With age, I have become increasingly fearful of flying.
In clinical terms, this is described as a phobia, which is an irrational but intense fear or aversion. Flying phobias can be perpetuated by many factors, including claustrophobia, fear of having a panic attack on a plane, fear of heights, fear of a plane crash, terrorist hijackings, or panic at the idea that you don’t have control of the aircraft that’s carrying you.
If, like me, you are determined to not let your fear of flying get in the way of your travelling goals, here are some tips and facts that can help alleviate your stress:
As anxiety increases, breathing can become shallow and breaths can shorten, which perpetuates panic. Deep breathing and mindfulness strategies can be an instant stress reliever. Of course, it’s important to practice mindful breathing beforehand while still on the ground. A meditation app can be very useful for this.
Know the Facts.
Knowledge is power. Air travel is the safest mode of transportation. In fact, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than get into a plane crash. It’s important to have the facts to challenge your assumptions. Speak to a pilot and learn about the mechanics of a flight.
According to a study at Harvard University, the chances of dying in a car crash is 1 in 5,000 and in a plane crash, it’s 1 in 11,000.
Most aviation incidents are not fatal. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 95% of people survive after aircraft accidents.
Commercial Aircrafts go through extensive testing before they’re sold to airlines. Airlines want planes to fly safely just as much as you do. If they don’t, nobody will buy them.
Turbulence is safe and natural! It’s just a plane gliding into an air pocket. If you want to avoid turbulence, try booking flights early morning or close to sunset when the sun isn’t heating the earth's surface and creating a less stable atmosphere.
Small popcorn, please!
It can be helpful to distract yourself while feeling anxious on a flight. Listen to a movie, podcast, or read a captivating book. Immerse yourself in an enjoyable activity.
Although the idea of a cocktail or a glass of wine can be appealing on a flight, try to stay away from alcoholic beverages and stick to hydrating liquids. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and make you feel unsettled.
Talk to a professional.
If you have a flying phobia, it can be helpful to seek professional help around 2-6 weeks before your flight. You can then create a “cheat sheet” with your therapist and bring it on the flight to remind you of your coping strategies or “self statements.”
I hope you find these tips helpful before your next journey. Repeated exposure with helpful coping strategies is a key ingredient in making a phobia become more manageable.
Rebecca Herberman is a clinical therapist at our Toronto clinic.