How to Use Your Breath to Beat Your Fear of Flying

Does the thought of catching a flight strike fear into your heart? Do you get all panicky, get sweaty palms and wish you didn’t have to go through all of this to get away?

I know how you feel, because I used to hate flying too.

I’m not going to lie- I didn’t ever suffer from crippling panic attacks or break down. I didn’t ever need to take medication or try to drown my worries with alcohol. But I did feel worried before I caught a flight.

And I hated this fact. because I LOVE to travel. So suffering from a mild fear of flying was seriously getting in the way of living the life of my dreams.

It probably affects your life too. It might prevent you from visiting that one-in-a-lifetime dream holiday spot, seeing friends and family across the globe or even making the most of the opportunities that come your way.

And so you probably do a bunch of things in an attempt to cope. You might try running away from it and avoiding flights at all costs (my favourite tactic), you might try to push yourself through and  deal with it as best you can, or you might try prescription medication, hypnotherapists and coaches.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

You can get a grip on your fear of flying by using only the power of your breath and a willingness to overcome your fear or phobia.

It’s cheap, it’s hassle free and you can do it wherever the fancy takes you. What could be better?

What I felt scared of flying

I can remember so clearly the exact moment when it all started. even though it’s more than 10 years ago now.

Clinging in desperate panic and fear to my then-boyfriend’s arm as we plunged from several thousand feet towards the ground, time after time after time…

The sweat pooled in my palms, my heart was fit to burst through my chest wall, I wanted to cry, scream, yell, or maybe all of them at the exact same time.

I would have parted with every penny or run through the streets of London stark naked, in the middle of winter, not to have been there, on that flight, at that moment.

But there I was, trapped in a metal capsule 10,000 metres above the ground fighting with the thoughts and sensations uncontrollably racing through my body.

I couldn’t die now, I just couldn’t. I was too young, I had so much left to experience, so many more dreams to chase….

From that moment, I developed a deep loathing for anything aircraft related and would do anything (including subjecting myself to 36-hour epic bus journeys) to avoid ever setting foot inside a plane again.



Why Flying Can Feel Scary

Each of us have different reasons for feeling fearful when it comes to taking a flight.

Perhaps you experienced the flight from hell, maybe those mechanical noises strike fear into your soul, maybe you can’t get over those strange noises or the turbulence that can strike at the most unexpected time. Maybe it just doesn’t feel natural to be hanging up there with nothing between you and the ground but air.

It doesn’t exactly matter what triggered this problem for you, but it is important that you understand what is happening inside your body so you can start living life to the full once again.

The Fear Reaction

Your body is the amazing product of millions of years’ worth of finely-tuned evolutionary magic which has ensured our survival as a species for all this time.

And it’s an incredibly clever organism, adapting and changing when met with any kind of challenge or threat you might come across in your daily lives.

For example, if you needed to find a way across a river to find fresh food, you’d learn to build a raft. If your hunting tools were no longer effective, you’d perfect your technique until you had it just right. And if you encountered some kind of ferocious beast on your daily walk through the jungle, you’d do everything within your power to avoid going there again.

You’re so afraid of flying because of these very reactions. Your body is trying to protect you from what it sees as a threat to your survival.

So naturally, it helps you avoid this threat by any means possible. If you do find yourself in that situation again (aka flying), it will keep you on full fight-or-flight alert so you can run should you need to. You’ll experience a full-on cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline release, and you’ll start feeling pretty crappy and have the desperate urge to escape at all costs (even if this isn’t physically possible).

How Breathing Can Help You Overcome Your Fear Of Flying

Your breathing patterns are largely responsible for what is happening in your nervous system when you fly.

When you feel so scared on that plane, your breath quickens and your body gets ready to react, releasing all of those stress hormones and diverting oxygen to where it is most needed.

But if you’re feeling calm, your breath will slow and your body releases a bunch of feel-good endorphins that give you that unforgettable ‘aaah’ reaction.

Clearly then, if you control your breathing patterns you can control your reactions too, and  instantly feel better as a result. You’ll diffuse the cortisol bomb and avoid that panicky feeling.

The Calming Breath Technique: How To Do It

Next time you’re faced with the prospect of flying, try the following exercise:

  • Sit calmly, consciously relax all of the muscles in your body and close your eyes. Be sure to check in with your shoulder muscles, your gluteus maximus and also your facial muscles as these are all places we commonly hold tension even if we don’t realise it.
  • Now slowly take a deep breath to the count of four, allowing the oxygen to reach right down to your belly.
  • Hold this breath for a gentle count of four, keeping your muscles nice and relaxed.
  • Now slowly exhale to a count of eight, pushing every drop of air from your lungs.
  • Repeat this breathing pattern for as long as necessary.

It’s also a brilliant idea to distract your conscious mind as much as possible by diving into a gripping novel of choice, completing a Sudoku puzzle, or a crossword, or even enjoying the film on offer.

Also make the effort to learn more about planes, and the scary stuff like turbulence so that you can understand what all of those sounds and sensations are about.

Most importantly of all, do not stop flying, even if you are feeling pretty crap about being up there in the air. This will only reinforce your fears and turn them from a molehill into a mountain.


So next time you feel a wave of panic descending as you taxi towards the runway, focus on this ‘Calming Breath Technique’ and your fear will dissolve before your very eyes.

And as for me, I’m getting back to cloud-watching from the window of this A320!

Happy flying!

Images © Steve P2008 , Thomas AbbsSwaminathon, C.C 2.0. 

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