Have you ever found yourself gripping the armrest during a turbulent flight, your mind racing with worry? If so, you’re not alone. Turbulence anxiety affects countless travelers, robbing them of the joy of flying.

Fortunately, there are proven techniques to help you navigate these bumpy moments with ease. In today’s guide, we’ll teach you how to manage turbulence anxiety to ensure a less anxious flight.

What is Turbulence Anxiety?

Turbulence anxiety is the fear, apprehension, or unease experienced by some people when encountering turbulence during air travel. It can manifest in physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, or tension, and in psychological distress including feelings of panic or dread.

Between 33% and 40% of people experience some level of anxiety about flying, but only 2.5% and 5% of the population have crippling or severe turbulence anxiety (Stratos Jets).

Although flying is safer than other common activities such as farming or logging (GitNux), turbulence anxiety is still a relatively common occurrence, even among passengers who are not prone to other types of anxiety in their daily lives.

Understanding the Reasons for Anxiety During Turbulence

Several factors can trigger turbulence anxiety while traveling on a commercial aircraft, including:

  • Loss of Control: Turbulence can trigger anxiety due to the perception of losing control. Passengers may feel helpless when experiencing sudden movements of the aircraft, as they cannot predict or influence the outcome.
  • Fear of the Unknown: Anxiety during turbulence may stem from the fear of the unknown. Passengers may not understand the causes of turbulence or how pilots manage it, leading to heightened anxiety about the safety of the flight.
  • Previous Traumatic Experiences: People who have experienced traumatic events in the past, such as a previous turbulent flight or other stressful situations, may be more prone to anxiety during turbulence. 
  • Catastrophic Thinking: Anxiety during turbulence may also be driven by catastrophic thinking, where individuals imagine worst-case scenarios, such as the plane crashing. 
  • Sensory Overload: The physical sensations experienced during turbulence, such as changes in altitude and sudden movements, can overload the senses and exacerbate anxiety. This sensory overload can make passengers feel disoriented and increase feelings of fear and panic.

7 Tips to Deal with Turbulence Anxiety

Although dealing with turbulence anxiety sounds like a turbulent task, there are fortunately some things we can do to overcome this fear and deal with it as we experience it.

1. Download an Anxiety App (Rootd)

If you have ever felt the need for a loyal companion to help manage anxiety, then Rootd App is here for you.

With just a press of a big red button, it provides quick relief during panic attacks or helps users find comfort fast. The app explains what anxiety is and why panic attacks happen, making it easier to understand. 

It also offers easy tips to calm down during tense turbulence moments and teaches long-term strategies to eventually live without panic attacks.

By using Rootd, people can better manage their turbulence anxiety and feel more in control when traveling.

2. Understand the Nature of Turbulence

We need to understand that unexpected turbulence is somewhat normal – 65,000 flights encounter moderate turbulence every year, and about 5,500 encounter severe turbulence (NPR)

So, whenever you are on a flight, remember that there are different types of turbulence:

  1. Clear Air Turbulence (CAT): Light turbulence that occurs at high altitudes without visible weather disturbances and is often associated with the jet stream.
  2. Convective Turbulence: Turbulence caused by vertical air movement within thunderstorms or cumulonimbus clouds, typically intense and localized.
  3. Mountain Wave Turbulence: Severe turbulence near mountains caused by winds creating waves of air downstream, most severe on the lee side of the mountain range.
  4. Wake Turbulence: Turbulence generated by an aircraft’s passage through the air, particularly hazardous for smaller aircraft following larger ones, especially during takeoff and landing.

A study conducted by the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University says that the “probability that turbulence will cause a commercial airplane to crash is virtually zero,” but suffering from injuries is possible. 

Even so, only around 0.000001% of planes have crashed in the last 10 years and your odds of dying in a plane crash are really low, as the risk of dying in an airplane crash is about 1 in 11 million (GitNux).

3. Stay Seated and Secure

When dealing with turbulence anxiety, it’s important to stay seated and make sure your seatbelt is fastened securely. This helps you stay safe and stable during bumpy moments in the flight. Plus, having your seatbelt on tightly gives you a sense of security and reduces the chance of getting hurt if the turbulence gets stronger.

Also, always follow the instructions of the flight crew and remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened during turbulence. Knowing that you are safely strapped in can provide a sense of security and reduce anxiety.

4. Distract Yourself with In-Flight Entertainment

Another helpful tip is to distract yourself by engaging with the in-flight entertainment. By immersing yourself in movies, TV shows, music, or games, you can shift your focus away from the turbulence and onto something enjoyable or interesting.

This diversion can help reduce feelings of anxiety and keep your mind occupied during turbulent periods of the not-so-smooth flight.

5. Practice Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the source of your fear in a controlled and safe environment, meaning that you are intentionally flying during less turbulent times or gradually exposing yourself to mild turbulence and gradually increasing exposure over time.

Although it might sound a bit daunting, the data shows that exposure therapy has been proven to significantly decrease fear in about 90% of people who complete treatment for turbulence anxiety (Traveler’s Psychological Services).

6. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are simple ways to calm your mind and body during stressful moments. One method is deep breathing exercises, where you take slow, deep breaths to slow down your heart rate and relax your muscles.

By practicing these relaxation techniques, you can help soothe your nerves and feel more at ease during turbulent flights.

7. Seek Professional Support

A mental health professional can offer various therapeutic approaches to help you manage turbulence anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, or relaxation techniques. 

Likewise, in some cases, some people may opt to take anti-anxiety medications to help manage their symptoms during flights. These medications can provide relief from intense anxiety symptoms and may be used in conjunction with therapy or other coping strategies.

How Anxious Passengers Can Overcome Fears of Air Travel

Overcoming fears of air travel and turbulence, especially for anxious passengers, is not impossible. People can start by learning about anxiety, trying relaxation methods, getting help from professionals, and considering medication if needed. They can also use distractions during flights, stay seated and secure, and gradually get used to turbulence.

By doing these things together, you can feel more confident and in control, making air travel more comfortable and enjoyable. With determination, support, and the right strategies, conquering your fears and feeling calmer when flying is possible.