Fighting your fear of flying
Back in 2014, my brother and his wife were planning to attend our wedding here in the UK. They bought their flight tickets from Jakarta-Heathrow, arranged UK visa and was approved. My brother was excited and so was I.
On the day of departure, they were all set to the airport, suitcases were packed, and ready to board. Then my sister-in-law, started to get a panic attack, then the panic attack worsened as the time for boarding was nearer. The airline was calling their names to be boarded , but my sister in law was crying hard, held tight to her chair, and struggled to breathe. My brother had to get help from the paramedic, at this point. Then the plane flew without them. They lost the chance of holiday and not able to attend my wedding, moreover - non-refundable tickets!
Aerophobia (some called it - aviophobia), is the fear of flying - it is not a new phobia. It is one of the most common phobias in this modern world. Apparently, it is estimated to affect one to 10 people in the UK, that means around 5,6 millions of us. Wow.. I know at least 5 of my friends have aerophobia.
The themes from fear of flying can be varied - from engine failure, crashing, terrorism or lighting strikes. However, flying itself normally isn't the issue, for most - it is the anxiety that you will experience on the plane with no idea how to manage it, feeling trapped that 'you are too far up there' and feeling out of control. The symptoms can include sweating, dizziness, nausea, panic attack, heart palpitation and hyperventilating.
Most of you fear that you have no control. However, rather than letting the fear hold you back, there are few things you can try:
1. Knowing your anxiety.
What causes the anxiety and identifies what triggers this fear of flying? Fear of not knowing often makes your minds wonder the worst possible scenarios. These catastrophic thoughts feed your anxiety.
So if it is the fear of engine failure that triggers your anxiety - do some research and know your facts - about safety procedures, learning how the aircrafts actually fly and statistics of airlines. You can check their reviews before you travel.
Being knowledgeable about your flight can help to rationalise your fear and you become familiar with the facts. It is probably not going to eliminate your anxiety, but these facts can help you to manage it. You can keep in check, so you are in control.
When in the plane, before it takes off - I normally focus on my breathing so I can be relaxed during the flights. My fear of flying is actually when the plane is taking off. I'm not worried when I'm far up. So, after I put away my luggage, I sit down, put the belt on, and start to do breathing for relaxation.
Deep and steady breathing - Close your eyes, breathe in for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, then breathe out slowly, put more than five seconds. As you are repeating this, your body will come down, as it receives more oxygen. It also allows your body and mind to recognise the fear rather than danger - that anxious feeling doesn't mean your are in danger. This assurance can calm your anxiety.
For my peace of mind, I pray before the plane takes off. So I feel more relaxed.
3. Distraction techniques
When you start having negative feelings during a flight, redirect this energy - focus on the external environment. Do something which will distract you from the negative thoughts.
As for me, I watch the the flight crews as they go and get ready for their duties. (Sometimes, I check out if there are some beautiful people in the plane!) or if babies sit near me - be prepared with the crying, especially a long haul flight! Or chat with your fellow passenger. Get your book out, your headphones, watch movies. Normally, with long haul flight, you can watch movies after the flight is steady in the air.
If the noise of the plane are disturbing your fear, try a pair of noise-cancelling headphone - Headphones that reduce unwanted ambient sounds using active noise control. It uses techniques such as soundproofing, and helps a passenger sleep in a noisy environment, such as airlines.
4. Think about Destination, not the Journey.
Exposure is the active ingredient in overcoming your phobia. With most things happening in your life, the more you put something off, the harder it becomes to achieve. You probably get the sense of relief because you don't get into the plane, but this only can perpetuates the fear.
Focus on the positive reason for taking your flight. Perhaps you are going visiting your family or friends, or going on holiday, or on business trip - these reasons give you purpose to board the plane, to arrive on the other side, - the Destination.
You can add this motivation to overcome your fear and move forward with your life. So, your aim is to retrain your brain to become less sensitive to the triggers that set you off.
After this, you will probably love to be on the plane - because the destination is what you are looking for.
Share your experience here, let others know how you handle your fear of flying.
Misma Hemming - Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Life Coaching, Mentor
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