You know that feeling you get when you’re eagerly awaiting your flight at the airport, watching the planes take off and land… you hear your flight number being called and you get that buzz of excitement in the pit of your stomach that you’re about to take to the skies?
Well instead that’s right about the time that I’m breaking out into a sweat and wondering if there’s enough time to order another over-priced drink at the bar.
It always comes as a surprise to people that I have a fear of flying and there’s definitely a tragic irony to it: a self-confessed travel addict and blogger who’s afraid to fly. But there’s no two ways about it – travel is my passion yet the very thought of flying sends me into a meltdown.
Nevertheless, over the last 12 months I’ve somehow hyperventilated my way on to 16 different flights, clocking up over 25,000 air miles while I’m at it. It’s no easy feat but the things you do for love, eh. And travel…? Well, that’s the greatest love of all (sorry to break it to you, hubby).
So, for all you fellow travel addicts/aerophobes out there, here’s my top tips and advice for battling your fear of flying once and for all…
Allow enough time… but not too much
If you’re an anxious flyer, the last thing you need is to feel stressed before you’ve even got to the boarding gates. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the airport and through security, so that you’re not rushing at the last minute.
But that said, if you’re anything like me you don’t want to be waiting around for hours in the airport with nothing to do except stew over your impending flight, so it’s a balancing act! Make yourself a plan for the airport: whether it’s going for a meal or doing a bit of last-minute holiday shopping, make sure you have a plan to fill any “waiting around” time, so that you’re not left fretting over the thought of the flight.
Pre-book your seats
I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve skipped past the seat-selection page, when booking a flight, complaining about yet ANOTHER hidden airline cost, only to have a full-blown panic attack when I realise at check-in that I’m sat on my own, slap-bang in the middle of a row of people.
If it’s going to give you peace of mind, just swallow the cost and book yourself a seat that you’ll feel comfortable in. For me, this tends to be a window-seat quite far back in the plane, as I prefer to be able to see out – but it’s completely different for everyone. Whatever your preference, just make life easier for yourself. It’s one of the few things about flying that’s in your control, so take advantage of it!
Any way that I can temporarily forget I’m 30,000 feet up in the air with nothing but luggage below my feet is a miracle, so I make sure to bring lots of distractions along with me, especially for long-haul flights.
Personally, I don’t find films or books are always enough to completely distract me for the whole flight, so I have to be actually “doing something” most of the time (I’m a real treat to sit next to, as you can imagine). I find things like free jigsaw puzzle apps or brain-games really helpful to focus my attention. Adult colouring books are also great as a form of in-flight therapy, as are meditation apps like Headspace.
More recently, I’ve started using my air-time to plan and write my blog articles – not only is it a positive distraction but it’s also a productive use of time and reminds me why I put myself through the pain!
Keep it light-hearted
I’m a massive film and TV buff in everyday life but my pride goes completely out the window when it comes to in-flight entertainment. Now is absolutely NOT the time to switch on that disturbing thriller that’s been so well reviewed on IMDb… no, no my friend, now is the time to re-watch ‘Mean Girls’ for the 20-millionth time or to finally have an excuse to watch that awful wacky comedy with Adam Sandler in that bombed at the box office.
Trust me, it’s easy, it’s light-hearted, it’s familiar… and it will take the edge off!
Compartmentalise your flight-time
For me, my anxiety is a little more illogical than the common fear of turbulence, weird plane sounds or the general “how can an object this big POSSIBLY stay in the air?” quandary. I suffer instead from a crippling sense of claustrophobia. So the idea of being stuck inside what is ultimately a metal tin for 11 hours, with no way of getting down, is pretty much my worst nightmare (I’m getting palpitations just thinking about it now…)
How I deal with this is to break my flight down into manageable chunks of time. For example, I might plan to spend the first hour or two working on a blog article. I’ll then factor in half an hour for the meal-time and a couple more hours to watch a familiar film or TV show… I know that the descent takes 45 minutes to an hour so that’s the last hour sorted in my mind… and so on, and so on. It might sound obvious but it works.
It’s also worth remembering that flight times always include taxiing, either side, and a fair bit of buffer time. So your actual flying time is almost always shorter than you initially think. For someone desperate to get back down to solid ground, this can really help to rationalise things when you’re sky high.
Fly as regularly as you can
For most people, it’s the anxiety around flying that’s often the worst bit and this builds over time, especially if you’re not getting on a plane regularly. The fact is the more you do it, the more your body and mind will normalise the experience of flying and relax into it.
I can honestly say that since travelling more regularly, I have got a lot better at coping with my fears and have even been known to relax and enjoy certain elements of the flight, like cruising over the Alps or watching the sunrise over the desert! Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be one of those people who gushes about how incredible it is to be up in the air, but I am just about tolerating it these days, which is pretty much as good as!
Talk about it!
I debated for a long time whether or not to even post this article, as anyone who’s suffered with any kind of anxiety will know that sometimes it feels easier to just keep your fears to yourself, as a method of coping. But I believe it’s important to speak out about it and to show that something that’s so easy for others, is actually really hard for people like me.
Fear is not a weakness and it’s how you deal with it that matters. And trust me, once you start talking about it, you’ll be amazed at how many other people don’t like flying either!
If you’re flying alone, tell the person next to you that you’re an anxious flyer. This will help take some of the pressure off, in case you do have a meltdown mid-flight and are worried about drawing attention to yourself. Or if you’re prone to panic attacks, consider letting one of the cabin crew know when you board so that they know to be prepared. They deal with this stuff all the time, so they won’t be phased!
Even in those worst, mid-flight moments when your palms are sweating and your mouth is dry and you’re counting down the minutes until landing, just remind yourself that the reward is so, so sweet. To travel somewhere new and exciting and to see the world – there’s really nothing that could be more worth it. In those moments, remember that you are doing it – you’re battling your fears and sticking a finger up to anxiety in order to travel… to live.
And you should feel pretty darn proud of yourself for that.