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How to cope with your flight anxiety

14th Mar 2019

Laura Lynch quit social media and started seeing things in a completely different way. Now she writes about living a happier and less stressful life at ondayslikethis.com 

You’re 30,000 feet in the air, squashed into a small cramped space like sardines, with complete strangers it’s not exactly the most natural place to be. If you have a fear of flying, don’t worry you are not alone; the fear of flying is the second most common fear, after public speaking. Why is it that when flying, we start imagining the worst possible scenarios and freak ourselves out?

I wasn’t always an anxious mess on flights, in fact, I was quite the opposite. At one point a few years ago, I wanted to be an air hostess and had applied for a role with Emirates. The fear has its roots in 2017 when I flew from Rome to Dublin through storm Ophelia after a weekend away with friends. The storm was causing havoc across Ireland, with most flights cancelled after the highest weather alert level was issued, but somehow our flight still took off as normal.

The winds from the storm were so strong that the plane had to circle the east coast of Ireland for over an hour, after two failed landing attempts. On our third attempt, the plane felt like it was going to blow over on its side, we somehow managed to land and it was beyond bumpy. The experience was truly terrifying and it’s something I hope I’ll never go through again. This traumatic flight definitely triggered my flight anxiety, which I have experienced on every flight since.

Now when I fly, I constantly check the weather forecast before take-off and spend the entire flight with my eyes glued to the cabin crew, always checking for their reaction to any little bumps or noises. I think to myself “Do they look worried, are they freaking out?”. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign turns on, my anxiety multiplies tenfold. Why is this happening to me and how can I stop it?

Last week I was booked to fly to Amsterdam on holiday, so I decided I would try to kick my flight anxiety. I did a bit of research in the days before the trip, and then tried and tested out some tips and tricks to help any fellow nervous flyers.

Here are some of the tips I found helpful:

1. Separate your anxiety from actual fear

It sounds simple, but when you’re on a flight, try to remember (and tell yourself) that fear and anxiety are two totally different things. When you start to feel anxious, make a conscious effort to remind yourself that it’s just your anxiety making you feel this way, you are not in danger. Don’t feed you anxiety by telling yourself that you’re worried because that’s when your body feels and believes it’s in real danger when it’s not, and your adrenaline will kick in making you feel like something terrible is about to happen. Tell yourself over an over that it’s just anxiety that you are feeling and not fear, separate the two.

2. Mind yourself

Before flying, most people are in high spirits, and why not, they’re (usually) finished work for a few days and taking a trip away, to unwind. In Ireland, we have a habit of going to the airport bar and having a few drinks to kick start the holiday. Alcohol is known to enhance feelings of anxiety and is something you should avoid if you are an anxious flyer. Coffee can also stimulate the feeling of anxiety as the level of caffeine in it can push your brain into overdrive, anxiety-wise. Last week, I avoided both and instead, drank camomile tea before my flights. I felt more calm than usual, it seemed to help a lot. Decaf coffee could be an option for coffee lovers.

3. Try out a flight anxiety app

I downloaded some flight anxiety apps to see if they would help me during my flights: Calm, Fearless Flight and Soar.

  • Calm is a brilliant app which I bought last year and already use quite regularly for general anxiety and meditation. It has some fantastic clips for flight anxiety which I have since listened to but unfortunately, I didn’t realise you have to download all the clips you wish to listen to while you have internet before flying, so I couldn’t use it on these flights.
  • Fearless flight was helpful. It’s free to download, didn’t require internet at all and has some good clips to listen to when you’re on a flight and about to start panicking. I used this during both flights and found it quite helpful. It gave me some breathing and distraction techniques.
  • I clicked into the Soar app on my flight home when the seatbelt sign came on and we were approaching some turbulence. It kept asking me to create an account/ sign up etc. before allowing me to go any further into the features. I needed a quick fix in that moment and this just wasn’t there for me, so I didn’t use it and went back to the Fearless Flight app instead.

4. Talk to the flight attendant

I didn’t feel the need to do this on my most recent flights, however, in the past during a long-haul flight, I told a flight attendant I was a nervous flyer and was getting really freaked out by the turbulence. The crew were so helpful, they sat beside me and chatted about how normal everything was and continued to check up on me during the flight. This made me feel a lot more comfortable throughout the flight.

5. Distract yourself

When I focused on the flight anxiety apps, listened to music and played some games such as Candy Crush on my phone, it helped ease my anxiety. When I tried not to focus on what could potentially go wrong, and instead focused my mind on something else, (even if it was just on a mind-numbing game), I found myself feeling more relaxed and less anxious. On reflection, the two flights I took last week were the least stressful flights I have taken since my storm Ophelia flight. I think this is because I made a conscious effort to try reducing my anxiety before as well as onboard the flights. I would recommend that you take these tips into consideration before your next flight.

Happy Flying, Laura

Read more from Laura Lynch here

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