A little bit of turbulence is enough to cause someone who is nervous about flying, to go into a full-blown panic attack. A deeper look, however, shows that turbulence is mainly all bark and no bite.

Flying can be an inherently scary prospect. It’s easy to feel claustrophobic and weary of strange sounds; being packed like sardines into what is essentially a giant metal box, doesn’t help either. Add a lack of control to the mix and turbulence can seem utterly terrifying.

What is turbulence?

Turbulence is irregular up and down movements in air currents, caused by pockets of air moving at different speeds. Differences in air temperatures develop areas of high and low pressure; air moves away from high-pressure areas and towards low-pressure areas. This can cause vortexes to form and when our planes fly through them, we experience turbulence.

Why does it seem scary?

Well, turbulence isn’t a pleasant experience. The plane may seem like it is moving from side to side, shuddering or, perhaps the scariest feeling, when it drops. These sensations, coupled with other stress triggers (large crowds, stale air, and lack of general mobility) can be a huge source of turbulence anxiety.

Should I really be scared?

No, because air travel is the safest mode of transportation in the world. In fact, your car ride to the airport was more dangerous than your flight. All commercial aircraft are designed to withstand a much higher degree of turbulence than it will ever experience. Here is a clip of the Boeing 777 withstanding 150% more stress than the strongest forces it would encounter.

That’s great, but I’m reading this on a turbulent flight

Remember that anxiety is a trickster; it can make you feel endangered even if you are perfectly safe so fight what the anxiety is telling you to do. Distract yourself; watch the in-flight movie even if it’s bad, peruse the SkyMall catalog, or listen to soothing music.

What can I do before the flight?

It is important to develop healthy coping mechanisms when you aren’t flying so you can use them properly when you are. Practice breathing exercises and meditation to help relax you. Visualize successfully coping with what you are afraid of and write down words of comfort on a small note; these can be anything, from what you know about the safety of planes, memories from the last successful flight you took, or even simple words of reassurance. Lastly, try to avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol before and during the flight.

Turbulence may cause some discomfort, but, hey, nothing in life comes without a few bumps along the way.