Fear of flying, otherwise known as aerophobia, is an excessive worry about air travel. It is one of the most common forms of phobia and according to YouGov, around 24% of Brits have some form of anxiety about getting on a plane.
People suffering from fear of flying experience extremely anxious thoughts which are often so powerful they become physical symptoms. These can include shallow breathing, experiencing chest tightening, sweaty palms, feeling nauseated or lightheaded and sometimes these even develop into a panic attack, meaning many opt to avoid air travel altogether.
For some, it will have been a lifelong problem that has meant never flying at all. For others, who have flown many miles in their lifetime, it is a problem that slowly creeps up on them over time. In both circumstances, the fear can be debilitating and symptoms often trickle into other areas of life.
Like all phobias, there is little logic to support the anxiety that it causes – travel is in fact the safest form of transport and you are much more likely to die from a car accident than in a plane crash. Knowing that fact does little to ease the flying-related anxiety of an aerophobic sufferer.
So, what can be done to overcome our fear of flying?
Understand the reason why you’re a nervous flyer
Fear of flying is usually caused by a combination of factors. Understanding the root cause of your own phobia is perhaps the first step in overcoming it. Is it a fear of heights? Claustrophobia? Was it that film you watched as a child? Or has a particular world event sparked the fear? Many people suddenly developed a fear of flying after 9/11 for example. Figuring this out will then allow you to tackle it in the right way and using the appropriate techniques.
Fight fear with knowledge
Some experts suggest the first strategy for everyone suffering from a fear of flying is learning about the aeroplane and the science behind flight. Our anxiety is fed by ‘what if?’ catastrophic thoughts. Once you become knowledgeable, your ‘what if’ thoughts will be limited by the facts. There are professionally designed courses that will explain aspects like air traffic control, anti-terrorism measures, and what happens during turbulence. Some courses use Virtual Reality (VR) to simulate a flight, explaining everything along the way with the aim of injecting logic into an illogical fear.
Seek medical help for anxiety, fear and panic
From here, a form of therapy may help to identify and break anxiety cycles. There are many different types of therapy and choosing the right one for you will depend on your own needs and goals. Hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural (CBT) are some of the most commonly used, but there are countless more to choose from. Deciding which is the most appropriate form of therapy can be daunting, so it may be helpful to seek advice from your GP or a travel nurse.
For those who manage to make it onto the plane, there are quite a few, simple personal techniques that can be used to calm your nerves.
Deep breathing techniques
Making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply can interrupt panic. Deep breathing is known to trigger a comfort response and will help prevent hyperventilation.
Reading a book or listening to a good podcast can refocus your mind and attention.Distracting yourself from the fact that you are flying can be a great way to keep calm if you’re a nervous flyer.. Time tends to pass much more quickly when adequately distracted.
Tell the flight attendants
Alerting the flight attendants of a nervous flyer could also help – with their training and expertise, they are ideally placed to provide reassurance and will regularly check in on you during the flight.
Avoid coffee and wine
Nervous flyers in general should avoid drinking coffee and wine before and whilst flying. Both can leave you more dehydrated than normal. The extra caffeine in coffee can aggravate anxiety issues and the Dutch courage wine offers will pass leaving you more susceptible to jet lag. Stick with water where possible.
Tea really does help
It’s very British to recommend tea to make everything better, but there are many different herbal teas available which can help with relaxation, reducing stress and calming anxiety. Peppermint, camomile, lemon balm and lavender teas are the most commonly used.
We advise nervous flyers and people with aerophobia to seek further information and guidance from their GP who will be able to make a formal diagnosis and treatment options.
For more advice and information you can book a travel consultation appointment.