For many people, knowing that flying is safer than driving isn't enough to conquer the fear that rages through them at the idea of climbing onto a plane. The idea of being so high up, the thought of being completely out of control if an emergency does occur, or the potential for terrorist attacks combine to make many people highly uncomfortable the moment they step onto a plane. If you're one of those individuals who struggles with anxiety or outright fear at the thought of flying, take heart! There are several strategies that can make flying easier for you on those occasions when you have no choice but to get on a plane.
Understand the Reason Behind the Fear of Flying
Some of the most difficult fears to overcome are those that feel completely and utterly irrational. Logically, you know that the plane is perfectly safe and that the odds of anything happening to you are slim. Once you're soaring above the ground, however, no rational discussion of the risks is going to make you feel better. Understanding the reason behind your fear, however, can give you something concrete to hold onto and provide you with the basis for beginning to deal with your fear.
One of the primary reasons many individuals fear flying is because of the way the media sensationalises the act of flying and all the accidents, injuries, and emergencies that can occur. The prevalence of movies in which planes crash, are hijacked, or experience other emergencies is staggering, especially if you're already afraid of what's going to happen once you're up in the plane. Avoiding these movies and media coverage of crashed planes is one solid step you can take to reducing your fear, particularly prior to taking a flight.
Other reasons you might struggle with fear of flying include previous trauma, recent accomplishments or life stages that have caused you to acknowledge and fear your own mortality, personality traits like an unwillingness to turn over control to someone else, and problems with or being trapped in crowds. Some people also fear planes because they subconsciously anticipate the discomfort that comes along with flying: cramped seats, pressure changes, nausea, and other issues.
Learn to Replace the Panic!
There are courses and programs dedicated specifically to helping people reduce their fear of flying and learning how to deal with those negative associations when they do show up. These courses take time to be effective because they deal with the subconscious. At their heart, however, these courses do three things.
1: They help you understand the reason for things that cause fear.
From a few bumps in the sky to the different sounds made by the engines, you'll be given an overview of how the plane works and why those distressing things aren't really causing problems. It can, for example, be helpful to acknowledge that turbulence, while uncomfortable, doesn't actually cause any safety issues for the plane; it just makes it a little bouncy and keeps you from drinking from a glass without the potential for it to end up all the way down your front.
2. They replace negative associations with positive ones. Producing oxytocin helps shut down or suppress the amygdala, which is responsible for producing the hormones that send panic flooding through your body. Positive visualization can help induce oxytocin, whether you use the female method of picturing a snuggling or nursing baby or turn to the male sex imagery to induce this change in hormones.
3. They explain exactly how the plane works and how safety features keep you from experiencing any of the negative consequences you're imagining.
When you have a better understanding of how the plane works, you feel less out of control and unprotected while you're in it, which can help reduce the fear response. Understanding that there are plenty of features, that the planes are inspected regularly to ensure that they are safe, and that accidents in the air really are comparatively rare can go a long way toward achieving peace of mind in the air.
Some courses also provide desensitization training: video games, virtual situations similar to being in the plane, visits to the airport or hangar, and even short flights can all slowly reduce fear as they turn flying from the unfamiliar and frightening into something familiar. As it ceases to be uncomfortable and unknown, flying becomes much more mundane. As a result, you no longer have a fear response to the situation.
The Problem with Anti-Anxiety Medication and Self-Medicating
Some people turn to alcohol to get them through their fear of flying, drinking until they're safely back on the ground again. Others attempt to use anti-anxiety medications prescribed by their doctors for the same result. Unfortunately, these methods aren't nearly as effective as those who have a long-held fear of flying would like to believe–and they can even backfire. When you chemically suppress your fear, you aren't able to face it head-on, to deal with it, or ultimately to conquer it. Frequent flyers, in particular, are better off turning to more practical, long-term methods for handling their fears.
While anti-anxiety medication may appear to provide a quick fix, in some cases, it can make the situation worse. Because the anxiety is very real and your fear response is associated with events around you, a panic attack can occur even through the pills. Worse, you aren't expecting it, nor are you prepared to deal with it, which can make it more difficult to calm down after the attack.
Learning to overcome a fear of flying takes time, patience, and effort. It may never be your favorite form of travel. As you become less sensitive, however, you can learn to bear flights when necessary, remaining calm even through turbulence, bad weather, and the worst of seatmates. Eventually, you may even reach a point where your biggest worry is whether or not your luggage will arrive safely at the same time you do–a major milestone in the life of any fearful flyer.