by Jemma Taylor-Smith
I find it rather ironic that I have a fear of flying. I’ve travelled by plane from a young age, have been to lots of different countries and have a real passion for travel. However, it doesn’t matter how many flights I do, the fear never leaves. I suppose you can’t choose what you’re afraid of.
I’ve had a massive fear of flying since I was quite young. I’m not sure exactly what caused it or even if there was a trigger at all, but I do know that whatever I’ve tried it’s always there.
It’s completely irrational and it makes flying a really awful experience. I find it difficult to relax and basically become a nervous wreck! There have been times when I’ve been sobbing and desperate to get off (not ideal when you’re halfway over the Atlantic Ocean!).
Over the years, I have learnt to deal with it better (most of the time anyway). I refuse to let it stop me exploring the world, so I have no choice but to try and get it under control as much as possible.
I’ve tried lots of different things over the years and thought I’d put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and share some of my tips for helping to deal with a fear of flying. Not everything I suggest will work for everyone, but I always think it’s worth giving things a try, after all you’ve got nothing to lose.
Information, information, information
Part of my fear is that it just doesn’t seem logical that such a huge, heavy object can fly in the sky. To help with this I’ve read lots of information on the principles of flight and what causes turbulence. When the fear strikes, I try to use this to help me rationalise (more on this in a minute). Here are some books/sites that you might find useful:
For me the worst part of flying is taking off, although turbulence comes a very close second. Through my research and reading (see above), I’ve learnt that turbulence is not dangerous and that what feels like a big drop, is actually only a few foot. Now when I encounter turbulence I try and refer back to this information and remind myself that it’s all OK!
OK, now I know most articles of this nature probably recommend steering well clear of booze, but I’m a firm believer of “whatever works”! If it helps you to relax a little I’m all for it! Just be careful not to get too carried away that your absolutely legless and they don’t let you on the plane! It’s also probably not advisable if you have little ones in tow (or maybe it is, if you’re able to hand over responsibility to your other half!).
Fear of flying courses
Some of the major airlines offer one or two-day fear of flying courses. On these courses, a team of experts, usually including a psychologist and a pilot, spend time with you explaining the principles of flight, the different things you’re likely to encounter at different points during the flight and addressing any specific things that worry you. You generally conclude the programme with a flight where you’ll hopefully feel much better than before. I’ve never been on one of these, but it’s something that I’d love to try as I think it would really make a difference.
Before we had the kids, my fear was so bad that I would sometimes get so carried away on a plane that those seated around me would start to panic too (“I think the engine’s on fire” is not really the best thing to say when taking off – turns out it was just air vapour!). At that point I knew that trying to manage my fear myself wasn’t happening, so I sought advice from a doctor who prescribed me some diazepam. It may seem a bit extreme to resort to Valium, but I can assure you that it absolutely did the trick. Since having kids, I don’t take it anymore as I can’t really zonk out and ignore them for a few hours. Although maybe now that they’re getting older…
Not one I’ve ever tried, as I’m a bit scared of the idea. However, I know that for some people it has really helped them overcome fears and addictions.
I personally struggle with mindfulness. However, I know that loads of people find it really helpful. One app that has been suggested is the Headspace app, which might be helpful if you think this technique could work for you.
Reading, watching a movie, playing a game. Try and find something that will help take your mind off flying and distract you from what’s happening around you. I find that reading or watching a film really helps. It passes the time too. For me, travelling with the kids proves to be a great distraction as I’m so busy getting them sorted. Although now that they’re slightly older, I’m finding they’re not quite as demanding as they used to be. Whilst on the whole this is good, it does mean that my fear isn’t quite as controlled as it was when they were little.
Pre-booking your seat
For some people, me included, being able to see out of the window is quite important. I like to know what’s happening and looking out of the window bizarrely helps me feel more in control. It’s reassuring to see that we are still high in the clouds if it gets a bit bumpy.
If you have a fear of flying, I hope that you’ll try some of the techniques listed above and I really hope they help. I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely calm and relaxed when flying and no doubt I’ll always feel a sense of relief as the wheels touch the runway. But as long as my fear doesn’t stop me from travelling, then that’s OK.