I’m a nervous flyer.
Nervous as in, “there have been times when I thought they were literally going to have to sedate me during turbulence.”
Nervous as in, “for several weeks before each flight I will jolt awake at night with my heart pounding in terror at the thought of getting on that plane.”
Nervous as in, “I really wish I hadn’t become so obsessed with what happened to MH370 , because that’s all I’m going to be able to think of now, anytime I fly. Well, that and the plane that crashed into the mountain, obviously. And the one that got shot down. And … NO WAY AM I EVER FLYING AGAIN, EVER.”
So yeah: I’m a nervous flyer, is what I’m saying. Did you all get that? OK, good.
I’ve had this fear for as long as I can remember, and as my fellow nervous flyers will probably testify, no amount of people telling you it’s “The safest form of transport!” or “You’ve a higher chance of dying in the car on the way to the airport!” will talk me out of it. Seriously, it just won’t. (It WILL make me scared of the car ride to the airport, though, so I guess that will distract me for a while…) Because, the thing is, I KNOW all of that. I’ve read the statistics. I know it’s (mostly) safe. (Tell that to the passengers on MH370, though. Oh no, wait, you can’t, can you?) But none of that helps you at 20,000 feet, when you hit a bit of turbulence and your life flashes before your eyes, so over the years I’ve had to figure out some other techniques to get myself onto the plane.
The fact is, I DO fly – I kind of have to, given that I enjoy holidays so much – and I’ve no intention of stopping just because I go onto each flight with the absolute certainty that it will be the last thing I do. These days I cope with it much better than I used to, too – by which I mean I’m still terrified, but I’m no longer actually in tears during takeoff: progress, people! Progress! Here are some of the things that have helped me deal with my fear of flying…
TIPS FOR NERVOUS FLYERS
Pack earplugs in your carry-on bag
Obviously not all of the things that frighten you about flying are things that are within your control. I hate turbulence, for instance, and there’s nothing I can do to stop that. Also, I fear death, and… well, there’s not much I can do about that EITHER. A few years ago, however, I realised one of the things that increases my anxiety levels is the sound of the engines. You know that roaring noise they make during take-off? And how it’ll sometimes seem to just abruptly cut-off at some point during the ascent? That absolutely terrifies me, and, left to my own devices, I will sit there like a coiled spring, carefully monitoring every slight change in the engine noise, and shrieking, “WHAT WAS THAT, DID YOU HEAR THAT?” every time I think I hear it change. (Or, you know, stop.)
The answer to that is a pair of cheap earplugs: I wear them for almost the entire flight, and if anyone’s going to tell me that’s bad for my ears or something, I’m simply going to respond that it’s better than a 10-hour panic attack, seriously. Not only do the earplugs dull down the cabin noise, they also stop me analysing every sound the aircraft makes, which leads to a more relaxed flight – or as “relaxed” as a flight can be when you’re scared of flying, anyway.
Figure out your best distraction technique
I can’t really concentrate on movies or TV shows when I’m flying – they leave part of my brain free to worry about the fact that OMG I’M IN A TIN CAN THOUSANDS OF FEET ABOVE THE EARTH! Books, on the other hand, take up more of my concentration, so I always make sure I have a few really good ones on my Kindle (and also on my iPad, just in case…), so I can distract myself in the way I know works best for me. For you it could be music, or movies, or working on your laptop or whatever, but if you can find something that really occupies your mind, it’ll be a huge help.
Make the flight feel like a treat
I know, sounds impossible, right? One of the reasons I think flying has been easier for me over the last few years, though, is that I’ve tried to change my attitude towards it, and view it as a chance to relax a bit. When you’re self-employed, the run-up to a trip is particularly hectic and stressful, so I’ve reached a point where the flight itself is probably going to be the first time in weeks that I’ll be able to just sit down and read a book without feeling guilty about it, or like there are 100 other things I should be doing instead: that mindset obviously doesn’t help much if we hit turbulence, say, but it does make the lead-up to the flight a little less anxiety-inducing for me.
If there’s a book I’ve particularly been looking forward to reading, I’ll normally try and save it for the flight, for instance, so I feel like I have something to look forward to, and I’ll also maybe buy myself a treat to eat on board or something – whatever it takes to make it feel a bit more pleasant!
Tips for nervous flyers
Think of something happy
This sounds really simplistic, but it’s a technique I read about years ago, and I’ve found it quite useful. Basically it involves focusing on something that makes you feel happy or calm whenever you start to feel anxious: so any time you find yourself starting to entertain thoughts of MH370 or whatever, you “replace” them with your happy thought, which can be anything you want. The book (I think it was a book, anyway – I honestly can’t remember where I read this, it was so long ago!) I read recommended visualising a child, or a pet or even a place that makes you feel calm: like I said, it sounds too simplistic to work, but it does help.
The rubber band technique
Related to the idea of replacing anxious thoughts with something else is the rubber band technique, which involves wearing a rubber band around your wrist (a hair elastic will do) and snapping it any time The Panic starts to creep in. This is basically a distraction technique, and there are different variations of it – you could also try memorising a list of objects, say, or reciting the times tables – again, anything that will help distract you from what’s happening around you.
I used Rescue Remedy for years, before realising it actually wasn’t making much difference to me. (That’s not to say it won’t make a difference to YOU, obviously: I know plenty of people who swear by it…) My own variation on this is the little stress toy I mentioned in this post, which I like to hold during take-off and landing, which are the scariest parts of the flight for me. This works for me purely because I THINK it’s going to work – if you can find something YOU think will calm you down, then you never know… it just might.
Watch the Cabin Crew
I’ve had a few flights where I’ve been seated near the cabin crew, and watching them (er, in a non-creepy way, obviously) really helps calm me down. These guys fly all the time, so if they’re still calmly going about their business without turning a hair, it probably means that noise you just heard is totally normal. If the cabin crew are freaking out, on the other hand…
Watch the airplanes
This last tip probably sounds a bit strange, but it’s another thing that’s really helped me. A few years ago, Terry and I were en route to our honeymoon, when we had a pretty scary landing (Rather than bringing the plane down gradually, the pilot basically got us down to just above the runway, then dropped us like a rock. It probably felt worse than it really was, but it felt like we hit the runway at tremendous speed, then skidded down it until we finally came to a stop – and no, it wasn’t just me who felt like that, some people were actually screaming…). For the next two weeks, I worried constantly about the return flight, and really didn’t think I’d be able to get on the plane. On our last day, however, and totally by accident, we happened upon a stretch of beach which was right next to the runway (as in, the planes would fly over your head and touch down seconds later), and where quite a lot of people had gathered to watch the planes come in.
Standing at the end of the runway was super-scary (I couldn’t actually do it: the planes were so low it felt like you could reach up and touch them), but after a while we moved back a bit to where we could watch flights taking off, as well as landing. In the space of 20 minutes or so we watched flight after flight take off or come in to land, and although I never would have expected it to be the case, I found it really helped me realise how commonplace flying really is. Sure, it seems like such a huge, scary thing to nervous flyers like me, but the reality is that there are thousands and thousands of flights every single day, and most of them pass completely without incident. As I said way back at the start of this post, hearing the statistics on flight safety doesn’t help me one bit, but actually seeing them take off DID: who knew?
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So, those are my tips for nervous flyers: I don’t think anything will make the fear go away completely for me, but it does get easier to deal with when I use these techniques. If you’re frightened of flying, I’d love to know what helps you!