While for some, flying is part and parcel of the excitement of going on holiday, for many – no matter how exciting the destination – even the thought of getting on a plane can bring on immense stress and anxiety. A survey published last year, by travel site eDreams, revealed more than a quarter of the UK public (28%) admit they’re afraid of flying.
There’s no need to suffer in silence, however, or abandon those travel dreams entirely. Here are nine things that can help if you’re an anxious flyer…
“Have distractions with you, such as books, movies you can watch, music to listen to, or even distract yourself talking to others,” suggests holistic health and wellness coach Tara Jackson (www.tarajackson.co.uk). “Make sure you have enough for the length of your flight and that they are things you really enjoy in general.”
Some people swear by the benefits of essential oils, and lavender is well-known for its relaxing qualities. “Having lavender essential oil, or something smelling of lavender with you, can help to keep you calm,” says Jackson. Sipping a camomile tea – shown to help soothe nerves – at the airport before boarding might be a good idea too.
“Your GP should be your first port of call for any health concern, including anxiety. Psychological health issues are important and just as treatable as physical problems, so don’t be shy about talking to a doctor if you’re worried about flying,” says Dr Adam Simon, chief medical officer at PushDoctor.co.uk, the UK’s leading GP video consultation service. “The key to dealing with pre-flight nervousness is getting comfortable in your own mind about the flying experience. A doctor will be able to help you discover the triggers for your anxiety and show you some techniques that’ll help you stay calm and not let your fears get the better of you.” While some people do take prescription medications for anxiety - including to help cope with a flight - Dr Simon notes this isn’t generally a first solution and it’s usually advisable to explore other options and talk it through first.
“Deep breathing exercises are one of the most common coping methods we can recommend. A feature of a panic attack is feeling as though you can’t breathe, so coaching yourself to take deep, slow breaths when anxiety creeps in is a good strategy,” says Dr Simon. Deep breathing’s proven to have a rapid beneficial effect, helping calm a racing pulse. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube and meditation apps that can guide you through deep-breathing techniques, but it needn’t feel complicated. As Jackson explains, it can be as simple as “breathing in slowly through your nose, and holding it, then breathing out slowly through your mouth”. Think about practising some deep-breaths in the run-up to your trip, as well as before and during the flight if nerves hit.
Certain food and drink substances can affect your hormones, which can be bad news if you’re anxious. Go easy on the caffeine, and while it’s tempting to think enjoying some wine/spirits/beer might help numb your worry or take your mind off it, alcohol can actually make symptoms worse. Make sure you eat well and are not hungry, and keep well hydrated with plenty of water; both will help you feel tip-top, physically and psychologically.
Planning ahead carefully – ensuring all your paperwork’s sorted, packing your suitcase in advance and planning your journey to the airport and allowing plenty of time to get there – will help nurture a sense of calm. You might think sitting in an airport lounge for hours is a terrible idea, but a mad dash means your stress hormones will spike, and this will do your anxiety levels no favours. So take a gentle, relaxed approach.
Remember, being an anxious flyer is probably far more common than you think, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Keeping it hidden can sometimes make anxiety feel worse: just saying your fears out loud can help take the edge off them, and it may be a relief to share and discover you’re not the only one. Plus, people might be able to offer some helpful reassurance and understanding if you’re on edge.
If turbulence is a big worry for you, it’s a good idea to try and request a seat nearer the front (this isn’t always possible of course, but it’s worth enquiring, or asking at the check-in desk if you’re there early enough), as turbulence tends to be felt less here.
If your fear of flying becomes very severe, and turns into a full-blown phobia, remember there are still lots of therapies out there designed to help. British Airways, for instance, has been running ‘Flying with Confidence’ courses for some time now www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/travel-assistance/flying-with-confidence, with great results reported. There are also things like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and hypnotherapy is now widely used to treat a range of phobias. If you’d rather start with less expensive and time-consuming options, it’s worth exploring some of the apps available. Earlier this year, SkyGuru was launched – an app designed to calm anxious flyers by explaining exactly what’s happening throughout the flight, developed by pilot and psychologist Alex Gervash, director of the Flying Without Fear aerophobia research and treatment centre.
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