How to Overcome Your Fear of Turbulence
“I love to travel, but I’m scared of turbulence.” Yup, you’re not alone, my friend. We should start a swanky club, one that meets on a rooftop bar with crystal sparkling pools and plum cocktails.
A lot of fearful flyers hate turbulence. It’s safe to say that anxious travelers would pay an extra $100 for plane tickets if smooth flights were guaranteed. I know I would spit out the money in a heartbeat. Just knowing my flight would resemble skating on glass is music to my ears. Alas, not even the best pilot has the powers to control nature. I wish.
So why create this post at all? Isn’t it just stating the obvious? Turbulence sucks. Everyone agrees.
Yet, personally, I feel like turbulence is its own unique animal and deserves a separate post, even though I’ve written a lot of tips for fearful flyers and emphasized just how important it is to travel despite of your flying fear. Since worrying about turbulence is so common, I wanted to use my expertise to provide some tips about this very specific flying fear.
So fasten your seatbelt (ha ha), and enjoy the ride.
Why Are We So Afraid of Turbulence?
Um. It’s scary?
Okay, I should probably give you a more detailed answer.
I think humans naturally fear turbulence for a bunch of reasons. Even though turbulence doesn’t harm the airplane, these bumps in the sky clash against our biological instincts and frighten us as a result.
Real talk, my loves: people aren’t meant to fly in the air especially not at a whooping 30,000+ feet.
Unsurprisingly, turbulence triggers us and then forces us into survival mode, because we don’t want to fall to our bloody deaths. This is normal. Even people who aren’t fearful flyers admit turbulence sometimes freaks them out. Why wouldn’t it?
Turbulence also tricks our minds into believing the worst is about to happen to us. For example, a plane may only drop ten feet upon hitting a batch of rough air, but the jarring motion is enough for the passengers inside to believe that the plane is “falling out of the sky.” Not true, but fantasy overtakes reality in these situations.
Logically, we have zero reason to fear turbulence. The plane expects and embraces turbulence, and no, it won’t bring a plane crashing into the ocean. Actually, the wings can flex thirty feet, or so I’ve heard.
However, anyone with anxiety knows feelings aren’t always beacons of rationality. Far from it.
Why am I so Afraid of Turbulence?
Yes, this happy go lucky blond is very scared of turbulence. Honestly, the “sky bumps” are the worst parts of flying for me along with take off. I even wrote extensively about the turbulent flight that made me scared of planes on this blog. The rough turbulence frazzled my brain and made flying difficult for me for many years. Not cool.
I don’t think I can just blame one bumpy flight for my flying fear, though. It’s too simple and neat.
Upon reflecting deeper, I feel anxious and upset whenever I lose control of a situation. It’s totally silly, because what “control” do we truly have in our lives? We follow all the rules and might still lose our jobs, fall ill, or lose a friendship. Control doesn’t exist, only the facade of control. And no, life’s not fair either. Your kindergarten teacher lied to you, sorry to say.
In short, turbulence reminds me that I don’t really have control over my trip at all. So I freak out.
Aren’t You Going to Give Me Any Solutions?
I’m not a wizard (I wish). I can’t act as though I’ll give you the complete cure to your anxiety regarding turbulence.
However, I have a couple suggestions I want to present to everyone. Hopefully at least one tip will help you constructively approach turbulence and your fear of flying with a clearer, healthier perspective. Because loving to travel and hating flying isn’t fun. This contradiction leads to a lot of unpleasantness in the airport and on the plane, and as explorers, we certainly deserve to feel less stress on our busy travel days. We are worth it!
Onward with the tips!
1. Do Your Research Ahead of Time
Read articles online to remind yourself that turbulence is totally safe even if it startles you. The statistics don’t lie. Turbulence has never, ever, ever brought down a commercial jet. NEVER. Your plane is more than equipped to handle the bumps in the sky.
Think about those odds for a minute. If you have a 100% chance of winning millions of dollars in the lottery, wouldn’t you immediately rush to the nearest store and buy a ticket? I don’t think I need an answer! So why do you fear turbulence so much when it’s absolutely harmless to the plane? The odds are firmly placed in your favor.
Something even more telling is the fact that pilots will try to “avoid” turbulence simply for comfort reasons. Yup, you read that correctly. The only reason to avoid turbulence is so the passengers feel more at ease.
My advice is to read as much as you can about turbulence to inform yourself and talk down your anxiety. It’s much easier to do at home than on the plane.
2. Aim to Seat Directly on the Plane’s Wing
It is a proven fact that sitting over the wing reduces turbulence. Equilibrium is a marvelous thing.
I’ve experienced the reality myself. Whenever I walk down the aisle, all the way back to the bathrooms, the ride is significantly bumpier.
Save yourself some anxiety and take control of your seat ahead of time. Pick the wing.
Unfortunately, while some airlines allow you to choose you seat for free or a low price, others (ugh) charge you $50+ for the luxury of selecting where you want to sit on the plane. Honestly, if splurging saves you a ton of anxiety, go for it and don’t worry about spending the extra money. Peace of mind is priceless on those long travel days. In addition, sitting over the wing helps you exit the plane faster upon arriving at your destination, and who doesn’t love deboarding early?
However, make sure you put your foot down if anyone tries to convince you to move your seat. You’re not a jerk or unsympathetic, but still, you paid for your seat in advance and it helps your mental health. Never feel bad for saying “no” in this case.
3. Imagine Yourself Riding a Bus
For those of us that drive, bumpy roads are daily realities. I live in New Jersey, and I’m convinced this state puts potholes in the roads on purpose.
Ahem, moving on before I get off topic.
My point is drivers hit bumps in the road every single day. But these jolts are almost like background noise as we speed down the road, completely unbothered, unless we’re concerned about our tires.
Turbulence is like a series of potholes in the clouds. Sometimes it helps me if I stare head and pretend I’m on the bus to New York City instead of on a flight to London. The difference between potholes and turbulence is minimal.
Truly, mild turbulence feels no different than a rocky road. Use your imagination.
4. Pretend You’re On a Ride and Say “YAY!” Whenever You Hit a Bump
Haha, I actually did this on my flight to Madrid. It was pretty hilarious, to tell you the truth.
After we boarded and pushed back from the tarmac, the pilot announced that we would encounter moderate turbulence over the north Atlantic and admitted we probably wouldn’t avoid it. Of course, I dissolved into a puddle of nervousness, but I sat next to an awesome singer who helped me power through the bumps
“Pretend you’re on a ride,” she said, “and we’ll throw up our hands and laugh.”
Sounds silly, right? But it worked without a hitch! Even when the pilot told the cabin crew to sit, she would turn to me and say, “ready,” and we’d put our hands up and laugh, laugh, and laugh some more.
The “fake it til you make it” approach works wonders in all aspects of life. Why not try on the plane? Worst comes to worse, your seat mate will think you’re absolutely bonkers, but hey, anything for your comfort.
Just keep your seatbelt fastened, haha.
5. Go to Therapy and Use Coping Strategies
Sometimes it’s impossible to conquer your fear of turbulence on your own. And that’s perfectly okay! Seek out a licensed professional to help you sort through your flight anxieties.
Seriously, don’t feel embarrassed or stupid about going to therapy for your worries. A stigma still hangs around therapy, which I don’t understand one bit. Therapy is awesome. A good mental health counselor analyzes your situation as an “outsider,” and therefore gives valuable feedback for you to accomplish your goals, helping you live a positive and fulfilling life. What’s so wrong about it? Nothing.
More likely than not, your therapist will teach you coping strategies to defeat your fear of turbulence. I know I have written about this multiple times, but cognitive behavioral therapy is well known for crushing anxious behaviors and thought patterns in their tracks.
Also seek a prescription for medication if you truly feel upset about your upcoming flight. Why suffer in silence? There’s no nobility or courage in suffering, believe me. You don’t have to prove your bravery to anyone.
Which leads me to the final point …
6. Remember: It’s Okay to Feel Scared
I know, I know. This post is all about conquering your fear of turbulence like a warrior king or queen. You’re fearless, tough, powerful!
Still, don’t beat yourself up if your stomach ties into knots or your palms sweat when the plane unexpectedly drops a few feet. Your body may simply react to stress in a way that you truly have little to no control over.
I promise you’re not a coward nor a failure. In fact, you’re the exact opposite for not allowing your fears to keep you shackled at home. When turbulence scares you, it takes an incredible amount of bravery to pursue traveling in spite of your anxieties and struggles. While many people live in the shadow of fear, you’re taking chances and hoping to achieve a fuller, happier life for yourself. You are worthy of respect.
So, if you still feel a little nervous or even scared, it’s a hundred perfect okay. Don’t fight your feelings. Embrace them. Remember you’re in good company and many of us are scared of turbulence. You got this.
Do you have a fear of turbulence? How do you conquer your anxiety when hitting bumps in the sky? Share in the comments!