Over 25 million Americans have a fear of flying, and I was one of them. Do you become devastatingly anxious before flights, possibly to the point of delaying family vacations, business meetings, or skipping them all together? If this describes you, then Aerophobia might be what you have.
This fear is not without some merit. Airplanes are typically cramped, sometimes warm, and you are zooming 6.8 miles above sea level at 500 mph. A host of different phobias can be triggered, making the true number of people that fear flying likely much higher.
I dreaded flying because of all the reasons listed above. My thinking would enter into a downward spiral, contemplating everything that could go wrong. Eventually, I was sure that my upcoming flight would lead to my demise. When on the plane, there’s no shortage of squeaks, bangs, and bumps to accentuate what you were already afraid of.
This may sound dire, but I was able to crawl my way out of Aerophobia, and you can too. While what I did may not work for everybody, give it a try. With the right techniques, you can overcome your fear of flying as well.
Breathing exercises may have been the most helpful step in overcoming my fear of flying. The breathing cadence that I followed was 4 seconds in, 1-second hold, 6 seconds out, 1-second hold, and repeat. This breathing technique brings you into a parasympathetic state. In other words, instead of being in fight-or-flight mode, this helps you get into a relaxed state.
I would do this in the airport when I felt anxiety creeping up on me as well as during the entirety of takeoff and landing. This would also be implemented as needed when at cruising altitude. Try to breathe with your diaphragm by pushing out your belly rather than raising your chest on the inhale.
In the beginning, I would try to focus on reassuring myself that everything would be fine, but it would often go like this:
Me: that popping noise is normal and probably happens on every flight.
Me: it definitely wasn’t a rivet on the wing failing.
Me: if a wing did fail, I wonder what would happen.
This would then be followed by me imagining the plane plummeting 36-thousand feet and how long it would take before we hit the ground.
What worked much better was to try and meditate while doing the breathing exercises. If meditating sounds too intimidating, just try to keep a clear mind without getting frustrated when thoughts come into your mind.
It is almost impossible to fully achieve a clear mind, but you can get close. If you have trouble, just focus on your breathing cadence. Give all your attention to breathing in, holding, and then breathing out. Again, I did this in the airport, on takeoff and landing as well as whenever it was needed.
(If you need extra help on changing your mindset, here is an in-depth article on how to restructure your thoughts.)
The noises and bumps you feel on a plane are all completely routine, but how would you know that without prior knowledge? I prepared myself by watching videos on what to expect while flying. Despite having flown before, this helped to clear up any confusion I had about the state of the plane.
Here is a video that I found to be particularly helpful:
Flight attendants and pilots make many flights every day without flinching. They wouldn’t do their job so nonchalantly if it were unsafe. Whenever the techniques above failed me, I would find the nearest flight attendant so that I could see them going on with their job as usual.
Normally, they would be smiling and talking to someone. They definitely wouldn’t be doing this if my assumption that the last turbulence damaged an engine were true. If you can’t find someone in uniform to look at, just observe another passenger who appears to be used to taking flights.
Unless you have much stronger willpower and personal control than me, you will likely find it hard to meditate and do the breathing exercises the entire flight. When you find yourself relaxed, immerse yourself into something that will distract you from the fact that you are on a plane.
For me, I have a hard time concentrating when I am stressed, so activities like researching, writing, or reading were off the table. However, I was able to enjoy a captivating movie or, if I wanted to be slightly productive, watching a downloaded video course also took my mind off things.
This is perfect if the flight has onboard entertainment. If it doesn’t, try downloading your favorite movies and TV shows to your laptop or mobile device. When compared to the price of a flight, a $5 movie from Amazon is well worth it.
With this technique, make sure that you don’t add extra noise and stimulation if you already have high anxiety. I’ve found that this can make it worse, so just focus on the four steps above if you can’t get somewhat comfortable.
So, here is a condensed version of the list:
(If you still want more help, here is an article on how to face your fears and overcome them.)
Aerophobia can stop your travel plans in its tracks, but you don’t have to remain a victim to it. Try to implement the techniques above. If they helped me overcome my fear of flying, they can help many of you as well.