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Coping With Fear of Flying

Updated on March 26, 2016
Flying phobia is extremely common
Flying phobia is extremely common | Source

Being scared of flying, or having a flying phobia, is very common, even to those who have to fly every week. I had an awful fear of flying for many years because I suffered with panic disorder, and automatically assumed I would have a panic attack on the flight. This is the bottom line of what most people fear; panicking or of course death! Despite airplanes having an extremely high safety record, so many of us just don’t trust that we will be okay cruising along at six miles in the air!

Because I have now flown four times without any fear, I want to share with you what I did, and other things you can try to eliminate your fear of flying.

Why are we Scared of Flying?

It helps matters a little if you actually recognize what exactly you are frightened of or your biggest fear. Here are some examples of why people fear flying:

  • Fear of panicking and making a fool of themselves
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of not being able to escape - claustrophobia
  • Fear of a mid air collision
  • Fear of a faulty airplane/crashing
  • Fear of passing out
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of terrorist attack/bombs

All of the above and probably any other flying fears you might have, are all likely to have one common theme; that of not being in control. What we tend to fear most in life are the things we don’t understand, and the things we can not control. Taking this into consideration, how can you understand better and learn to take back some control?

Understanding what Happens During a Flight

Understanding Airplane Flights

Most of us don’t know much about airplanes. On a flight we hear noises and wonder what they are. The plane may suddenly make a different movement or start to shudder, and we wonder why. If you are already very anxious, it is this sort of thing that can make you panic.

Get to know as much about the plane itself and the safety of planes generally. You can do this at home by looking it up on the Internet. YouTube has several videos explaining flight noises, turbulence and how airplanes are checked for safety.

Checking Aircraft for Safety

Anxiety before a Flight

Your thoughts in the weeks or days before you fly are of paramount importance, in how you will cope on the day of the flight.

Fear builds when your imagination runs riot with lots of negative thoughts, and playing out fateful scenarios in your mind. Catastrophic thinking will set you up for a certain bad experience. You will be convincing yourself that there really is something to fear and that your attitude is justified.

I remember that when I had a flight coming up in a few weeks, I would be thinking about it on and off all day, every day! Nearer the day of the flight I couldn't even sleep, such was my intense fear.

If you consider that positive thoughts tend to breed positive outcomes, you should try some visualization in the weeks leading up to your flight.

Anxious about Getting on a Plane?

Fear will rise on boarding the plane
Fear will rise on boarding the plane | Source

Visualization Before the Flight

Obviously it helps to try a visualization technique if you have flown before. If you haven’t flown before, see the procedure below for what you have to take into account.

  • Arrive at airport
  • Book in at the check-in desk and hand over suitcases
  • Hang around for a while, shops, bars
  • Go to the departure lounge and wait to be told to board plane
  • Follow corridors which lead to the plane door (some airports differ with boarding)
  • Board plane and find your seat
  • Wait for a short while (varies)
  • Plane taxis to the runway and takes off

For anyone who is very nervous about flying, as you can see, there is ample time for your anxiety to increase a lot within the airport. Being able to see the airfield and planes moving around, taking off or landing can also increase your anxiety.

Use Your Imagination For Your Fear of Flying

So that you are as relaxed as possible before boarding the aircraft, try the following in the weeks leading up to your flight. It might also help to have bought a guided relaxation CD, so that you can learn to relax before visualizing. You are going to use your imagination to have a positive flying experience.

  • Lie or sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes
  • Loosen all your muscles to the best of your ability (or use the guided relaxation CD)
  • Make sure your breathing is nice and slow – in through the nose and out through the mouth with tummy rising and falling
  • When you feel you are as relaxed as possible, begin to visualize leaving home on the day of the flight
  • See yourself as happy and smiling, looking forward to your journey. Enjoy the journey to the airport, perhaps listening to music through headphones

Imagine the airport and feel good- smile
Imagine the airport and feel good- smile | Source
  • See yourself arriving at the airport, speaking to people, looking forward to checking in
  • See yourself handing over your passport and luggage, smiling and chatting with no worries
  • See yourself getting a drink that you really like from the bar or cafe and enjoying it as you look around you
  • Take out a book or magazine and read a few pages, looking up now and again to realize you feel fine. Smile!
  • Hear the sounds of the people around you, the speaker system giving out details to passengers and slump into your seat feeling relaxed and carefree

I am sure that you now get the general idea. For those who have experienced a flight before, you can use your knowledge of boarding the plane, and the flight itself for further visualization exercise. You are practicing positive thoughts within a perceived negative situation. These visualization exercises should be practiced over and over leading up to your flight.

Ideas to Cope with Fear of Flying

If all that visualization doesn't come easy to you, or doesn't seem to help, here are some other ways to at least cope better when flying.

  • Download some music to your mp3 player, preferably relaxation music. Better still; buy a cd that is directly linked to a fear of flying. Some people have a lot of success with this type of self-help
  • Tell the stewardess or flight attendant that you are very fearful. Once they are aware of this, it will seem more comfortable calling them for support if you really feel the need. Sharing your fear can lessen the burden of it
  • Take plenty of reading on a flight, even if it’s a relatively short flight. Distraction isn’t exactly a cure when you are scared of flying, but if it helps get you through then so be it! There is usually the chance to watch a film on a lot of flights which is another way to distract

Listening to music or a relaxation download on mp3 is good for flights
Listening to music or a relaxation download on mp3 is good for flights | Source

EFT for Fear of Flying

  • Don’t be afraid to get up and take a short walk now and again (seat belts off permitting)
  • Smile at people and even strike up conversation if possible. When we get scared, all our concentration turns inwards on ourselves, making all our fears much bigger. Turn to someone next to you if alone and start up conversation
  • Some people have had some success with EFT therapy (emotional freedom technique). “Tapping” away your fears has been proven to work well with phobias.
  • You could also try hypnotherapy
  • Join up with one of the “Fear of Flying” courses that some airlines offer. EasyJet offer a course with flight for £129, and this is one of the cheapest. There is a website at fearofflyinghelp.com that offers a free online self-help course for your flying phobia
  • Buy a flight simulator for your pc or video console. Apparently this can help to make you feel more comfortable about flying

How I Conquered Fear of Flying

Some people turn to a xanax or alcohol (or both!) when they are scared of flying. I personally, don’t think this is a big deal if you fly once or twice a year, but it’s certainly not the answer if you fly regularly and is merely a form of permanent avoidance.

I cured myself of my flying phobia by using the visualization technique I described, along with relaxation and meditation audio CDs. I also decided to face the fear head on with facts instead of irrational thoughts. I was scared of a bird flying into an engine, mid air collisions and crashing. I would take a valium for flying AND have a couple of glasses of wine (not recommended), but my fear was so great even that didn’t help!

I always practiced relaxation or meditation, and visualization for around six weeks before my flight was due. I had much relaxation/hypnosis self-help on my mp3 player, and I would listen to that in the seconds before take off and for the first half hour of the flight. If any negative thoughts did come during the flight, I just switched on my mp3 player, closed my eyes and went back into deeper relaxation. I only had to do this on two flights and then I didn’t need to do it any more. In fact, on my last four flights, I had no valium, no alcohol, nor relaxation audio; and I can honestly say I enjoyed the flight and couldn’t look out of the window enough!

Whatever our imagination tells us, flying IS the safest form of travel. I told myself that if the plane was going to crash, it was going to crash and there wouldn’t be a darn thing I could about it! I also thought, if I die, I don’t die alone. I love traveling abroad and seeing new places, but there was a big chance that my fear would have prevented me doing this. The best way forward, as with any phobia, is to face it head on, address it and move on…preferably upwards into the beautiful blue sky!


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    • leahlefler profile image

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      I love these tips. I always have a bit of a panic attack during take off, but I'm fine once the flight is en-route. The anticipation and worry take on a life of their own. I like to visualize the destination that I am looking forward to, though sometimes it doesn't help and I just grit my teeth and get through it.

    • meloncauli profile image
      Author

      meloncauli 4 years ago from UK

      Hi Leah

      Yes, anticipatory anxiety is the worst. My original flying fears were always worse too on take off or landing ( with wobbly bits in between). I can look out of the window for both now with no fear. Thanks for your comment.

    • lovesleftovers profile image

      lovesleftovers 3 years ago from Texas

      Thanks so much for the great tips! I'm intensely afraid of flying and have successfully (if you can call driving all over the country whenever I needed to be someplace other than home successful) avoided flying for many years. However, I'll be flying up North in October for my son's wedding and I'm terrified. I plan on trying your techniques ASAP (four months worth) and hope I'll be able to get a handle on this debilitating condition before then. Thanks again!

    • meloncauli profile image
      Author

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      You are very welcome :)

      Let me know how you get on. Good luck.

    • profile image

      Miranda 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for these tips! I will be flying by myself, and for the first time, so it's nice to know that these fears can be overcome!

    • meloncauli profile image
      Author

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Hope your flight goes well :)

    • gerimcclym profile image

      Geri McClymont 17 months ago from Colorado

      Thank you for your words of help and hope in regard to being afraid of flying. For over fifteen years, I was afraid of flying, but for me it was because of a very negative experience I had as a child. I think I overcame it in part by talking to people on the plane and absorbing myself in reading. I still don't particularly care for flying, but I think today it is for different reasons. I still find talking to people and reading during the flight to be very therapeutic. Thanks for helping us cope with this common fear by offering us practical ways to deal with it.

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