If you’re reading this blog post, I know how you feel. I know how it feels to be frantically searching for tips, tricks, methods, medication (anything!) to help you overcome flying anxiety. I’ve know what it’s like to be scared of flying, to be paralysed by fear, to dread that journey more than anything… And trust me, as a travel blogger that was never the most ideal situation to be in.
I’ve tried many paid methods of fixing the problem. I did hypnotherapy for my flying anxiety, I also did CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for it, and I’ve even done the British Airways fear of flying course. I’ll discuss below what I gained from these methods and whether I think they’re worth it.
Is it possible to overcome a fear of flying?
Last year, I flew 32 times in 12 months. If you had told me that 5 years ago I would have laughed in your face and told you it wasn’t possible. But I did it, and in the 32 flights, I only had one minor panic attack. For me, that’s a massive success, and I’m so proud to write those words.
For me, I believe that if you’re scared of flying, that flying anxiety will never fully go away. It’s a primal fear, deep down inside of you – and I don’t think it’s always possible to just erase that. HOWEVER, I do believe it’s possible to conquer the fear, ignore the fear and control the fear. And that’s basically what I’ve learnt to do, and it’s how I now enter planes without being OCD, without panicking, and without crying. Now when I enter a plane, and when I travel on a plane I try to embrace the experience and I use certain products and techniques to help me feel more in control.
What have I tried to help cure my flying anxiety?
As I mentioned above, I did hypnotherapy for my flying anxiety, I also did CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for it, and I’ve even done the British Airways fear of flying course. All of these were useful in various ways, which I’ll talk about below.
Hypnotherapy for my flying anxiety
If you’re scared of flying, hypnotherapy is probably the first thing you research. I had 2 hypnotherapy sessions before a particularly busy summer of flights, about 5 years ago. I’ll be honest, the sessions didn’t give me the miracle cure I was hoping for. I didn’t wake up from my session feeling like a different person with a different outlook, but what it did help me with was identifying moments of panic, and giving me mental exercise to help block those anxious thoughts. The flight immediately after my sessions I felt much calmer upon entering the airport, but during the flight I still felt the panic and anxiety creeping in, and I didn’t feel in control of those emotions and reactions. Of the three things I’ve tried, I think hypnotherapy was probably the least effective for me.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for fear of flying
CBT felt very different from hypnotherapy, and I felt like my mind was much more responsive to it. It worked towards reframing the way I thought about panic and anxiety, thinking about why I was scared of flying and how I could change it. It also helped me recognise those feelings and stop them so they couldn’t progress to panic and anxiety. It also helped me curb some of my OCD tendencies that often arose when I was on planes, or during flights. Four of the techniques that really stuck with me (which I still on most flights years later) are:
- Having an anti-panic button on my body. Mine is the fleshy bit just under my thumb. When I feel panic coming, I press this area of my thumb hard (not painfully though), and remind myself that I don’t need to panic. I press my anti-panic button and I release the anxiety and push it out of my mind.
- Picturing a bright red STOP sign anytime my imagination goes too far. Part of my problem on flights was that I would imagine the very worse scenario with every bump or unexpected noise. My mind would race into an enter alternate universe, and I couldn’t control it – it was those made-up imaginary thoughts that were causing me to panic on the plane, not the plane itself. Now, when I feel myself getting carried away with my imagination, I imagine a huge red STOP sign (the kind you see in the middle of the road). It stops me going further with those thoughts, and stops me increasing my anxiety.
- Do breathing techniques. When I feel panic setting in, or when I know I’m in a situation that might cause panic, I do 7/11 breathing, which means you breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 11 seconds. I focus on this 100% and I do it until I feel calm again. I usually do this during take-off and landing, and during turbulence if we experience that during the flight.
- I do the ‘5 things’ exercise. This is another distraction technique that distracts my brain from releasing anxiety chemicals, and makes me focus on other things. During this exercise you list off 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can feel, 5 things you can see, 5 things you can smell and so on.
As you can see, CBT really stuck with me and I found it really effective, especially for changing patterns in my behaviour and learning how to control when my thoughts run away with me. I felt like this was the first proper step to me stopping being scared of flying.
British Airways Flying with Confidence Course
The British Airways Flying with Confidence Course was the most latest thing I did to conquer my fear of flying – I took it about 3 years ago. I found the course really useful – it wasn’t about coping techniques or controlling the physical side of flying anxiety – but it was focussed on the technical and science behind flying.
I don’t think I realised before I took this course how little I knew about flying. Of course I was worried and packing and anxious, I was 30,000 ft in the air and I had no idea how I had got up there… it’s no wonder I was scared of flying! Doing the BA flying with confidence course helped me realise why I was scared of flying, and what I needed to understand about flying to help me become more comfortable with the experience. They answered a lot of questions, they explained a lot of processes, and it really gave me the information I needed.
My own tips and tricks for conquering flying anxiety
Tip 1: Watch video footage of planes regularly
This might sound weird, but watching footage of take-offs or landing (or any part of the flight that causes your flight anxiety) can help you get used to it, and it helps normalise it. I actually film my take-offs and landings now so I can watch them back! It made me much less scared of flying, because those events and noises felt more normal.
Tip 2: Read up on the science
Learning about the science of flying (which I touched upon when talking about the fear of flying course above) really helped me stop being scared of flying. It really helped me to understand how the plane worked, how the science works, and most importantly, why I don’t need to worry about every little noise, bump or wiggle the plane makes. I spent ages reading the website called “Ask Captain Lim” – it’s a blog written by a pilot and he answers questions to help people overcome their fear of flying.
Tip 3: Find anti-anxiety products that work for you
I try not to use that much medication when flying, but I’ve found certain products that works to help minimise my flying anxiety. My must-haves on flights are:
- Noise cancelling headphones: to help quieten the cabin and make the experience more peaceful and less noisy. I use the Bose in-ear acoustic noise cancelling headphones.
- Lavender spray / oil: Lavender helps me sleep, and it’s known for being a super relaxing scent. I’ve found that it’s a really good scent for calming me down and relaxing me, which obvious helps reducing the flying anxiety. I use the “This Works” brand, as they have a spray and an oil.
- A silk eye mask: Eye masks stop you glancing around and frantically looking around the cabin – and using them really worked for me. I know you get eye masks on the aircraft but I often find they’re a bit itchy or tight (so not overly relaxing). I’ve bought a super cheap silk-style eye mask from Amazon and it’s so much nicer and lovely to wear.
Tip 4: Fly business class (just once!)
I flew business class for the first time a couple of years ago, Emirates were offering last-minute upgrades for £450 and we decided to go for it. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done as far as my flying anxiety goes. When you’ve experienced the calm environment of the business class cabin, it opens your eyes to how flying doesn’t need to be this stress packed anxiety-inducing experience. Even now, when flying in economy on flights, I imagine how calm and nice it is in the business cabin, and it makes me feel better.
Tip 5: Let go of emotional cruxes
I used to bring certain things with me on flights as these emotional cruxes. I had this tiny teddy bear and this super-hero mask (read about that here, it’s actually a really cool story). When I committed to overcoming and controlling my fear, I realised I needed to leave these things at home. I didn’t need them, and they weren’t going to alter how the flight was. Maybe you don’t have anything like this, but maybe you do. If you do – learn to let it go. It’ll be crucial to overcoming your flying anxiety.
Tip 6: Sit by the window, or where you can see the cabin crew
For me, sitting by a window (where I can see outside and see the ground) really really helps. For me, being able to have a view of the exterior calms my nerves and makes me feel more in control. I also like to see members of the cabin crew during take off and landing, so I try to pick a seat where I’ll have a view of their take-off seats. It helps me because when I start to feel panic, I can just glance at them (usually looking relaxed, laughing or talking) and it reminds me it’s normal, I’m fine and I don’t need to worry. I usually use the website Seatguru before picking my seats on a plane (it’s a mega useful tool).
Tip 7: Speak to the pilots
My husband and I once flew from Hong Kong to San Francisco and our flight was delayed due to a huge storm. This was in the crux of my flying anxiety when I was still really scared of flying, and the thought of taking off in a storm was awful. But as we sat there in the gate waiting to board the pilots (3 of them) all came and waited with us. With some encouragement from Pad (my husband) I went over, introduced myself and explained that I was scared of flying, and could they give me any advice. They were so sweet and nice, and they explained that for them, this is just a normal job. They’re heading into the office, they’re planning their dinners, they’re looking forward to being at home. It made me realise that even though flying isn’t normal ‘for me’ it is normal in general.
Tip 8: Book an airport lounge or a skip-the-line customs pass
If you find the airport experience the anxiety-inducing part of flying (and according to this, it’s what causes a lot of panic and stress), then booking an airport lounge is a really good way to combat that. Another option to avoid the stress of an airport, is to book a fast-pass for the customs queues.
Tip 9: Have a mantra
I can’t remember where I read it, but the mantra ‘discomfort not danger’ is something I repeat to myself when the flying anxiety gets really bad. Usually this mantra works best when the plane is in turbulence, so try repeating it to yourself if turbulence is one of the things that makes you feel scared of flying.
I hope this list of tips and advice on how to stop being scared of flying has been helpful. Flying anxiety is really subjective, and different parts of the flying experience can trigger panic in different people. Hopefully some of these tips can help you begin to control your flying anxiety and make positive progress!