For anyone who has a fear of flying, even the thought of a trip which requires a plane can be overwhelming. I fall into this category. Or I should say I used to fall into this category.
My sever anxiety for flying wasn’t always present. I grew up going on flights and not thinking much of it. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that my anxiety of flying really took hold.
I have had two bad experiences on an airplane that caused me to have this anxiety. I don’t think it is worth getting into what they were (since anyone reading this may not want to hear the stories) but needless to say they have had a huge impact on my life. So much so that it sent me into a spiral of sever depression. Thankfully I have found my way out of it, but it had a lot of consequences.
I have always been a bit of an anxious person. Social anxiety was something I struggled with long before my anxiety over flying. But it wasn’t anything that I felt took control of my life like the anxiety associated with flying.
Most people who have a fear of flying – either the fear of crashing and death (me) or the fear of a panic attack while on a plane – avoid flying as much as they can. This was not an option for me. I moved away from home at the age of 18 and I am very close to my family. The idea of not being home for holidays, weddings, funerals etc was not an option. The alternatives to flying were also not much of an option either as it was a 23 hour drive. The result – I have to fly.
At one point, I was flying around four times a year. It got to the point that my anxiety would start to get bad the day I booked my ticket. So for two months or so I would feel this anxiety. It would ramp up the closer it got to the flight and then peak when I had to fly. At the time, I didn’t think much of it other than hating the feeling. I didn’t have any idea how anxiety was really effecting my life.
Lots of people would feed me the safety statistics of flying and that there were better odds of being in a car accident than any airplane related accident. I hated that stuff. Tell that to the people who have been involved in a plane related accident. I am sure people told them the statistics as well. The idea that planes are safer than cars never “flew” with me. Bad pun!
This anxiety lead to sever depression. I didn’t realize it was happening at the time but I knew I didn’t feel right. Passing it off, I made excuses for why I felt how I did. I knew something wasn’t right but assumed it would pass. I figured I was coping with it. When I look back, I see just how wrong I was.
That is when I decided I needed to finally get some help! The following are some of the things I have learned and implemented to help me with my anxiety over flying.
Once I had my incidents, I decided to try medication. There are a lot of different anti-anxiety meds but I used Ativan. At one point I was taking two of the small pills for even a three hour flight. This is not recommended but I needed it. The result was basically being a zombie for eight hours. But it did help me calm down and usually helped me sleep. Eventually I went down to one pill which still have a calming effect. The medication, if used appropriately, can be very helpful for somebody who gets anxious on the plane. Consult your doctor to see what your options are.
This is something that has helped me a lot. I have tried to use everything at my disposal. I have a backpack full of things that can help distract my mind from what is going on around me. The most effective tool lately has been my iPad and Netflix. Since you are able to download some shows to watch offline, find something funny and as soon as you are seated, get it out and start watching. This takes your mind to the show and not the plane. I also have something to read, sometimes a word search or crossword puzzle, an interesting podcast etc. There are a lot of ways to keep your mind busy on something other than thinking about what is about to happen.
Another trick that I was told but haven’t used is to write. Have a pad of paper and a pen and write about anything. I have even heard of writing your name over and over with the opposite hand. This causes your brain to really focus and think on what you are doing.
When I first get seated on a plane I run through a couple breathing exercises. Take in a deep breathe and hold it for about five seconds before slowly releasing the air. Go through that a few times just to settle myself into the seat and bring a sense of calm to the experience. I perform the same type of breathing exercise if we hit any turbulence during the flight. By focusing on my breath I am in a sense taking a few minutes to mediate and center myself again.
If you feel a sense of panic coming on, I have heard breathing through a straw can be useful. I have never tried it but it limits the amount of airflow to the lungs which can prevent hyperventilating.
Bring your thoughts to what is right in front of you. This isn’t always easy to do but focusing on what is in the present is important. Over thinking or thinking about worst case scenarios will cause you anxiety. Looking out the window and looking at the people going about their job is being present. Focus on something you can see and think about that.
I used to be thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Being mindful and focusing on the present took me away from the negative thoughts. It is something that you may have to work on but it is a great help. See my blog on over thinking to see how thinking too much can add to the anxiety.
Whether it is with a counselor or a psychiatrist, go talk to somebody. It was always suggested to me but I always figured it was just useless. It isn’t. These people are trained to help in areas such as anxiety and fears. They know what to ask and what suggestions help. The ones I have identified above are examples but they have a way of getting to the root of issues. What is the worst thing that can happen? It doesn’t work? Big deal, at least you tried it.
By working on and utilizing these methods, I have greatly reduced my fear of flying. Am I still anxious when it comes to flying? Yea, sure. But it doesn’t totally control my life like it used to. I get excited when I book a ticket instead of total anxiety and fear. I want to travel and see the world. Without this anxiety in my life, I feel much more free and eager to live.
It is amazing how liberating it is when you are able to reduce a major anxiety from your life. I know if you are feeling how I used to, you too can get through this and enjoy traveling once again.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or want to talk about things you have tried which helped. I am always looking for more info and advice to help me with my journey. As always, check out my resources page for links to various other helpful websites.