If you’re looking for tips and ideas to help you figure out how to get over your fear of flying, you’ve come to the right place. I have been traveling around the world since I was 7-years-old, and while very few people would believe I’m scared of flying, airports and airplanes have always made me uneasy. My aerophobia reached its peak when I was a child and lasted well into my teens and 20s, but I never allowed it to stop me from traveling to see family and friends, and spent 8+ years traveling internationally for work. I’ve never been through any sort of formal therapy for my flight anxiety, and while I have tried various medications over the years, I have taught myself how to stay calm while flying and feel my tips and ideas may be just what you need to figure out how to get over your fear of flying for good!
What is Aerophobia?
Simply put, aerophobia is a fear of flying in a helicopter, plane, or other airborne vehicle. Also known as aviophobia, aerophobia can cause anticipatory stress and nervousness in the days and weeks leading up to one’s departure, and is often characterized by intense fear and anxiety while flying. Symptoms of aerophobia include an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, shaking and trembling, a choking sensation, nausea, vomiting, etc. The number and severity of symptoms experienced varies from person to person, and some experience such distress that they avoid air travel altogether.
While the exact cause of aerophobia is often unknown, other phobias are thought to contribute to the development of a fear of flying, including claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights).
5 Tips to Decrease Anticipatory Flight Anxiety
Plan your flights ahead of time. Planning and preparation goes a long way when it comes to keeping anxiety under control, so try to avoid last minute travel plans as much as possible. If take-off and landing are particularly fear-inducing for you, opt for direct flights wherever possible, and if being confined to a small space for extended periods of time is where you struggle, try splitting your travel into a couple of smaller trips.
Pre-book your seats. Further to my point above, taking the time to plan ahead can make a world of difference in helping you feel calm while you’re traveling. If standing up on a plane causes you to feel anxious, consider booking a window seat so you can sit down and stay down for the duration of your flight. If the idea of being boxed in makes you hyperventilate, an aisle seat would be a much better option as it gives you the flexibility to get up and walk around at your leisure.
Avoid the media. If you have a fear of flying phobia, I speak from personal experience when I say to avoid reading the news in the days leading up to your travel as best as possible. At the very least, you want to stick to local news coverage to ensure you aren’t being exposed to any air-related stories that could increase your anxiety.
Find a calming strategy that works for you. Whether it’s meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, reading, or watching a funny flick, take the time to find a calming strategy that brings your heart rate down when you’re feeling anxious, and practice it often so you know how to use it when you need it most.
Don’t get to the airport too early. While you want to ensure you have enough time to check in for your flight, get through immigration and security, buy a couple of magazines, and use the restroom before boarding your flight, getting to the airport too early can make your anxiety worse. The trick is to find a happy medium so you aren’t feeling rushed and stressed, but aren’t walking around aimlessly worrying about things outside of your control.
8 Tips to Teach You How to Stay Calm While Flying
Get a good night of sleep the night before. Sleep can do wonders for the soul, and studies suggest that sleep deprivation can cause or worsen anxiety. Of course, sleep and anxiety don’t always go hand-in-hand, so getting a night of restorative sleep pre-travel may be impossible, but finding ways to keep stress to a minimum the night before you fly can help. Take a hot bath, listen to some calming tunes, diffuse lavender oil in your bedroom via a diffuser to create a calming sleeping environment, avoid alcohol and sleeping medications, and hit the sack early to increase the probably that you’ll get at least a little bit of shut eye before you travel.
Use alcohol and medication wisely. In the 30+ years I’ve been flying, I’ve tried a ton of different things to help calm my nerves. I’ve indulged in too much wine the night before to help me sleep, I’ve had a few drinks at the airport to settle my nerves, I’ve had my doctor prescribe me medication for anxiety, I’ve taken Dramamine to help me sleep in-flight, I’ve kept a steady stream of booze in my system while in the air, and I’ve done quite a few flights without anything in my system at all. Of course, you have to do what works for you, but I’ve consistently found that consuming alcohol or medication the night before traveling makes things worse for me, especially if I have an early morning wake-up call. I wake up feeling hungover and groggy, which just increases my anxiety further. I have had luck with taking prescription anti-anxiety medications on long-haul flights (you will need to speak with your doctor about this), but prefer to avoid any kind of alcohol or medications while flying now that I’m older as I find they generally make me feel drowsy and lousy.
Close window shades. If you have a fear of heights, try sitting towards the middle of the plane and don’t be afraid to ask the people in the window seats on either side of you to keep their window shades down so as not to draw attention to what’s going on outside of the plane. If you explain your fears, I’m sure they will be accommodating! On the flip side, if you are claustrophobic, a window seat may be just what you need to feel calm and comfortable.
Pack lots of distractions. While some people are blessed with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep the moment they board a plane, people with aerophobia typically find it difficult to breathe, let alone relax when they step foot on a plane. If this sounds like you, I suggest packing lots of distractions to keep your mind occupied. Of course, your anxiety may make it impossible for you to concentrate on anything important, but books, magazines, music, movies, and crafts can all help settle your nerves.
Sit away from friends and family. While some people find it comforting to sit next to someone familiar to them while flying so they can hold their hand, ask for a hug, and talk through their fears, this can actually make anxiety worse in some people. It all boils down to what works best for you, and if you find yourself better able to cope with feelings of anxiety when you’re alone, don’t be afraid to request a seat by yourself.
Focus on your breathing. When we feel anxious, our breathing patterns change. We start taking short, shallow, fast breaths, which does nothing but intensify our anxiety. Mindful breathing – taking in a slow breath through the nose, holding it for a few seconds, and then exhaling slowly through the mouth – is one of the best calming strategies to try when you feel nervous as it helps you focus on something other than your anxious thoughts, and once your breathing slows down, you will naturally start to feel more calm. Another great idea to try once your breathing is under control, but you’re still not feeling 100% calm, is to count silently in your head. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it really does work!
Visualize your destination. When I was about 19-years-old, I was staying at my grandparents the night before flying from Toronto to Singapore to visit my family. A bunch of my high school friends were also flying home for the summer, and when I expressed my anxiety to my aunt that evening, she reminded me that the feelings I was experiencing were worth it for what was on the other side of my 30+ hour journey. I have never forgotten that advice as it really helped me maintain perspective. Visualizing your destination can really help change your mindset, and if you’re lucky enough to be traveling for holiday or you’re visiting somewhere really cool, you might be surprised to find your anxiety turn into excitement when you focus on your end goal.
Change the conversation. Further to my last point above, I once read that the feelings we experience when we are anxious are very similar to those we feel when we’re excited, so rather than verbalizing how anxious you feel, change the conversation. If you’re going on vacation, talk about the things you’ll do at your destination. If you’re visiting an old pal, discuss the fun memories you’ve shared together over the years and the things you plan on doing together. If you’re traveling for work, focus on the task at hand and brainstorm how the trip will benefit your career long-term.
How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying for Good
While finding ways to decrease the anxiety you feel leading up to the moment you board your flight, and equipping yourself with strategies to remain calm while flying are important, figuring out how to get over your fear of flying for good is a much better option, particularly if air travel is (or has the potential to become) a big part of your life. If you want to get over your aerophobia once and for all, here are 4 strategies that are proven to help.
Determine the reason behind your fear. As previously mentioned, other phobias are thought to contribute to the development of a fear of flying, so the first step in figuring out how to get over your fear of flying is to get to the root of the problem. Claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights) are common phobias that lead to a fear of flying, but aerophobia can stem from so many other causes. A previous traumatic experience on a plane, fear of death and dying, social phobias, and a fear of germs and sickness can all contribute to or worsen a fear of flying.
If you’re curious to know what caused me to develop a fear of flying, I can tell you with 100% certainty that it was caused by emetophobia, or a fear of vomit. I’m serious! I have had anxiety about both myself and other people vomiting since before I can remember, and when I think back to the first time I ever flew on an airplane, I remember my mother giving my sister and me a dose of Gravol shortly before we boarded our flight. I asked her what I was taking and why I needed it since I wasn’t feeling sick at the time, and she said it would prevent me from throwing up if I became airsick. It’s amazing how such a small incident can completely change the course of your life!
Commit to exposure therapy. Once you’ve identified the WHY behind your fear of flying, exposure therapy (ET) is a great treatment method to consider. ET is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that can be very helpful to those who struggle with a specific fear or phobia. It’s usually performed over a series of 12-16 sessions, and if you want to know how to get over your fear of flying for good, exposure therapy will challenge the ‘escape/avoidance’ behaviors that maintain and intensify the phobias behind your fear.
Depending on the severity of your fear, you can try to work on exposure therapy yourself, but seeking the help of a trained exposure therapist is best. He or she will work with you to break down a specific anxiety-producing situation into several, smaller fears, and then rank them in order of intensity. The idea is to exposure yourself to each fear – starting with the least anxiety-producing situation first – and have you stay within the fear-inducing situation until your anxiety comes down. Distractions and/or avoidance behaviors are not allowed, and the exercise is repeated periodically until it no longer causes you to feel anxious. Once this occurs, the next fear-inducing situation is tackled until you’ve overcome your phobia completely.
Educate yourself. If your aerophobia has nothing to do with other phobias and everything to do with the fear of something going wrong mid-flight, taking the time to properly educate yourself on the ins and outs of aviation might prove helpful to you. The more you understand, the less fearful you’ll be, and if safety is your main concern, anxieties.com has lots of great statistics to put your might at ease, the most important being the fact that the risk of being in a fatal commercial airline accident is one in seven million (source)!
Fly more frequently. I realize this isn’t rocket science, but if you want to know how to get over your fear of flying, one of the best things you can do is fly more frequently. This may require some upfront exposure therapy with a trained professional, but research and personal experience has shown me that more is better in this scenario.
If you suffer from debilitating aerophobia like I once did, I hope this collection of tips and ideas helps to keep anticipatory stress to a minimum and enables you remain calm why flying, and that it also inspires you seek help and figure out how to get over your fear of flying for good.
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