Do you break out into a sweat at the thought of boarding a plane? Do you have sleepless nights before your flights dreaming of the plane being hijacked or the engines malfunctioning and the plane falling out of the sky? These thoughts may seem irrational to some but for others are debilitating and can prevent people from getting out and seeing the world.
But don’t despair – for whatever reasons you are scared of flying, there are certain things you can do to help alleviate your fears. From selecting an aisle seat in the plane and chatting to the crew to taking medication and seeing a therapist – if you are determined not to let this change your way of life, here are a few travel tips for how to get over fear of flying.
What is the Fear of Flying (Aviophobia)?
An extreme fear of flying is known as aviophobia and is a type of anxiety disorder that involves an acute sense of fear and panic about being in a plane and flying.
Many people experience some form of anxiety or nervousness when they fly for a variety of reasons from being in a crowded space to the sensations of taking off and landing.
Aviophobia has no specific cause as the fear each individual feels usually originates from a combination of factors. For most people who suffer from aviophobia, the fear stems from the feeling that they have no control over the situation and their safety. Other common causes of this disorder can include a fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), or a fear of vomiting (emetophobia).
Physical symptoms of aviophobia can include an increased heart rate, cold sweaty hands, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, and nausea. If symptoms are severe, they can lead to a panic attack.
How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying
Aviophobia is treatable and there are several ways that can help you to get over your fears and worries.
1. Know What to Expect
As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” and this can apply to your fear of flying. One of the first steps to overcome your fear is to “know your enemy” – learn the basics of how airplanes work and the science behind flying and this can go a long way towards helping you alleviate your fears.
One of the ways to help overcome your worries is to understand how planes can continue to fly even if an engine fails or what causes turbulence and all the terrifying sounds during takeoff and landing. Licensed clinical psychologist and author of The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg, Ph.D. suggests asking yourself questions like: “What do I actually think will happen? What am I making a big deal out of? Do I really believe there will be a plane crash?”
And then answer these questions before you get on the plane. Write down the questions and the answers and take a look at them when you start feeling anxious, or are imagining a worse case scenario like a plane crash.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the Plane
Another good way to get over your fear of flying is to familiarize yourself with the plane and prepare yourself for what you might see. Find an image of the cabin of the plane and pin it up somewhere or place it n your desktop to get used to what you will be seeing around you on your flight. It might not seem as scary if you are familiar with the scene.
3. Learn About Built-In Safety Features
One of the greatest fears people have of flying is not understanding the science behind flying and feeling out of control. The best way to prepare yourself to handle any situation that may arise is to equip yourself with knowledge. Learn how planes are designed to withstand emergencies and they can continue flying during turbulence or after engine failure.
Do some research about air circulation in a plane to alleviate any fears you may have of getting sick or contracting a disease. Explore the science behind turbulence and figure out why it affects the plane when flying and the in-built safety features planes have to counteract turbulence.
4. Choose an Aisle Seat
If you suffer from claustrophobia or don’t like feeling hemmed into small spaces, it’s a good idea to pre-book an aisle seat for your flight. This will allow you to feel less crowded in and you will be able to get up and walk around the plane without having to disturb anyone next to you.
It also makes it easier to avoid having to look out the window during take-off and landing, as you cannot close the window blinds during these times. Most airlines and booking engines offer the option of seat assignment during the booking process, but if you are unable to pre-book one, simply explain your worries to the person at the check-in counter when they are assigning you a seat.
5. Seek Professional Help
If you are losing sleep over your upcoming trip, feeling sick with anxiety, or avoiding travel altogether because of your fears, it might be time to seek professional help. Seeing a licensed therapist or counselor can help you figure out the root causes of your anxiety about flying and how to overcome it.
Dr. Rachel Kutner, a post-doctoral clinical psychology fellow says that “mental health professionals can help individuals overcome a fear of flying through the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention.”
There are many cognitive therapy techniques, ranging from identifying cognitive distortions and thought records to behavioral interaction and exposure therapy.
You could also try hypnosis where, according to hypnotist Eli Bliliuos, the subconscious mind can be programmed to release fear and anxiety.
“A flying phobia is normally triggered by an event in the past like a turbulent flight, a claustrophobic experience, or even a time a parent expressed a fear of flying. In hypnosis, we help clients let that go,” he says.Eli Bliliuos, hypnotist
6. Monitor Your Media Intake
Another thing you can do to fight your fears is to stay away from airplane disaster movies, documentaries, or news coverage about plane crashes, and other scary images on the Internet. These are enough to worry even the hardiest of air travelers, so avoid them altogether.
The vast majority of flights have absolutely no issues and arrive safely at their destinations, so don’t let social media or movies skew your impressions of plane safety or flying.
7. Don’t Rush at the Airport
Avoid further anxiety by arriving at the airport in plenty of time for your flight. Leave home with plenty of time to spare and enjoy a laid-back and relaxed ride to the airport. Once there, check-in early, head through customs if you are traveling internationally, and take a stroll around the shops on the departure side of the airport.
It’s a good idea to find your gate and work out how long it will take you to get there if the airport is huge and you want to do some shopping. Alternatively, find a café or restaurant near the gate and relax over a coffee or a bite to eat.
8. Wait for Your Flight in an Airport Lounge
Relaxing in the comfort of an airport lounge is one way to kick back and wait for your flight in a quiet and comfortable environment. Most airlines have dedicated private lounges, and while many of them are reserved for club members or frequent flyers, you can sometimes buy a one-day entrance pass into the lounge.
This will give you access to an array of food and drinks, spacious seating, complimentary wireless Internet and a tranquil oasis in which to relax. Some even have bathrooms with showers, so if you are connecting, you can freshen up for your next flight.
9. Talk to the Crew
Once you are on board, have a chat with a flight attendant in your section and let them know you are a nervous passenger. The flight attendants on most airlines are friendly and welcoming and are there to look after you and make you as comfortable as possible, so don’t be shy to ask for a helping hand.
Making friends with the cabin crew can also distract you from your flight anxiety and to stay reassured and relaxed. You might even be lucky enough to be treated to an upgrade or an extra meal.
10. Take a Deep Breath
Another great way to calm your nerves and alleviate anxiety is through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. Some of the techniques include very slow, deep breathing while visualizing a safe space; progressive muscle relaxation whereby you gradually release the tension in your muscles and using all five of your senses during a stressful situation from aural to oral.
Another relaxation technique is mindfulness, which involves connecting your mind to the present moment to increase the acceptance of your thoughts and feelings.
11. Tune In, Channel Up, or Zone Out
Once you are settled in your seat, find a distraction that works for you. Check out the entertainment system and line up some of the latest movies or doccies to watch throughout your flight.
Tune in to the radio or music station and listen to some music to calm your nerves. Take a few books with you and start reading one or begin a crossword. Or pop your earplugs in and your eye mask on and zone out. Whatever works for you.
12. Download an App
If you are tech-savvy, you can download apps like Valk that may help you have a calmer flying experience or even overcome those fears of flying.
Valk acts like an “in-flight travel therapist” that helps control anxiety and stress before and during your flight. The app helps ensures you are ready before heading for the airport to avoid additional stress and offers breathing and calming exercises that will help you to relax.
You can press a panic button during moments of turbulence or anxiety, and an automated therapist will talk you through things. The Valk Foundation also offers therapeutic sessions you can sign up for to alleviate your fear of flying.
13. Have a Drink but Avoid Caffeine
Alcohol may seem like the go-to for calming your nerves, and by all means, have a drink if you feel it will relax you, but keep in mind, alcohol can lead to dehydration, particularly in the cabin of an airplane, so make sure to take in plenty of water throughout the flight.
It’s also not a good idea to combine alcohol with any forms of medication, so if you on any kind of anti-anxiety medicine or took a sleeping pill to help you through the flight, avoid drinking alcohol. Avoid drinking too much coffee too, as caffeine can enhance your anxiety levels and make you even more jittery.
14. Pop a Pill
If you have tried everything – from relaxation techniques to meditation and yoga without success, it might be worth having a chat with your doctor about taking some form of anti-anxiety medication or a mild sleeping pill to help relax you and get you through the flight.
While medication is simply a bandage for the wound, it can help to relax you and have a slightly less stressful experience. If you are planning on taking a sleeping pill, don’t over-medicate as you don’t want to arrive feeling drowsy and groggy, particularly if you are in a foreign country you haven’t traveled to before. Best to have your wits about you.