Millions of people take to the air every year to head off on holiday, visit friends and family, or attend meetings and conferences all over the world. But for some, the very thought of flying causes heightened levels of stress and anxiety that can be hard to overcome.
Aerophobia or a fear of flying can develop after experiencing an uncomfortable flight or learning a frightening story about an accident. However, sometimes the root of the issue isn’t quite as obvious. Anxiety UK suggests fear of flying can be linked to other psychological issues such as claustrophobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or even panic attacks. Even something as common as going through a stressful personal experience can contribute to a fear of flying developing.
Whatever the root of the issue, anxiety and stress brought on by flying can be debilitating. Not only can it cause undue emotional distress on board a plane, it can cause weeks or even months of anticipatory dread leading up to the flight. For some people it can prevent air travel altogether.
Here are a few top tips that might help you cope:
Statistics may not drive those feelings of stress and anxiety away, but they do provide a logical angle from which to approach the situation. Figures from the National Safety Council estimate that the odds of dying from an air and space transport incident are 1 in 96,566, while the odds of a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 112. But of course, for those with anxiety, it is that ‘1’ which is the cause of concern.
Anxiety in the air thrives on ‘what if?’ thoughts – thoughts which can be countered with logic if you are armed with a little knowledge. Increasing numbers of airlines such as easyJet, Virgin and British Airways offer fear of flying courses designed to teach you how the aircraft stays in the air, what all those unfamiliar noises mean, why turbulence is safe, and a whole host of other useful and reassuring facts. They also offer practical advice on how best to manage anxiety on board a flight. Forewarned is forearmed – prepare yourself with cold, hard facts.
FlyHome, a company that offers classes to overcome your fear of flying, suggests that making yourself comfortable in your seat will help you to relax. Bring layers to wrap yourself in if you get cold, including some cosy socks and a thin blanket, as well as a travel pillow so that you can fully relax. It might be a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol, too – if there’s one thing worse than feeling anxious on a flight, it’s feeling dehydrated, shaky or sick as well. Drink lots of water instead.
When your mind starts wandering towards negative thoughts, don’t fight it. Instead try snapping an elastic band against your wrist and repeat a positive mantra to reassure yourself. An article on Psychology Today suggests this technique can help snap your mind from its negative path back to the positive new thoughts you have chosen to rewire your brain with.
Additionally, more traditional forms of distraction might help, too. Pack a page-turner of a book, download some movies or TV shows onto your tablet, or make a playlist of your favourite tunes so that you can plug in and block the outside world out.
Sometimes, deliberately smiling, chatting and pretending you’re fine can help convince yourself you might really be fine. Some people find that the more nervous they allow themselves to act, the more nervous they become which is why it can often seem easier to be braver for someone else than for ourselves.
Anxiety disorder charity, No Panic, recommend relaxation and breathing techniques as the foundations of coping with anxiety. When we are anxious, we tend to hyperventilate which, in turn, causes the body to tense, ready for fight or flight. By breathing deeply and relaxing the muscles, we can prove to the body that it is not in danger thus calming the symptoms of anxiety.
Mental health charity Mind suggests breathing slowing in through your nose to the count of 4, and then out through your mouth for a count of 4. Slowing your breathing will help you feel a lot calmer and increase your sense of wellbeing. You can also focus on something serene or picture yourself safely in your destination, enjoying your holiday. To find out more information on dealing with anxiety and panic attacks visit Mind.
Finally, make sure any anxieties about the practicalities of your trip are taken care of by booking the right travel insurance for your journey. Medical Travel Compared can help you find the right policy for our circumstances – one less thing to worry about. Compare travel insurance.