5 tips to soothe your fear of flying

5 tips to soothe your fear of flying thumbnail
Feeling anxious when you board a plane is a common problem for many pilots. In fact, as many as 40 percent of all people experience some form of anxiety related to flying, set off by anything from fear of heights to strong bouts of turbulence or horrific stories of past disasters.

If this sounds familiar, you can rest assured that your worries are not unique. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t based in actual danger.

Get the facts

Statistically speaking, air travel is the safest form of transportation in the world. If you are comfortable driving a car, you should feel equally at ease boarding a plane. For many nervous travelers, however, this is not true. They find flying extremely safe and that it is not enough to alleviate their fears.

[Related: What an airplane’s black boxes can tell us]

Those suffering from anxiety about flying may find it more helpful to read more concrete examples that attest to the safety of air travel.

  • By 2018’s statistics, a person would have to fly every single day for more than 16,000 years before experiencing a fatal plane crash.
  • Airplanes are not just built to withstand turbulence, but they barely flinch in the face of much more significant stress. For example, the wing tips of an Airbus A350 XWB can bend up to 17 feet above their resting position without causing any damage.
  • Every flight you take is monitored by at least eight air traffic controllers: three during takeoff, three during landing, and two for each air traffic control sector your plane passes through. This means that cross-country flights can have many professionals monitoring them and helping them avoid inclement weather.
  • Airplane engines are some of the most sophisticated pieces of machinery ever built, and the likelihood of them failing is minuscule. But even if all the engines of an airplane failed at once, it could still land safely.

Know your triggers

Cold facts are helpful, but they won’t be able to calm flight anxiety. Nervous fliers should be aware of their triggers and safety statistics.

” Our ability to determine what feels safe or unsafe has nothing to do our reasoning abilities,” Martin Seif, a psychologist who specializes treating anxiety disorders, says. “Our anxieties are triggered by a part of the brain that’s not rational.”

Sief claims that “fear flying” is a broad term that covers a variety of specific fears such as those of heights and crashes, terrorist attacks, enclosed spaces, germs, and terrorism. You can reduce anxiety by focusing on the fears that are most relevant to you.

Separate danger from anxiety

” Anxiety is a feeling that you are in danger, but you’re not. Seif explains that it’s a false alarm system. “There’s nothing in this that’s rational. Every person who comes to me realizes they’re more afraid .”

It can be helpful to remind your anxious brain that flying-related thoughts are not safe. To disarm panic responses that your brain attempts to force upon you, make an effort to stay grounded.

First, think about who you know: family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Are any of them involved in a plane accident? Are they even aware of a non-fatal aviation accident that occurred? Most likely, the answer is no. This is because plane mishaps are so rare that most people don’t know anyone who has.

Then, look around at other passengers. You’ll probably see at least one small child or baby with their parents when you’re onboard a plane. If flying were as dangerous as your anxiety would have you believe, no parent would allow their child to board a plane. Flying must be safer than what you think.

Next time you’re in your car, take a half-full water bottle with you and observe how the bumps and potholes cause the water to move around violently. When you fly in turbulent conditions, keep this movement in mind. Despite the bumps being noticeable, the drinks in your cups and bottles will only move very lightly.

Flight attendants fly for a living and are familiar with the parts of each flight. Next time you feel nervous, listen to them. It’s possible that mechanical sounds, changes in altitude, alert lights inside the cabin, and other signals will not cause you alarm. You can relax if they are calm and relaxed.

Accept your anxiety

You may feel that the anxiety of being in the air is the worst part of flying, but Seif says many people experience 70 percent or more of that anxiety even before they step onto a plane. If this sounds familiar, accepting your anxious feelings is the key to regaining comfort.

” The best way to manage anxiety is to find ways to leave it alone,” says Seif. “Anxiety lives somewhere in the future. The closer you are to the present, the easier it is to manage your anxiety.”

Try not to dwell on your anxiety before you fly. Nervous fliers often fear flying. However, we have no control over how we feel or what we do in this moment. Use your five senses to connect with the present moment and accept that anxiety will come when the flight happens.

Avoid using mind-altering substances such as alcohol to self-medicate anxiety at the airport. They can dull your senses but not address the root cause. Accept your anxious feelings and refrain from engaging in them. To remind yourself that you are safe, you can use the facts above.

[Related: Choose the best seat on any airplane]

You will feel the physical effects of increased anxiety once you board the plane. This could include sweaty palms and tight shoulders. Your body is sending a false alarm to tell you that danger is approaching. But it isn’t. Try to make your body feel as comfortable as possible. Drink water and eat as normal. Use any entertainment in-flight to distract your brain from disturbing thoughts.

When you land, take note of how easy and comfortable your flight was in comparison to what you had feared. This is a good opportunity to reflect on your mental process. You expected to feel anxious, but you felt anxious, and then you were relieved by landing safely at your destination.

Seek professional help

A small percentage of people have a truly debilitating fear of flying that can be classified as aviophobia, an officially recognized anxiety disorder and one of the most common phobias. Professional help is the best option if your fear of flying is affecting your daily life.

Many therapists have the training to diagnose and treat anxiety disorders using a combination medication, talk therapy, and practical exercises. It’s time to seek professional help if you are dreading flying or cancelling trips because of your anxiety. Although there is no magic bullet that will instantly eliminate anxiety, professional guidance can help you turn flying from a chore into an exciting adventure.

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