How to overcome a fear of flying

Whether it's the initial take-off, the landing, turbulence or just being 20,000 feet in the air, not much can cause you to dread a holiday more than a fear of flying. The good news is that people suffering flight anxiety are not alone and there's plenty of support out there. Around 10% of the world's population suffer from flight anxiety, that's roughly 700 million people! It's also been reported that at least one in four Britons feel a level of discomfort when flying. 

With so many people feeling anxious about flying, here's a quick look at why people get nervous on planes and some top tips from experts and anxious fliers about how to handle your flying fear.

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What is flight anxiety?

The level of anxiety towards flying varies from person to person. Some people can travel the world with a flying fear, not enjoying the flights involved but coping with their own different degrees of discomfort during the flight. For many, there are certain stages of the flight which cause more fear than others and many more still find themselves in a vicious circle of getting anxious about their fear of flying. 

How to overcome a fear of flying

The most common elements of flying that provoke anxiety include: 

  • Fear of the plane crashing
  • No sense of control
  • A sense of claustrophobia
  • Take off/landing and air pressure change
  • Turbulence and/or bad weather

As the causes of flight anxiety are quite different, they are often grouped into 'external' and 'internal' losses of control. 

  • External loss of control: Anxiety develops over physical elements such as turbulence, bad weather or worrying about a fault with the plane. 
  • Internal loss of control: Anxiety about losing control of emotions (including panic attacks, hysteria, feeling claustrophobic) whilst on the flight becomes associated with a fear of flying. 

 

What the experts say

Due to the number of people suffering from flying anxiety, there is lots and lots of advice on how to deal with it. Experts all have their own theories and best practices, however most agree that the following tips are a good place to start: 

Eat before you fly

Low blood sugar will only increase physical symptoms such as dizziness and can heighten feelings of stress and tiredness. Being dehydrated will increase your chances of a headache and stress so make sure you drink plenty of water before your flight. Avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks that can put you on edge before flying. A chamomile tea or chewing on mint gum can help settle your stomach if you're worried about sickness. 

Distract yourself

Whether it's a book, Kindle, iPad, movie, game, puzzle or speaking to the person next to you, find something that will get your brain thinking about something else other than obsessing over your fear. 

Sleep

Many fliers with anxiety find the easiest coping strategy is to just switch off. Some experts recommend sleeping aids, like pills, whereas others suggest herbal remedies like Kalms or Rescue Remedy. There is some indecision over alcohol too, you may find a small glass quells your nerves but if you think a drink might exaggerate your fear, it's best to avoid it. Wear comfortable clothes that don't restrict you at all. However you get there, sleeping is a great way to make a flight go faster without worrying about anxiety. 

Ask questions

Cabin staff will have seen and helped plenty of nervous fliers. If you're worried about a particular noise or an unsteady wing, ask the cabin staff questions. They will be happy to dispel any fears and reassure you. 

Get to the airport early

You might be tempted to avoid getting to the airport early, thinking that the less time you have to think about flying the better. However, getting through the airport can be stressful enough, especially if you're in a rush and for fliers with anxiety it's best to board the plane in as calm a state as possible. Once you've dealt with check-in, getting your luggage weighed and going through security, make sure you have time to prepare mentally for your flight. 

You can find more advice and information on Anxiety UK which has a great section on aerophobia:  Anxiety UK: Fear of flying  

Tips from anxious fliers

"Choose an aisle seat. If claustrophobia is the source of your anxiety, an aisle seat can provide a more open feeling. And if you're afraid of heights, it's best to not have to look out the window."

John Miller, writer for healthytravelblog.com 

 

"Bring a photo of your destination. Visualizing your destination and imagining yourself there can be a powerful antidote to stress-and can help keep you focused on the prize at the end of the journey"  

Kaeli Conforti, editor at budgettravel.com  

 

"I have a small amount of fear when I fly so I have to mentally prep and make sure I don't let my mind run away with bad thoughts!"  

Stella Bayles, frequent flier 

 

"During take-off and turbulence I find the best thing to do is a mixture of going to a calm place and thinking of the sheer number of uneventful flights and the physics and technology involved. A mixture of logic and meditation works (sort of!) for me."

Simon Collard, flies 2-4 times a year 

 

"Feeling out of control is horrible on a flight. I concentrate on the different films available on the flight and enjoying the food and drinks!"  

Katie Elizabeth, flies 2-4 times a year 

 

 

Date published 01/10/2013

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