My own fear of flying
Growing up my family always travelled a lot. I was on planes constantly and it never even crossed my mind to be scared. My parents work in the airline industry so being on a plane was almost second nature to me. Even when I started travelling alone more frequently being afraid of flying was never an issue, I actually really enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I was almost 20 years old that I suddenly developed a paralysing fear of flying.
I’d be scared for weeks before a trip and would do anything to avoid being on a plane. I was so confused why this was happening to me since there wasn’t a specific trigger or reason why I went from being excited about flying to dreading it. About six months into my new fear a flight I was on experienced severe turbulence which was completely harmless but so traumatising to me that my fear reached new levels. I started to get very angry at myself because my fear of flying was ruining my trips and even when I was enjoying myself there was always the thought of the flight home in the back of my mind.
So how did I fix it?
The truth is I really didn’t. My fear disappeared one day without a reason only to reappear again a year or so later. It seemed to work in cycles and it still does to some extent. It’s not completely gone and some days it’s worse than others but it’s so much more manageable now. I learned to not take it so seriously anymore and managed to take a step back from it and look at it from an outside perspective. My fear of flying is now back at a reasonable level where my stomach feels a bit strange during takeoff or landing but I don’t lose sleep over a plane trip months in advance or take 10-hour trains to get out of a quick flight. And that’s exactly where I want to be.
What helped me manage my fear of flying
If you find yourself googling “fear of flying” you want to find that one article that fixes everything. In my experience unfortunately there is no fix that works overnight. For me, it was a combination of things that helped but even that took time. Many websites recommend breathing techniques or meditation which didn’t do anything at all for me but they’re worth looking into. I’ve found this article by We Are Travel Girls and I think it’s one of the more helpful ones out there. They recommend a course you can take to ease your fear of flying which seems like something that could help so definitely look into it.
Here are my top tips for managing your fear of flying.
It’s unfortunate but there’s a reason why alcohol seems to be one of the most popular remedies for a fear of flying. It definitely works wonders for me but you should be careful not to overdo it. There’s nothing wrong with having a few beers on board but if you find yourself chugging drinks at 8:00 am just so you can work up the courage to board then there’s something wrong. Also, alcohol might ease your fear in the moment but it doesn’t fix the pit in your stomach you have days or weeks before your flight. Use alcohol strategically but don’t rely on it to get you through.
Be kind to yourself
I used to get so frustrated with myself when my fear of flying flared up again. Every time I thought I was over it it would come right back so it felt like I was making no progress at all. I noticed that once I stopped being so angry that I was afraid my fear started to be less important to me and I could let go a little bit. I can’t find the original article anymore but a few years ago I read that if you suddenly develop fears even though you’ve gone your whole life without them it’s your mind reacting to changes in your life. These fears tend to pop up in times of great change and are usually irrational. Reading this really helped me realise that this fear was completely normal and I really shouldn’t be blaming myself or trying to find a cause for it. Now, this might not be the case for everyone but it definitely applies to me. My fear of flying tends to get worse whenever there are lots of other things going on so now I can identify it as such and move on with my life which removes a lot of the power I used to assign to the fear.
Realise that being afraid of flying is completely normal
It’s hard to get exact numbers but as many as 40% of people experience a fear of flying. Knowing this number really helped me because I felt less disappointed in myself. Humans aren’t meant to fly so the idea of it can seem unsafe even though it’s really not. Try to think of your fear of flying as a subconscious reaction that you can train your brain to override.
Again, a really straightforward strategy for calming yourself during a flight but one of the most effective ones. The more I’m distracted the less I have time to worry about things that aren’t important. Music is definitely a great strategy for this but what’s even better is giving yourself something to do that might be slightly complicated. This is different for everyone but my favourite distraction is a Rubix cube (if you know how to solve one). It’s just the right level of difficult to distract your brain without being overwhelming. If you don’t know how to solve a Rubix cube I highly recommend teaching yourself. You can learn in a day or two and it’s the perfect airport distraction.
Give yourself a task
This strategy doesn’t always work but it’s definitely worth a try. To help your mind focus on something else you can try to give yourself a task or to-do list for your flight. Imagine you’re a business person who’s working while they’re at the airport or on board the plane. They don’t have time to be afraid of flying; they’ve got really important things to do! Do something on the flight that you’ve been wanting to get done for a while like writing emails or maybe going through your laptop files. If you don’t have a laptop with you, you can type something on your phone or whatever comes to mind. Maybe even write something on pen and paper, like how you’re feeling at the moment. It just needs to be a task that you’re not really looking forward to so your mind will focus on that instead of flying. Again, this doesn’t work all the time but sometimes it’s perfect for taking your mind off things.
Give yourself something to look forward to
This strategy is basically the opposite of the one before. Instead of distracting your mind with something uncomfortable you’ll be thinking of something really fun. You could for example save up some really exciting podcast episodes for the flight or the season finale of your favourite TV show. If you don’t mind spending the money splurge on business class seats or go shopping at the airport before your flight. If you can’t come up with anything you could go on an online shopping spree a few days before you fly so you’ll have lots of packages waiting for you when you get home. Think about what makes you happy and excited and then try to incorporate it into your flight somehow.
Look at others around you
Sometimes fear will cause you to feel trapped inside your mind and every little bump of turbulence suddenly feels like the end of the world. While looking out the window really helps usually sometimes a great strategy for feeling calm on a plane is just to take a look around. Are the other people on the plane looking scared (hopefully they’re not if they are then disregard this strategy)? Sometimes nothing makes me feel better than looking at a snoring man on the opposite row or a child playing a phone game. If they can be calm then there is no reason for you not to be.
Speak to someone in the airline industry
This one might be a little tricky but if you know someone who works in the airline industry speak to them about your fears. Nine times out of ten they’ll be so desensitised to flying that they won’t even understand what you’re talking about. Hearing someone talk about flying from a perspective of absolutely no fear at all really helped me realise how irrational my thoughts are.
Think of all the times you’ve been on a plane
Sometimes it helps me to think of all the times I’ve been on a plane and how scared I was. Did my fear change anything? Absolutely not. If I could go back and be that flight again knowing that everything would be fine would I still be scared? Probably not. So why am I afraid of this one?
Think of all the fear and anguish you could have saved yourself from if you hadn’t been scared. Don’t beat yourself up for it but rather try to save yourself from that fear in the future. It’s easier said than done but if you start applying this mindset to flying consistently it truly works.
Get rid of any lucky behaviours
This one is really important. If you’re even slightly superstitious and have little rituals like touching the outside of the plane three times or only sitting in even-numbered rows then stop right now. You’re teaching your brain that these lucky behaviours have an actual effect on your safety which will only make your fear worse. It’s hard but next time your fly get rid of any lucky behaviours and you’ll feel a lot more powerful and in control
Stop being afraid of turbulence
We’ve all heard it a million times; turbulence isn’t actually dangerous. Did you know that most plane wings can bend up to 90 degrees without breaking? Even if turbulence feels like the end of the world to the passengers it’s actually very harmless. One of my favourite ways of thinking about it is driving a car on a cobblestone road. It feels uncomfortable but it’s not dangerous to the passengers at all.
Look at Flightradar24
If you don’t know, Flightradar24 is an app that displays all planes that are currently in the air. It’s super accurate so you can track and follow individual planes. When you open the app the map is usually incredibly crowded. It always helps me to look at it and think about how small and insignificant my flight really is. There are literally of thousands of others in the air right now and they’re all landing safely so why shouldn’t mine?
Stop exposing yourself to the wrong media
This one really helps me. Seeing plane crashes or reading details about them really makes my fear of flying worse. I consciously stopped exposing myself to content like that and it really helped with the horror movie that would play in my mind whenever there was turbulence on a flight. My biggest piece of advice would be to stop watching Lost. They replay that crash scene hundreds of times and the show isn’t even that good.
Know why you’re afraid of flying
Most people who are afraid of flying are those who love to be in control and whose imagination is just a little bit too good. That’s 100% me and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never be that person who has the “if we’re going down then so be it” mentality. And that’s okay. I’d rather have my imagination and I can learn to let go of control a little bit every once in a while so no issue there either.
Think of where you want to be and what’s stopping you
I always knew that I wanted to travel as much as possible so flying was really important for the life I wanted to have. Even if you goal isn’t full time travel you want to go on holiday with your friends or visit family across the country so being afraid of flying is always going to have some level of impact on your life. Think of what you’d like your life to look like and then ask yourself what’s stopping you. Is an irrational of something that isn’t dangerous whatsoever going to impact your life forever? Put your fear into perspective. In the grand scheme of things it’s really stupid so take the power away that is has over you.
Imagine what the pilots are doing
If you’ve ever had the chance to fly in the cockpit of a plane you know that most pilots can’t be phased by anything. Flying is their daily routine so if you truly want to easy your fear of flying you should start thinking like a pilot. When the next wave of turbulence hits and you feel yourself panicking just imagine what the pilots are doing. They’re probably talking about their last trip to the Maldives or whether they should be buying a boat. They’re not concerned so why should you be?