By Mary Duenwald
February 01, 2011

From the experts, nine steps to traveling with peace of mind

While fear of flying used to be dismissed as an irrational phobia of a few, it's now being recognized as a reasonable response for many. "We've suffered a huge shock, and all these reactions are normal," says Jerilyn Ross, director of the Ross Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders in Washington, D.C. If you're uneasy about flying again, it's worth revisiting some recommended strategies:

1. TO FLY, OR NOT TO FLY? First, ask yourself whether you're ready to get on a plane. Weigh your state of mind against the urgency of the trip. Given the circumstances, nightmares and jitters are healthy reactions, says R. Reid Wilson, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

2. REST UP Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and exercise—this will build both physical and emotional strength.

3. CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN If you're feeling particularly nervous, ask your doctor whether a minor tranquilizer such as Xanax or Klonopin is safe for you. These drugs take effect in 30 to 45 minutes; Xanax wears off after four hours, and Klonopin lasts up to 11 hours. People react differently, so try them out before your trip.

4. COMMUNICATE Tell family members your flight details and how to reach you after you arrive. And bring a cell phone if it helps you feel more directly in touch with people.

5. PAMPER YOURSELFPack your carry-on with special items: books, comfort snacks, a favorite sweater, family photos. "Everything in your bag should be familiar, fun, and distracting," Ross suggests.

6. BE ON TIME Before you leave for the airport, reconfirm your flight to make sure there have been no last-minute changes. And leave early: security measures mean longer lines.

7. RELAX Once you're seated, assume the role of passenger. "People have to remember that their only job is to wait in Row Twenty and relax until the flight is over," says David Carbonell, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago.

8. BREATHE EASY Take slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths: expand your stomach while inhaling, and pull it in while exhaling. This prevents the shallow breathing that leads to hyperventilation.

9. STAY HYDRATED Drink water or fruit juice. Avoid coffee—it can make you more jittery. And skip the alcohol. "One drink might relax you a little," Ross says, "but if you have more than one, you may begin to feel less in control."

Remember that the first time back in the air is likely to be the hardest; in time, experts say, virtually all of us will return to the air with less apprehension.

Two Web sites offer help to nervous fliers: and