Living with anxiety – The fear of flying

“Hi, my name is Claire, I am a travel lover and blogger and I am afraid of flying…”

I am part of the Afraid of Flying Anonymous which has been a real curse my entire adult life.

Living with anxiety - The fear of flying

My fear started in 2002, I was a teenager and I was going on a school trip to the US. It was my first ever long-haul flight and my first trip that far without my family. I had only flown once before when I was 6 and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, this time my trip was also only 6 months after 9-11. A combination of all the images I had seen on TV, a very anxious mother and my lack of familiarity with flying triggered something deep and terrifying in me.

I didn’t sleep the nights before, constantly thought with dread about the flights to come and teared up at the boarding gate. The flights went well, the trip was great, yet I couldn’t shake that fright off me. It was like if my body temperature was dropping just thinking about being on a plane. That was it, I was afraid of flying…

Since then I have hated it. I start thinking about the flight the week before it happens. I dream about it on the lead up to it too, and often the outcome isn’t ideal (read: nightmare)… I get very snappy at home. I am basically a child-poster for travel-induced anxiety.

Which is very ironic as travelling is my favourite thing to do (minus the flight part). I even started a blog about my adventures! This fear makes me feel at time bipolar – one minute I am fine, the next one I tear up because the seatbelt sign is on.

My fear gets very physical too. Once on the plane I shake, my hands get very cold yet my armpits are like fountains (too much information?). I look at any sign of panic from the staff, listen to all announcements from the captain and religiously read and watch the safety brief.

At first, I thought the main reason I was scared was because being in a tin box up in the air seemed like the least natural thing to do. With nothing holding us to the floor how could that even be safe? After a few hours of therapy and hypnotherapy, it became apparent that my fear wasn’t related to flying but the fact that if anything happens I will be very aware of it for a good few minutes. To put it bluntly: I am afraid to die and be aware that it is happening.

I know about the stats, the fact that it is the safest way to travel and that there are more chances to have a car accident. Blah, blah, blah… I am very aware that my fear is irrational but like any anxiety induced reaction there is no logic to it. It is all in my head yet I cannot shake it off. It lingers in my blood until the wheels touch the ground.

I have worked on it though, as I refuse for this phobia to take over my life and prevent me from doing one of the things I like the most. The good news is that I have gotten better, so there is hope!

Hypnotherapy helped a lot. I was sceptical about it and you have to find the right therapist, but once you do, it can actually work wonders! I also do take a calming pill on short flights and a sleeping one on long ones. Why suffering in silence when modern medicine can help? So if it is a real problem for you, talk to your doctor and they should be able to help you. I try to meditate too, which has been proven useful even though I am not great at it.

Finally, I stick to a very rigid routine leading up to the flight, so I know exactly what and when my triggers will be and I manage them better. I arrive at the airport early, I give myself a bit of time to shop and if I can I relax in a lounge with a drink before boarding. I am not encouraging you to drink but just to find a comforting routine to help you, as my therapist once told me “There should be no discomfort, so if you need an extra blanket, ask for it before the takeoff.”

Anxiety can be a lonely state to be in so I have asked some fellow travel bloggers who are afraid of flying to share their stories below. We are not alone and that is probably the most comforting thought!

Living with anxiety - The fear of flying

Rio from Opposite Tourists

When did you start being afraid of flying?

When I was 17 I went on a family holiday to Australia and New Zealand. The entire flight there and back I couldn’t sleep for fear that something might happen. When we returned home I vowed never to go on a plane again and didn’t until I was almost 21.

What scares you the most about flying?

That the plane will fall out of the sky. I’m most scared at take-off as I have this dread feeling every time that the plane won’t make it. Once we’re in the air I’m relatively okay and can then relax.

And what helps you manage your fear?

I’ve taken medication for it in the past but what helps the most now is meditation. The night before I’ll meditate and during the flight I make sure to do my breathing exercises. This will sound strange but I also watch Air Crash Investigation. For some reason knowing what could go wrong and how rare it helps me rationalise my fears.

Katerina from It’s all trip to me

When did you start being afraid of flying?

The first time I was really scared was during a flight from Athens to Leros Island in the Dodecanese back in 2011. It was very windy so the flight was really bumpy. The fact that I was on a DASH plane, those tiny propeller aircraft, didn’t help me feel better. I’d say that this added to the overall unpleasant experience I had.

What scares you the most about flying?

When I’m in the air, fear and helplessness get the better of me. I have this unbearable feeling that, if something goes wrong, there is little to no chance of survival. I think that not being able to control the situation, knowing that there is little or nothing I can do in other words, is what scares me the most.

And what helps you manage your fear?

These past few years I’ve tried many ways which I thought would help me feel better during flights. Some of them, like alcohol or light sedatives, turned out to be useless or even disastrous as they made me feel even worse. I follow a homoeopathic treatment and also take flower remedies but I don’t really believe they make much of a difference either. I have concluded that what helps me the most is keeping my mind busy. So watching an episode of my favourite series on my iPad is the most effective way I have dealt with my anxiety so far. Yet I still find it difficult to relax even with the slightest movement of the aircraft; I’m thinking of trying meditation at some point. Seeing the world is my passion and I dream of the day that I will finally be able to enjoy every aspect of my travels, including flights.

*****

I hope this post will help anyone who is afraid of flying feel less lonely and a bit more normal. For those of you who are lucky enough to not be afraid of it (aka the majority of the population), I hope this gave you an insight into why some people are afraid of flying on how you can help them cope with it as it is a very vulnerable situation to be in.

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