could successfully predict the future, you would be a multi-millionaire making appearances on every major news network. My track record for predicting flight disasters is … well, not too good. My feelings don’t mean a damn thing in reality. Make an effort to remember that most of the time anticipating the event is wayyy worse than the event itself.
  • Embrace the present. Stop worrying about an unlikely plane crash and focus on the present moment to occupy your mind. Do you still need to pack for your trip? Do that. Do you need to call Verizon and purchase an international data plan? Do that. The busier, the better.
  • Join an online support group. Having support goes a long way with anxiety. If your friends and family don’t understand your fears, then anonymously join an online forum group dedicated to anxiety. There are heaps of them! For example, while anxietyzone focuses on hypochondria, members often post about pre-jittery flight nerves and others respond to reassure them.
  • See a therapist. If your anticipatory anxiety is powerful enough to impact your quality of life, then you may want to book an appointment with a licensed professional. I’m not a professional, just an anxious traveler, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. A competent therapist may have the ability to change your life for the better. And keep in mind: there’s nothing embarrassing about seeking help. Taking this step is awesome!

Anticipatory Anxiety

Freeeeeeedom! I can fly! [Vancouver Island, Canada]

Sorry if I sounded harsh in this post. Trust me, I know dealing with anticipatory anxiety isn’t easy, and it frustrates me whenever a non-anxious person dismisses my fears and says “I’m overreacting.”

However, if you truly want to travel, you’re going to have to confront your anticipatory anxiety. Sooner rather than later.

Do you experience anticipatory anxiety before boarding a flight? What are your tips for coping with it? 




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One Response to The Guide to Beating Anticipatory Flight Anxiety

  1. BethAnn August 21, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    At the Madrid airport now waiting to board my flight to JFK. This has been a very tough trip for me being we were driving into Barcelona when we got wind of the attack. I too, suffer from anxiety and have found comfort here in all of your posts. Thank you for bringing light to some very real fears.

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