Here’s the good news about having flight anxiety or fear of flying: It’s not a disease, it’s a symptom, therefore it’s totally treatable when you hone in on the root of the issue. So you mean I don’t have to cry and hyperventilate and white-knuckle and scratch my husbands arm for the rest of my life? Yea!! Then why haven’t I been able to shake this? In fact it seems to be getting increasingly more intense as I get older.
As a frequent flyer (and owner of a travel business!), having flight anxiety is a total bummer not to mention a little embarrassing at times. Its stressful and something I can’t avoid in my life. The irony of the person sitting next to me on a plane witnessing my fear and saying, “Is this your first time on a plane? Don’t worry everything is going to be alright!” is amusing because I’ve flown hundreds of times in my life.
To be honest, I haven’t totally dealt thoroughly with this issue, often masking it with a stiff cocktail and Xanax. While this does help take the edge off in the moment it doesn’t really cure what’s happening on a deeper level. I also calm down by concentrating on taking full, deep breaths and I always sit in a window seat because looking out the window and actually seeing for myself that we are not plummeting to the earth really, really helps.
Because this phobia is considered a symptom of something deeper, the cause can be unique with each person. Intrigued by other people's experiences with this fear, I set out to perform short interviews with friends that agreed to talk about their experiences.
When asked if there was anything specific that triggered their fear of flying many had different reasons. Some said that it was a traumatic flight they’d had, some said after 9/11, some said all the heightened media and negative news connected with flying and, like myself, Aron G. said “It really comes down to being in control. I don't feel in control when I'm 30,000 feet in the air and counting on others to keep me alive.” Almost everyone stated that this was something that started later on in life when they became adults.
What about rituals before and during flying? Laura E. stated that her anxiety often starts days before the flight! Her solution? “Get to the airport super late and then you have no time to focus on the stress of flying!” True that! Nothing like the stress of missing your flight to outshine the stress of flying! Other rituals include praying before and after each flight, visualizing successful take offs and landings, repeating positive mantras, a glass or two of wine, and carrying special beads to hold.
For methods about getting through a bad flight and calming yourself down, almost everyone I talked to turns to breathing. Focusing and learning how to breath deeply can really bring you down from an anxiety attack. Use humor and fun to distract yourself and make the situation lighter. For example, watch a comedy movie or joke around with friends. Tune in with the flight attendants. If they’re not freaking out, nor should you. Using earplugs, listening to music or white noise and obviously sleeping can help get you through it too. I like to write! I often try to use the time on flights to journal or get work done.
So my fellow flight-phobic friends, where does this leave us? Rebecca Principe, Naturopathic doctor in Portland, OR. highly recommends learning techniques to distract yourself from the anxiety. If you are serious about easing this fear you have to put in the time and education before you fly. Taking care of your health, staying hydrated, stabilizing your blood sugar and staying positive will only make you stronger than the fear itself. Natural herbs she suggests that can help are Passion Flower, Skullcap, Kava, Valerian, Chamomile or the Rescue Remedy formula. Keep in mind that tinctures are great because they are fast acting. One more tid bit Dr. Principe shared was that for severe flight anxiety that causes panic attacks, she often refers people to the Panic Away Program. It has helped her in the past.
In my own life I certainly don’t see myself slowing down or traveling less. I will not let my fear keep me from seeing the world and doing my job. Right now it’s one flight at a time and commitment to nurturing myself. Stephanie V. eloquently says “The thing with flying is that sometimes it's the only way to get where you want to go. My fear of flying is always trumped by the excitement of getting to the place I'm going.” Right on girl.