Episode 368: How to Overcome Anxiety About Flying

Hello, friends! I hope everyone is doing well.

In today’s episode, we take a deep dive into a pressing concern from a listener who’s experiencing heightened flight anxiety, especially after a recent panic attack. Having flown multiple times without issues, the sudden resurgence of this anxiety, coupled with the responsibility of traveling with her two kids, has intensified her worries. We discuss the nature of panic attacks, the paradox of fearing anxiety itself, and the importance of anchor thoughts. By understanding the physiological similarities between anxiety and excitement, one can redirect their focus to positive anticipations. We also emphasize the pitfalls of safety behaviors and the significance of relying on support systems, even those onboard. Lastly, we highlight the importance of self-compassion, preparation, and recognizing one’s resilience in facing such challenges.

Additionally, we touched upon the value of grounding techniques like box breathing, the potential of distractions, and the concept of transforming anxiety into excitement using anchor thoughts. We also explore the idea of viewing each phase of the flight as milestones rather than triggers.

As always, if you have questions or topics you’d like discussed on the show, please send them to duffthepsych@gmail.com. Be sure to check out the show notes for this episode at http://duffthepsych.com/episode368.

Links mentioned:

Pilot walks you through the sounds of a plane

Mel Robbins discusses her strategies for overcoming plane anxiety


Hi Robert, I read your book “F**k Anxiety” a few years back and have found myself reading it again since my anxiety has reared its ugly head . I had a panic attack recently which has now given me a panic phobia in particular of a 3 hour flight I have coming up in the next month. I’ve flown many times before and have never had any issues but for some reason this is sticking and instead of looking forward to the trip I’m constantly worrying about it, hence why I think I had the recent panic attack. Now I’ve had that panic attack it’s got me even more worried to the point I want to avoid the trip altogether (the trip is to visit family and friends which I think would be very beneficial for my mental health) . I think I would be somewhat ok if I was doing it on my own but I’m doing it with my two kids (toddler and baby) and the thought of knowing I need to keep it together as they need me, makes it all more stressful. I’ve been listening to your podcasts and think they are great, I’m hoping the tools you’ve provided in your book and podcasts, help me out and give me the confidence I need to get this done without being scared of having a panic attack on board. However any advice you could please give around flying alone with dependents and the fear of a panic attack whilst being on the plane (confined space you can’t get out of) would be greatly appreciated!


Firstly, I appreciate you returning to my book, “F**k Anxiety”. Understanding that anxiety, even when once managed, can resurface unexpectedly is a pivotal step in combatting it. Sometimes, anxiety and panic occur without any deep-rooted reason. It’s a case of your body responding intensely to a specific fear and then, almost ironically, becoming anxious about the anxiety itself.

Recognizing this, it’s essential to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. A singular episode of panic doesn’t spell an endless struggle. It’s crucial to know that panic, by its nature, is transient. Even if you were to experience a panic attack throughout your flight, you’d emerge from it – possibly exhausted, but fundamentally okay. Moreover, most panic attacks reach their peak around the 10-minute mark and generally last between 5 to 20 minutes. Your body, in its innate wisdom, always seeks a return to a state of balance or homeostasis.

Flying anxiety is a common experience, and there’s a plethora of resources available, from podcasts to YouTube videos, that can offer support. One invaluable technique is to harness the power of an “anchor thought”. This is a vivid, positive visualization of the joy and excitement awaiting you post-flight, like a heartwarming reunion with loved ones. Holding onto this anchor thought during your journey can serve as an antidote to moments of heightened anxiety.

Physiologically, the sensations of anxiety bear a striking resemblance to those of excitement. By aligning these sensations with your anchor thought, you can transform potential dread into genuine anticipation. Moreover, try to see each phase of the flight, whether it’s the door closing or the plane ascending, not as triggers but as milestones edging you closer to your cherished destination. There are insightful resources, including detailed videos by pilots, that explain the myriad sounds and sensations during a flight, fostering familiarity and reducing fear.

Engaging in distractions, be it a gripping movie, a captivating book, or toys for your kids, can help channel your focus away from anxiety. Breathing techniques, like the 4-7-8 method or box breathing, can be especially beneficial. Practiced beforehand, they become second nature during moments of stress.

It’s also worth noting the pitfalls of over-relying on safety behaviors. Continual reassurances or behaviors aimed at feeling “safe” can sometimes inadvertently reinforce anxiety. Air travel follows rigorous safety protocols, and trusting in these can alleviate some concerns. Remember, on the flight, you’re surrounded by potential allies in the crew and fellow passengers. Openness about your feelings can often lead to unexpected and heartfelt support.

Lastly, give yourself credit. Embarking on a solo flight with two kids is an achievement in itself. Focus on the pride and fulfillment you’ll undoubtedly feel once the journey concludes. Embrace the journey, knowing that you’re stronger than your anxiety, and equipped with tools and strategies to navigate it with grace. Safe travels!

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