I think that most people, at some point in their lives, have had some sort of fear of flying. I know I always have. Maybe I watched one too many “bad flight” movies growing up, or I maybe let 9/11 set too much in my mind. Either way, you are NOT alone in your fear. I had this fear for years. I would even give up cool vacation destinations to get out of getting on a plane. But, it wasn’t until my husband showed interest in becoming a pilot, that I knew it was time to really buckle down and try very hard to get over this.
I personally think that a majority of flying fears come from a basic fear of the unknown. Most people don’t fear driving a car, because they drive them every day, and feel confident in their driving abilities. But there are those that do fear driving, and may lack the confidence in how they, or other people drive. They may also have had an incident, or a close call incident, that triggered the fear inside.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t understand planes and how they function. It’s this lack of understanding that can spark a fear inside many of us. The “fear of the unknown”, can dominate because we just don’t understand the mechanics, or realize how safe we actually are! Take, for an example, if a person drove an electric car all their life. That person may fear getting into a gas fueled car, because in their mind, the word “gas” can mean “explosion” right? The thought of driving around with “gas” surrounding them may trigger anxiety of the unknown. But the reality is, they just simply don’t understand that cars just don't explode, and without that knowledge, the mind can take off into that negative mindset.
Another fear can be stemmed from the lack of control you have on the situation. Since you are a “passenger”, and don't know how to fly the plane, there is a feeling of helplessness. If something goes wrong, some people feel there is nothing they can do, and that can scare them. This type of fear is seen widely in those who have control issues.
Still another possible trigger is the fear of heights. For some, to be up that high is just a scary place to be. (If this is you, just be sure you take an isle seat!)
That said, there are some steps you can take that may help aide in this fear. As with any fear, you need to work on this slowly. Once your mind realizes that plane flights aren’t something to get so worked up about, the fears can lessen, and you can enjoy flying again, or, like with me, to at least tolerate them. I hope these can be helpful for you, since they helped drastically for me.
So, for those who need some advice to just get on that plane, try this. Allow yourself the time to go to an airport, and just sit back and watch the planes take off and land. I did this at our local small engine airport, and it was very helpful for me. After a few days of watching them take off and land so much, it made the idea of planes themselves seem a bit less frightening. I took notice that there were so many planes coming and going, and everything seemed structured and safe. I took note that there was never an issue with any of the planes. I even started to smile and tell myself, "The people on board find flying fun and exciting. I can find this fun and exciting." It's the idea of trying to change a negative thought process into a positive one. The activity of watching the planes come and go without incident, will start to build up the feeling of TRUST in the pilots. Remember that they do this job day in and day out, without incident. And to actually have an incident is about 1 in 3 million! You are safer on a plane then you are in your car.
So, when it's time to make flight arrangements, be sure to do your research on each airline, and each specific flight! Start by choosing a direct flight, if you can. There is nothing that can more create additional stress, than the thought of missing a connecting flight. There is also the factor of delays. Even though this can happen on any flight, even direct, you reduce this stress, by eliminating the second time you need to get on and off a plane, and long wait times in between.
Another thing to consider is what the airline provides for entertainment. My anxiety has been greatly reduced on those airlines and flights that have in-flight entertainment. I personally like JetBlue, since every seat has their own personal TV on the seat in front of them, and on all flights! So, why is entertainment on a flight so important to me? It gives my mind something different to focus on, other than my fears. In addition, JetBlue has FREE movies. I always take advantage of this on every flight. Why? Typically, the flights I take are a couple of hours in length, so it is easy to get into a movie to take my mind off any negative thoughts. By the time the movie is over, the flight is pretty much over too, which lessens the time for anxiety to build. Also, watching a movie means that I won’t be bothered with commercials that can break the momentum of the story. (Plus, there are some pretty irritating commercials out there that can interfere with the focus.)
I ALWAYS choose a comedy. Why? A comedy will make you smile, and/or laugh. As I have mentioned so many times before, smiling alone can change your mindset, as well as any negativity that may be resting in your mind. (See article: Laughter and Why It’s So Important) If you are unable to get on a flight with a TV, you can always listen to soothing music, watch a movie on your laptop or tablet, or bring your favorite book to read. The idea is to remain distracted and to keep busy, to keep your mind off the lingering thoughts.
To add to your comfort, you can always sip on your favorite calming hot tea. I choose Chamomile tea for its anti-anxiety benefits. (I always bring my own teabags, and just ask for a cup of hot water.)
Remember to also keep yourself stimulant free, so avoid any caffeine products like chocolate and coffee, and know that even though some tea will indicate “decaf”, there may still be some caffeine in there. For this reason, I stick with herbals.. (see article: Herbal Teas for Anxiety)
If you are planning on snacking on something during your flight, I suggest something with tryptophan like turkey, milk, or a banana. These products have a natural relaxant in them, that can also aide in your comfort for the flight. (See article: 3 Best Nutrients for Managing Anxiety.)
So, to recap:
Even though I only fly a couple times out of the year, the above has allowed me to be so much less anxious and fearful on flights I take today. I still go for the comedies, and try to take non-stop flights, when possible, but even if it doesn’t work out that way, at this point, I’m good with whatever I end up with.
Taking steps, with confidence, can help you reduce the affects of your anxiety and fears. Some of my suggestions mean that you may drop a few extra dollars, so be sure to check the schedules way ahead of time, to try and get the best deals. Either way, I have learned over my years of traveling that sometimes to pay a bit more is WELL WORTH a calmer experience, and a happier me!
Keep practicing your focus techniques! (See: 5 Quick Tips to Help Calm Stress and Anxiety). The more you practice these techniques, the easier your brain will be able to focus back to a positive, when negative thoughts come in. If you are in need of taking a flight soon, start to practice what works for you on a DAILY basis. It is a habit to take on negative thoughts when a stressful situation appears. In order to change that habit, you have to practice ways of staying positive during stressful situations. Remember, it's ok to be stressed when stress is near, but its all about how you handle it...how you react..that matters the most. Can you turn off the negative thoughts? Or will you sit with them and allow more to invade your mind, until you are completely overwhelmed?
Keep practicing, and be well my friends....
With love and peace.. XO
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Michelle has a BS, E-RYT, YACEP, CHN, CLYL, and Y12SRL.