Conquering your fear of flying

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by Tieja MacLaughlin

If you’re anything like me, the thought of sitting in a confined space, travelling a few hundred kilometres an hour, a few thousand feet in the air, in what can only be described as a tin can, and at the complete will of someone else… well, it’s not the most pleasant thought.

I used to be ashamed to admit my fear of flying. As if it were a sign of weakness. Until I realized just how common a fear it is.

There are many reasons people can be scared of getting on an airplane. It’s not one-size-fits-all. For some, it is a fear of heights. For others, like me, we feel claustrophobic in a small space where we have a lack of control over the situation.

Whatever your reason may be, there are things within your control that you can do to make flying more tolerable.

And remember, unlike any other fear, there are often psychological factors and reasons why we feel these anxious feelings. If you can combat, or curb, the underlying root cause, you’ll be that much better off.

To truly dig deep into the root cause of your fear can take months, or even years, working with qualified professionals, and making permanent lifestyle changes. You should continue to work towards this as a long-term goal. In the meantime, here are some tips/tricks for flying that have worked for me:

  • Get lots of rest the day/night before your flight. It sounds simple, but sleep is one of the most important factors for combating anxiety/uneasiness.

  • Give yourself lots of extra time to pack, get to the airport and check in. Feeling rushed flairs up anxiety.

  • Arrive at the airport early, and plan a “fun” activity that you can look forward to ie. get your shoes shined, visit a lounge, get a massage, etc. This will help you adjust to your new setting, and give you a rush of happy endorphins to calm the mind before flying.

  • Drink lots of water. You won’t make it past security with an open water bottle, so buy a bottle in the airport and refill it.

  • Absolutely no caffeine. This includes coffee, pop, energy drinks, etc. Alcohol is subjective to the person. It usually calms me down, but for others, it can end up making them feel worse. Consider your typical mood when drinking - are you a cheerful drunk, more melancholy, or do you get aggressive? If the answer’s anything but affirmatively positive, don’t drink.

  • Make a pre-flight routine that feels similar to your usual daily routine. Have a meal, do some work, etc.

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  • Put in your headphones and do a pre-flight meditation. It’s important to do this even if you feel fine. Meditate again during the flight. And keep urgent meditations handy if you start to feel a wave of fear/anxiety. I use Headspace. It’s important that you download the meditations, otherwise you won’t be able to access them without wifi.

  • Book a preferred seat. First class is pricy, but there are other options. Preferred seats have extra leg room, and usually cost about $50. Select the seat you feel most comfortable in, whether it’s the window, aisle or middle. Look for a seat with an empty one next to it. A trick I use is to arrive early and chat with the flight attendant at the gate to find a seat that makes you feel most comfortable.

  • Board the plane last. Or at least as close to last a you can. This minimizes your time in the plane, and allows you to quickly get to your seat without the dreaded crowded wait in the tunnel.

  • Put a few drops of lavender oil on your wrists, or mix a few drops into a bottle of lotion. Lavender is an essential oil that has calming properties. Whenever you feel nervous, take a great big sniff and inhale the aroma.

  • Take 1-2 Gravol, depending on your tolerance. These things are stronger than they look, and kick in pretty fast. They’re the best over-the-counter solution to help take the edge off. Make sure you don’t take them too early (30mins or so before take-off) otherwise you’ll likely feel doped up/not alert enough to make it through the airport.

  • When boarding, let the flight attendant and your seat mate know that you’re not the best flyer. Vocalizing your fears helps minimize them, and you’ll often receive a lot of support Talking helps pass the time and distract the mind.

  • Buy the inflight wifi. It’s a wise $15 to spend, and will provide endless distractions.

  • Break down the flight into timed segments, and plan an itinerary to keep busy ex. I’ll watch two movies, play three games, and then I’ll be there.

  • Reward yourself! Plan something to look forward to upon your arrival. Knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel makes the journey worth it. Flying is truly a marvellous thing when you learn to shift your perspective on it.

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Tieja MacLaughlin