Eight Practical, Proven Steps to Conquer Your Fear of Air Travel
1. Educate yourself
Anxiety often stems from a lack of understanding or knowledge. Nervous flyers often hear a noise or feel a sensation and, not knowing what it means, assume the worst. Learn about how planes work in order to understand exactly how the aircraft moves and functions. Your irrational or fearful thoughts will thus be limited by what you know to be real, compared with catastrophic thinking. Read up on how planes stay in the air, what causes turbulence and what noises mean what for simple ways to alleviate panic while in the air.
High levels of stress and anxiety often result in shallow breathing. Panic attacks are often caused by a lack of oxygen, so it is important to remember to take slow, deep breaths. This increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and promoting rational, calm thinking. Similarly, a stressed mind can often lead to tense muscles, even after the panic has subsided. This sense of uncomfortability increases stress, so be sure to do some stretching or deliberate muscle relaxing as and when space allows during the flight.
3. Talk to the cabin crew
If you feel comfortable talking to other people about your worries, it's a good idea to explain to the cabin crew how you're feeling. Vocalising your thoughts can help rationalise them, and talking to those in charge of the flight can make you feel safe in the knowledge that other people will be looking out for you.
4. Pre-empt your fears
If you can identity what causes your fear of flying, you can make small pre-emptive changes to tackle anxiety. If you are claustrophobic, book an aisle seat to give yourself room and ease when moving around (and avoid the scary window views). If you struggle breathing, make sure you keep the airflow on above your head to have a reassuring breeze.
5. Don't rush
Allow yourself time to calmly get through security and bag checks before the flight. Rushing through the airport increases stress and means you board the plane in a tense state, likening the possibility for more stress throughout the flight. Arrive earlier than advised to cater for long queues and other unforeseen circumstances.
6. Distract yourself
Make sure you have plenty of distractions that will last you the duration of the flight. Download music playlists and albums, good books and movies to remove the focus on your surroundings. Relaxing music and educational podcasts can be good to soothe nerves, and be sure to avoid any scary films that could heighten stress levels (particularly those about machine malfunctions or airplane crashes…)
7. Have a drink
Having a wee tipple on a flight can do wonders for the nerves. Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant, which (in moderation) can help calm the central nervous system. Similarly, other forms of sedatives can help. If your flight anxiety is severely debilitating, talk to your doctor about medication that can help, or try self-help methods such as Rescue Remedy, CBD oil or melatonin tablets. Remember to ask your doctor before taking any medication, be careful when combining drugs and make sure you remain well hydrated when drinking alcohol.
8. Seek professional help
In certain cases, self-help can only do so much. Book an appointment with your GP to discuss further options, or try therapies such as hypnosis and CBT. This can help reveal the root of your fears and work towards overcoming them. Alternatively, there are several courses and online programmes that are useful, such as British Airways' Fear of Flying course or British hypnotist Paul McKenna's book Total Flying Confidence.