How to deal with turbulence anxiety, according to the Experts

If turbulence makes you nervous, you’re not alone. It is one of the many triggers of aviophobia, or fear of flying. Aviophobia is not particularly studied, but a 2015 EconomistThe /YouGov poll revealed that 40 percent of Americans are “slightly disturbed” by flying on an airplane, while 15 percent are afraid.

“I’ve never met anyone who likes turbulence, and surprise turbulence is even worse for those who have anxiety about it,” said David Rimmer, CEO of AB Aviation Group. Travel + Leisure. Rimmer is not only an airplane safety advocate, but also a survivor of a mid-air plane collision. While turbulence tends to be a concern for nervous flyers, it poses very little threat to the safety of modern planes.

Here’s everything you need to know to help manage your turbulence anxiety.

Meet the Expert

David Rimmer is CEO of AB Aviation Group, an aviation safety advocate, and a survivor of a 2006 plane crash.

Mark Debus is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick.

Understand the turbulence

Turbulence, which pilots sometimes refer to as “rough air,” is simply air that moves in an unusual, unexpected, or chaotic manner. This can be caused by a variety of phenomena, from storms to changes in air pressure to air moving in and around mountains – and it can happen when conditions seem to be completely clear.

Turbulence is typically categorized by four levels of severity, according to the National Weather Service: mild, moderate, severe and extreme. Light turbulence is the most common, and in a commercial aircraft, it is only felt as slight bumps or wobbles. Moderate turbulence is significantly rarer, and this type of turbulence can be a little stronger, to the point that your drink could spill.

Severe turbulence is very rare, but when it does occur, it could injure passengers or crew who are not stuck in their seats – this is the type of turbulence that often makes the rounds on social media. Extreme turbulence is almost never experienced, but when encountered, it causes violent movement in the cabin and loss of control of the aircraft. That said, severe turbulence is most frequently encountered around severe thunderstorms, which planes now avoid thanks to advanced weather forecasting technology.

While the turbulence can strike unexpectedly, the pilots are communicating with each other in the air. If someone experiences turbulence, the message is relayed to someone flying behind them, allowing other planes to change their course to find smoother air, often at a slightly different altitude. If turbulence is unavoidable, the captain will ask passengers and flight attendants to buckle up.

Of course, this method is not necessarily foolproof, which is why pilots (and air traffic controllers) also analyze weather reports and radar data during a flight. In addition, more advanced detection systems are under development. NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Wisconsin, for example, are developing a program that uses satellite data, computer climate models and artificial intelligence to better predict areas of turbulence.

Related: 33 Tips to make a long-haul flight more comfortable

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Turbulence and Safety

Turbulence has never been the only factor in a plane crash, although in the early days of aviation, it was much more of a threat than it is today. Airplanes are designed to handle light and even moderate turbulence with ease, just as a car is designed to handle bumpy roads or a boat is designed to handle rough seas.

While you don’t need to worry about the aircraft’s structural components, you do need to worry about your own safety on the plane during turbulence. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 163 people were seriously injured due to turbulence between 2009 and 2022, with 129 of them being crew. “The most prevalent and severe in-flight injuries are suffered by flight attendants because they spend the least amount of time seated and buckled up,” says Rimmer. He advises that passengers “stay seated as much as you can, always buckle up, and never stand when the seat belt sign is on” to prevent injuries in turbulence.

Related: These are the safest seats on a plane, according to Aviation Experts

Strategies for Coping with Turbulence Anxiety

If the thought of turbulence induces anxiety in you, here are some steps you can take before and during your flight to ease your worries.

Choose your seat wisely.

Avoid sitting in the back of the plane. “The turbulence will be much more extreme in the back – including bumps and side to side, or awkwardness,” says Rimmer.

Listen to your pilots.

Most pilots will give passengers a weather briefing before takeoff, so listen for any announcements made over the PA during boarding. Once you’re in flight, always heed the flight crew’s warnings when dealing with turbulence – stay seated and buckle up when advised.

Practice grounding techniques.

“Grounding techniques are some of the most beneficial tactics for relieving anxiety because they allow you to focus on your body and less on the thoughts in your head,” Mark Debus, a clinical manager of behavioral health services and a licensed clinical social worker, he says. T+L. “For this, you want to engage as many senses as possible: sight, touch, smell and hearing.” It is recommended to focus on an object in front of you, such as a curtain or an exit sign, then lightly touch something solid, such as an arm. As you do so, see if you can smell anything around you, from snacks to passenger perfume. So listen to every conversation around you, taking note of the tone more than the words.

You can also use repetitive breathing to ground yourself. “In addition to serving as a reminder to breathe, rhythmic breathing can have a calming effect on the body, where the person usually begins to feel calmer within 30 seconds of starting the exercise,” says Debus. He advocates the 3-3-3 method: “First, breathe through your nose slowly for three seconds, hold your breath for a count of three, breathe through your mouth for a count of three, wait for a count of three. , then repeat “.

If you have a nervous seatmate, make light conversation with them.

Chatting with a neighbor can help distract both of you from the turmoil. “One of the benefits of helping someone else is that it also helps with the immediacy of your own anxiety,” says Debus. If your seatmate is a stranger, introduce yourself in a soothing voice. “Maybe talk about your travel destination. Ask what they plan to do upon arrival. Ask if they have pets or children,” says Debus. “If you find that they are not ready to talk, tell them about yourself and your plans. This allows them to focus on your voice and pay attention to something other than the turmoil.”

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