While many of us spend the summer excitedly counting down the seconds until we down tools, fire up the out of office and head to warmer climes for a fortnight, for those with a flying phobia the holiday countdown can be an anxious time.
Rather than looking forward to holidays abroad, fearful flyers can spend weeks dreading their upcoming flight and frantically trying to find ways to avoid boarding that plane (Acccctually, I fancy a nice 3-day car journey to Morocco instead – it sounds far more relaxing! See you all there...)
But flying without fear is a possibility, even for the most nervous among us. We’ve scoured the internet and grilled the psychologists to bring you the 10 most effective ways to make you a comfortable, and calm, flyer.
Preparation is key
Each fearful flyer has their own set of tools to get through a flight. Some sit by the window and stare at the ground until the plane lands, others like to distract themselves with films, music and games. Whatever your tools, make sure you have everything prepared in advance. Fill up your iPad with TV shows you want to watch (though avoid thrillers and stress inducing shows like Breaking Bad or Homeland).
Cram your bag with fun things to distract yourself; crosswords, great books and a head pillow and eye mask.
And try to remove any stress triggers from the process of flying. So that means leaving plenty of time to get to the airport, keeping papers and passport easily accessible for check in, removing bottles of liquid from your bag and allowing yourself time to relax (or treat yourself) at the airport.
Chatting to a neighbouring passenger is a good way to distract yourself from obsessing over unusual noises
Michael Salem, author of the book Brave Flyer: How to End Your Fear of Flying, says ‘Many fearful flyers become hyper listeners during the flight, because their brain is programmed to believe there will be some sort of life-threatening problem and will try to prove it by listening for the faintest of sounds.
The best solution for this problem is to use sound cancelling headphones’.
So, if possible, while in flight, distract yourself from imagining worst-case scenarios and listening out for every suspicious noise by chatting to your neighbour or listening to calming music or a meditation app such as Calm (be sure to ensure it is accessible in ‘Flight’ mode).
Nervous flyers should try to avoid coffee and chocolate before a flight, no matter how early it is! Caffeine can cause nervousness, palpitations and anxiety – none of which are conducive to a calm flight.
Choose your seat, but don’t panic if you can’t
It is true that turbulence is usually greater at the back of the plane, so ask for a seat as close to the front of the plane as you can. However, if you haven’t been able to reserve a front of flight seat (pesky EasyJet) don’t worry – simply remind yourself if you do hit turbulence that your seat means you feel the effects a little more and breathe slowly and deeply to try and steady your nerves.
Coping with turbulence, remember it’s ‘just a road in the air’
A bumpy flights is a tricky experience for a nervous flyer, and adds to the level of worry before the next flight. But once you understand what causes it, you’ll understand that turbulence is a normal part of flying and not something to fear.
When a plane flies through an area of low pressure to high pressure (or vice versa), it causes a “bump” in the ride. These bumps aren’t dangerous, but pilots intentionally navigate away from strong turbulence to ensure the smoothest possible ride and the least anxiety for passengers. Another fact to keep in mind: Modern planes are designed to handle much more intensive turbulence than they would ever encounter.
Finally, a mantra that many nervous flyers repeat to themselves, ‘it’s just a road in the air’. Just like on a car or train journey, bumps and jostles are nothing to fear. Michael Salem says ‘Another good fact to remember is the seat belt light goes on because the pilot does not want you to fall on the guy next to you, not because there is any type of flight risk.’
Face the facts
This only works for some, but try to remind yourself that air travel is the second safest mode of transportation in the world (second only to elevators and escalators). The chances of being in an accident are about one in 11 million – it’s more likely you will win the lottery! (Ed's note: I find checking out this live tracker, and seeing just how many flights are in the air at any one time, is super helpful to calm nerves)
Think yourself calm
Many nervous flyers use another trick for overcoming anxiety; picturing and focusing the destination. This is, essentially, a distraction mechanism but it can help. Try and focus on where you are going, what you will do when you get there, how it will feel when you on your holiday.
By focusing on what will happen after the scary incident you can try to distract yourself from your jitters and mentally fast-forward through the event.
Allow yourself a drink, in moderation
Mixing alcohol and calming medication is NEVER a good idea
If a glass of wine helps calm your nerves then there is no evidence to say you should avoid alcohol but remember that excessive drinking, or combining alcohol with any medication, may make you jittery, dehydrated and anxious. Limit yourself to two drinks, tops, and avoid mixing drink and any prescription pills.
According the FlyFright, statistics reveal that 73% of fearful flyers are afraid of mechanical problems during flight. An important part of how to overcome fear of flying is understanding of how an aircraft works and learning to trust it. Says FlyFright ‘There are four forces that work together to allow a plane to fly: gravity, drag, lift and thrust. I won’t get into the scientific explanations, but suffice it to say that the process allows planes to fly as naturally as it is for us to walk. As one pilot said it best, “planes are the happiest in the air.” Everything about a plane is designed to fulfill its purpose—to get its passengers and crew safely from one place to the other through the air’.
Professor Robert Bor, author of ‘Overcome Your Fear of Flying' says "Before and during the flight, it's important to keep blood sugar levels up. Stick to water and juices to keep hydrated and remember to eat little and often to maintain your energy, which can help control anxiety levels. Rest if you can, though sleep is not essential."
One more tip, pschologists and experts are unanimous in their belief that avoidance only breeds further fear. Robert Bor says ‘Avoiding flying can inhibit your career if your work involves travel. It can affect relationships: most people want to go on holiday, many of them abroad. And some family events require us to travel.
"You shouldn't avoid it because it's such a treatable problem. Fears and phobias have one of the highest success rates for treatment of any psychological problems. If you're willing to give it a bit of time, you ought to be able to fly comfortably. ‘
We hope our tips bring you some relief and hope you have a lovely holiday!
And if you have any great tips to share leave them in the comments below...
Words: Maggie Hitchins