How to Overcome the Fear of Flying
Generally, a fear of flying is a relatively normal experience to have – mild turbulence can make even the most seasoned flyer’s stomach churn.
Fear of flying, or pteromerhanophobia, is one of the most common phobias affecting the adult population, it’s right up there with arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and acrophobia (fear of heights). While many of us will experience some level of anxiety associated with flying, those who suffer pteromerhanophobia will often exhibit symptoms of a panic attack; for example breathlessness, nausea, and light-headedness which can result in a full blown panic attack. The fear of flying is usually associated with other phobias like claustrophobia and agoraphobia and is rarely due to trauma from past flying experiences. Like many phobias the fear is irrational but unfortunately for sufferers this explanation offers little comfort, as they’re unable to reason themselves out of it. But there are ways to ease and even eliminate the fear, starting with facing it head on.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
For very serious cases, therapy is the most effective way to completely eliminate the phobia or at least help to manage it. If your fear gets in the way of you experiencing overseas travel it is worth addressing it with a professional therapist. Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on evidence that shows that repeated and controlled exposure to the fear trigger will eventually help to overcome that fear. Fear of flying is very much anticipatory anxiety and often occurs before the individual is even on the aircraft. Therapy includes techniques to help manage anxiety before and during flight, relaxation techniques, breathing techniques and cognitive restructuring, or changing the way an individual thinks about flying. Exposure therapy can be experienced on a simulation aircraft and it is a proven way to successfully treat flight phobia. However, not everyone will have a fear serious enough to warrant spending a lot of money on therapy. You can attempt to overcome it on your own, but it will most certainly require you to step into a plane!
Take a short flight
If you don’t fly regularly, or have never flown in your entire life, your fear of flying may be amplified from sheer lack of experience. Try taking short trips with someone you trust, such as a family member (preferably someone who is not anxious about flying!). An hour flight is quite short and a good place to start for inexperienced flyers. Gradually, with the right amount of exposure you will become used to flying and become more confident to fly for longer periods.
Practise correct breathing techniques
Most people who have suffered a panic attack will complain of feeling like they are unable to breathe. In fact, they are breathing just not the right way. In a state of panic, a person tends to breathe very quick, short breaths which lead to that feeling of light-headedness. Excessive breathing (hyperventilation) can upset the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood stream. Anyone who has ever tried to blow out too many candles at once knows what that dizzying sensation feels like!
Discuss with your doctor or health care professional about the best breathing technique for you. It’s important to practise these techniques regularly so that you can get used to them and perform them correctly when you feel the onset of a panic attack.
Realise that flying is a routine matter
In Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, she claims that her husband’s deathly fear of flying was the reason they decided to travel to Bermuda for their honeymoon by cruise ship. Upon returning to the ship, a fire had ignited in the engine room, leaving 1,500 passengers fearing for their lives, ready to jump ship. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the fires were extinguished, but it is this not-so-subtle irony that supports the case for flying.
The chance of a flying accident are so much less than road vehicle accidents, but few people have a fear of driving. Thousands of flights depart from countries all over the world every single day with no incidents. Planes follow a set flight path and the likelihood of an accident is extremely low. Thinking rationally, the fear of flying is practically unjustified.
Eat lightly before you board
For those who get a bit of an upset stomach before a flight, you’re more likely to feel sick if you have a big meal before flying. Instead, have your meal when you are well into your flight. Meals on planes are designed to be light so that passengers don’t feel ill, or go to the restroom too often. Your fear of flying may not be completely eliminated by avoiding food before your flight, but reducing the chance of feeling sick will help you cope better if you do start feeling anxious.
There are medications available that can help quell nausea during take-off. They may not be available over the counter so make sure you talk to your GP or health professional before you leave. They may prescribe you something to either help calm you down, or prevent nausea.