How I Travel With A Fear Of Flying: Tips For Coping In The Air
I recently worked out that I’ve taken sixty-eight plane journeys in my lifetime. Sixty-eight! That is a serious amount of hours spent trapped in a capsule in the sky. You’d think this level of experience on planes would mean I’m completely at ease in the air, when actually, I remain terrified of flying.
It probably surprises you to learn this about somebody with such a passion for travel, but it’s absolutely true. The minute that I book a flight, the feeling of excitement is inevitably joined by dread at the knowledge that I’m going to have to get on a plane – again.
By the time it comes to boarding the flight, the anxiety is in full flow, and I have to actively practice techniques that prevent me having one of the panic attacks I’ve wrestled with since I was a teenager.
When take-off approaches, I automatically find myself picturing the opening scene of ‘Final Destination’ (plane becomes ball of flames), and jumping at the slightest bump. The adrenaline soars, my heart races, the sweat breaks out, and my mind will try to play out all of the ways this flight could go horribly wrong. Experiencing the physiological symptoms of panic attacks doesn’t help, as this fuels fears about my health; ‘I can’t breathe, I feel dizzy, what if I pass out?’
Thinking about it now, it seems like complete self-torture considering I have the option not to be on the flight at all!
So why do I still travel, and how do I cope?
Like I said, I have been handling panic attacks since I was a teenager, most of which happen in completely random and non-stressful situations. So in some sense, having a panic attack on a plane is less worrying to me because I expect and am prepared to deal with it.
I choose to put myself through the panic because I simply cannot travel to the incredible places I do without flying. It has never been a question of whether to get on the plane or not, but how to keep myself as calm as possible, so I can reach a destination I’ve dreamt of exploring.
In fact, I am now so well rehearsed at flying, that as a fellow passenger you would barely even notice my fear, even though it’s very much there.
Here are the techniques that help to keep me calm whilst flying:
- Relish the facts – the odds of being in a plane crash are around one in eleven million according to a Harvard University study. There’s greater chance of being killed by lightning, or a shark. It also helps me to think about the number of flights the attendants on my plane will take daily without crashing.
- Actively relax muscles – when we are on edge, we often don’t realise we are tensing our muscles, which can trigger panic. A focus on relaxing every single muscle in my body helps to avoid fuelling the anxiety.
- Watch the flight attendants – if a little bump or noise alarms me, I look at the faces of the flight attendants, often they’ll be visibly laughing or chatting, which makes me realise I’m overreacting.
- Play the ‘what if’ game – instead of worrying about worst-case scenarios, I challenge them by asking what happens if they do? Example: Instead of focusing on the thought ‘I can’t breathe, I might pass out’, I ask myself, ‘What if I do pass out?’ Well, then I’ll wake up again and be embarrassed. Oh, hold on, is that so terrible? The fears don’t seem so dooming in this way.
- Learn the art of distraction – I always have plenty of options for distraction when I’m flying, including a good book, a notepad and pen for doodling and games, plus headphones and a playlist I prepared earlier. I also try to write blog posts and edit photos, which takes time and concentration.
- Daydream about the final destination – the real one, not the film. Remember why you’re on the plane in the first place.
- Avoid alcohol – staying hydrated in the air is key to feeling mentally prepared to deal with the onset of panic.
- Remember the last time – thinking about the last flight I took that had me in the same state of fear, or worse, helps me to remember that everything was completely fine in the end.
- Use a comforter – no, I’m not talking about the type of comforter you’d give to a baby, but I do find that having a soft hoodie or scarf to snuggle against can be really calming in this situation.
By using all of the techniques above, what seems such a daunting journey at first, usually becomes just another flight once I’m soaring steadily through the skies. If you’re a nervous flyer like me, maybe my exercises will help you out on your next journey, and please share your coping mechanisms in the comments below!
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