calm nerves before flying ASAP

The Complete Guide to Beating Pre-Flight Anxiety

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Updated: 11 December 2022

Despite the many plane rides I’ve taken over the years, I’m still never quite sure about the best ways to calm nerves before a flight.

Not to mention, even though I’ve written a post advising fearful flyers, anticipatory anxiety is truly another beast because not only does the fear creep under your skin in line for security or in the terminal, but these uneasy feelings also strike outside of the airport, as well.

i'm scared of taking off in a plane
Waiting for the Plane to Take Off.

Now, 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. Which sucks for a travel blogger.

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. Our minds sometimes go off in wild and scary directions without us having any control over our thoughts.


anxiety before flying stinks but can be defeated. don't let anticipatory anxiety stop you. ever.
Defeat pre-flight anxiety and see views like this one!

Help! Pre-Flight Anxiety Embarrasses Me!

Me too.

I always feel silly when I’m sweating bullets the day I have to fly somewhere new. It makes no sense to the people around me.

“Should you feel excited?” they ask, confusedly knitting their eyebrows. “I don’t understand why you worry so much about the plane.”

Logically, I don’t understand why my pre-flight anxiety consumes me, either.

However, it’s reassuring that I’m not alone in this challenge. Scores of articles have been written about experiencing anxiety before flying. And I want to add my voice to the masses.

If I help even one person feel better, then I know I did my job well. Let’s breakdown pre-flight anxiety and the best ways to address it. The best place to start is at the beginning, of course.

Anxiety before flying makes me look like this. Boo to pre-flight anxiety

What Is “Anticipatory Anxiety?”

“Anticipatory anxiety” occurs when a person experiences increased levels of anxiousness due to an upcoming event. The keyword being “upcoming.” The event in question looms in the near or distance future. For example, I experienced anticipatory anxiety in school whenever I’d have to give a speech in front of the class. I’d seriously stress about it for days to come. No fun.

Another instance of anticipatory anxiety is clearly seen in my flight anxiety. As some of you might know, my flying fears stem from not having complete control over my destiny. One flight destroyed my trust in planes. Slowly the trust is being rebuilt, but the fear stays with me like a constant and unwanted guest.

pre flight anxiety can be managed if you have enough discipline

So, prior to flying, my brain creates all sorts of scenarios that may or may not happen in the air. Do you want to know? Sure you do (haha).

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? So what can be done about pre-flight anxiety?

Check out my “43 Tips for Fearful Flyers”

cuddle an animal to deal with your preflight anxiety

Why Pre-Flight Anxiety Is A HUGE Problem

Racing Thoughts that Don’t Stop

Like I said. My mind goes wild a few days before my travels officially begin.

“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.

the flight maps are always excited to watch as a solo traveler

Pre-Flight Nerves Consumes Your Time

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 no matter what happens, even if my heart’s ready to do a somersault out of my throat.

mke airport is marvelous

Anticipatory Flight Anxiety Stops Travel Dreams

Regardless of that, 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.

Truthfully, I want to support you in defeating those pre-flight nerves.

So 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.

pre-flight anxiety bravery

Practical Tips For Beating “Pre-Flight Anxiety”

Suck it Up and Stop Fighting Those Pre-Flight Nerves 

OUCH. I know. I probably sound like an insensitive jerk. But, honestly, a bit of tough love goes a long way for me, personally. Sucking it up is a reality for anyone dealing with pre-flight anxiety.

I mean. Think about it. 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.

Let’s get real here. What are you going to do otherwise? Rent a boat? Invent teleportation across massive oceans? Not go anywhere and just daydream about our world’s beauty (HA. no)?

Tell that anxiety to bugger off and go to the airport anyway. Push yourself as hard as you can and your bravery will pay off.

Seriously, why worry about something you can’t control? You’ll just give yourself premature wrinkles. Fight back.

how to cope with a fear of flying on a clear day
Weather Forecast Looks Great!

Commit to Flying Instead

Make a commitment to travel.

Like I already said, 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. I don’t think about the distance when booking.

For example, when I had to reserve a seat for my Helsinki-Dublin-Philadelphia route, I just pretended to ignore the 10 hours length on my laptop screen.

After all, 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. And I think most of you guys feel the same way.

Reserve your ticket and make that monetary promise so there’s absolutely going back.

cuddle a cat to stop anticipatory anxiety flying

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.

And come on, your anticipatory anxiety is utterly wrong. You’ve a 99.99999999% chance of arriving safely at your destination. Wouldn’t you take those bets on the lottery? Of course you would! Don’t let pre-flight anxiety override real statistics and logic. You’re only doing yourself a great disservice.

one of the most beautiful spots in all of madison wi

Practice Mindfulness and Embrace the Present

Stop worrying about an unlikely plane crash and focus on the present moment to occupy your mind. Perhaps enjoy quality time with your friends or family, or even take a walk to your favorite coffee shop.

In reality, the present moment is all we have in this world. The future doesn’t yet exist so we can’t allow our insecurities and fear consume our souls.

Now I understand focusing on the present is much easier said than done. Let’s say you truly cannot stop fretting about your trip. Then complete related and practical tasks instead. 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.

pre-flight anxiety is a hassle but therapy can help!

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 available for you!

For example, while anxietyzone focuses on hypochondria, members often post about pre-jittery flight nerves and others respond to reassure them. Everyone is supportive and kind. I always used to post when I was at the height of my hypochondria, and I credit the posters with helping me defeat it. They’re awesome.

Furthermore, I have a Facebook group called “The Fearless Wayfarer Movement” where we talk about our travel fears and then go out to face them. This is a welcoming space for you to feel stronger and more confident as a traveler and as a person. We also do a variety of self-love challenges. Come, come, come!

And if you are on Reddit, the FearofFlying subreddit is perfect for discussions. You’re able to chat with pilots, which is even better. 

how to cope with a fear of flying isn't easy

See a Therapist to Address Pre-Flight Anxiety

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.

And no, reading my blog doesn’t count. 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.

If you have insurance, double check your policy, because your therapy sessions might be completely covered.

And keep in mind: there’s nothing embarrassing about seeking help. Taking this step is awesome! A quality therapist will teach coping methods that go far beyond the plane’s walls and wings.

anticipatory anxiety flying =/= your life

My “Pre-Flight Anxiety” Conclusion

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.

So commit to taking your time and live in the present moment. We only have so much time on this earth. Why squander it on endless worrying about turbulence or plane crashes? Why? There’s no point.

Remember you can defeat pre-flight anxiety. Talk to people. Seek licensed help if you have to. And never stop traveling the world. You got this.

pre flight anxiety is going down
Actually smiling on the plane! Take THAT pre-flight anxiety.

Do you experience anticipatory anxiety before boarding a flight? What are your tips for coping with it? Remember you’re not alone in your fear of flying. Stay strong. 

2 thoughts on “The Complete Guide to Beating Pre-Flight Anxiety

  1. BethAnn says:

    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.

  2. Ash says:

    I have a trip coming up in late August. It’s my first time overseas. I’m terrified of flying. My last flight more than four years ago so turbulent. I flew alone with my then-5-month-old. I swore then I would never fly. This trip was gifted to us (amazing) but I just can’t bring myself to get excited because of my anxiety. I’ve been getting panic attacks. I can’t sleep. I think my biggest fear is being away from my kids. What if something happened to us? I’m afraid of dying, sure, but I’m terrified of my young kids (4 and 1) growing up without us. Just so many feelings. I’ve been trying to find a way out but my husband wants to go so bad and he knows it’ll be good for me. I just don’t know what to do and all I can think is to wish it were September and we’re home safe.

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