I’ve never been afraid of flying, but last year I took a flight that was struck by severe turbulence and it felt extremely frightening. Of course, we landed safely, but the experience brought me to tears. Now I’m due to fly home in a month’s time and the thought of it is sending me into a panic. Is there any way I can overcome this?
This is not an uncommon problem and it’s something I help clients with regularly. Even though flying is a very safe form of travel, some people can’t stop themselves from feeling there is something totally unnatural about being so high up in the air.
The fear you experienced with the turbulence has caused you to enter a ‘fight or flight’ situation where the body’s natural instincts take over. However, you were also probably acutely aware at the time that there was nothing you could actually do about the situation, being a passenger and being strapped in. This probably compounded those feelings, leaving a lasting sense of anxiety that has now come back to the forefront of your mind with another flight looming.
There is much you can do to overcome this situation. You could seek out a professional ‘fear of flying’ programme or coach, but there are also strategies you can employ yourself to rebuild your confidence.
First, try to unpick what specific worry is triggering your anxiety. Many people assume the fear is associated with crashing or dying and this may be the case, but it is often caused by a fear of feeling the panic itself, of losing control and not being able to escape. It sounds to me as if you have created a catastrophic scenario in your head and this is causing you to repeatedly ask those ‘what if?’ questions that keep the fear at the forefront of your mind. If you can work out what is turning your ‘fear dial’ up, you can also begin to take control of turning it down.
Being in possession of the facts about flying will also help to reassure you, so do your research about the statistics associated with air travel and you’ll realise that your chance of being in a plane crash is about one in 10 million and that the feeling of turbulence is normal – a bit like going over a bump in the road in a car, something that most of us don’t bat an eyelid about. Anxiety has a way of playing tricks on our ability to keep things in perspective, so being able to counter that with the reality will help.
Acceptance is also an important part of dealing with anxiety. Fighting it makes those feelings so much bigger. Accepting the discomfort anxiety brings and working to relax through it will reduce rather than escalate your panic.
Anticipating your anxiety and having strategies to deal with it is also important when it comes to taking back control. Plan ahead and think about how you will act in each situation, running a positive video in your head as opposed to a disaster movie. By this I mean think about each small step of the journey, from packing, to arriving at the airport, to waiting to board, and have distractions planned so you can manage your fear.
Music can help, but my ‘Stop and Leave’ technique is very effective too. This involves noticing each time you enter catastrophe thought mode and telling yourself to ‘stop’. Then visualise yourself at your destination enjoying the pleasures of relaxing on the beach or feeling happy spending time with family and friends. This is the ‘leave’ part and it retrains your brain to start to believe in the fact that you will survive the flight and enjoy the rewards of taking it.
Do it one flight at a time, follow your panic management plan and you’ll be flying without fear in no time.