By: Devin Morrissey
Intellectually we know that flying on an airplane is the safest way to travel, but that’s not much consolation for people with a fear of flying — or aviophobia. Often the stress, anxiety, and panic attacks associated with air travel stem from fears related to enclosed spaces, crowds, and heights. Other travelers are worried about crashes and hijackings.
Learning more about what’s causing your fear is a first step in overcoming aviophobia. You have the power to take control of your fear and not let it prevent you from going on vacation or business travel. If all else fails, and you’re simply traveling to visit family over the holidays, you could always take a road trip. But if driving simply isn’t an option, here are some tips for nervous fliers:
Read a Practical Guide or Take a Course
If your fear of flying is pretty severe and taking a toll on you physically and mentally, there are professional resources available through many airlines. British Airways, Virgin, Air France and EasyJet are a few airlines that offer courses and workshops led by a team of psychologists, pilots and crew who guide participants through all aspects of air travel and how to handle situations to give you more confidence. The courses usually include a short flight to put what you’ve learned into practice.
If you don’t have the money for a class, you could buy a book like “Flying With Confidence” by British Airways, which aims to “take the terror out of common flight fears; includes techniques for controlling anxiety, claustrophobia, and panic; and will help you feel safe, calm, and secure when you next take to the skies.”
Learn How Airplanes Work
Take-off, landing and turbulence are anxiety-inducing experiences for fearful fliers. Knowing how planes are designed to handle these aspects of flight is a good way to arm yourself with facts.
“A good knowledge about airplanes, how they work, what causes the sounds you hear during the flight, why we experience physiological sensations such as blocked ears, and how the crew are trained for their job really helps to ground the awareness that you’re in good hands, on a safe mode of transport,” writes Maria Cohut for Medical News Today.
If you can manage your anxiety and take steps to anticipate it, you won’t be as focused on how bad the turbulence could get, when it will end, or predicting your own doom. Part of that process is learning what’s really going on mechanically with the airplane and that you are safe.
Safety is the driving force behind every regulation, inspection, qualification, and training requirements involved with aircraft, flights, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Aircraft maintenance checks are done every 500-800 hours of flying for check A, every three to six months for check B, and every 15 to 21 months for check C — some of which take three weeks to complete. The most detailed inspection is check D on a large aircraft that requires two months to complete.
The one thing you can do physically to help relieve anxiety symptoms before they take over is to practice a breathing exercise. Anyone who’s had a panic attack or experiences constant anxiety probably has a favorite. One example is the 4-7-8 technique: Inhale through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale through your mouth while counting silently to eight. You can repeat the cycle until you feel calmer and your heart rate slows down.
“There are various techniques you can use, but the main goal is to slow your breathing down and focus on the exhale rather than inhale, because as you panic, your breathing gets shallow and fast, prolonging the state of panic,” writes Anna Codrea-Radoto for Fodor’s Travel. “One trick is to breathe out fully first before inhaling. Then breathe in deeply, hold it for a couple of seconds, and breathe out completely. Keep doing this until the panic passes.”
You’ll hear people joke about having a drink to take the edge off. This isn’t recommended for people with anxiety. And you definitely should not mix alcohol with an anti-anxiety medication.
The best ways to deal with fear of flying involve figuring out what is causing your anxiety, educating yourself with flight facts, using self-soothing techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy, and talking to people who understand and can help.
If the thought of getting on an airplane is still overwhelming and you don’t need to go anywhere over the holidays, maybe the ultimate staycation is calling your name.