Overcoming the Fear of Flying

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It happens to the best of us: shaky hands, sweaty palms, and a terrible feeling that you’re going to die. Phobias aren’t fun to deal with, and when you’re forced to face your fear in order to go on a fun vacation or travel for work, your week can seem that much worse.

Pteromerhanophobia, aerophobia, aviatophobia, and aviophobia are four common terms for the fear of flying. It can manifest as mere anxiety or full-blown fear that makes it impossible to even board an airplane. Anywhere from 9% to 25% of adults experience a fear of flying, depending on how the disorder is classified (what the researchers decide a “fear of flying” is versus simple anxiety, for instance) and gender; twice as many women as men are thought to be afraid of flying.

Just fifteen minutes of driving on a rural highway is as dangerous as one flight of any length, or as little as five minutes of city driving. The solution is clearly not to avoid flying, as it can often be a safer, cheaper, and more pleasant journey than driving everywhere. Instead, you have to work with yourself and show compassion towards your own anxiety.

1. Familiarize yourself with conditions.
If you’ve never flown before, or if you simply haven’t had a good experience aboard a plane, familiarize yourself with what it will be like to be on board that plane. Research how a plane works, ask people what their worst experience with turbulence has been, and look up information and support from those who also suffer from this phobia.

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2. Give yourself evidence to counter the fear.

When you’re feeling afraid, one simple way of countering the fear is to keep evidence in mind. If you’ve never been aboard a plane that has crashed because you haven’t even flown before, you might not have personal evidence, but if you’ve flown at all, you now have some evidence that you walked off the plane just fine at the end of the flight. Either way, you can research statistics that tell you that one death has occurred in 16 million flights in the USA and Canada. When you feel fear, remind yourself that it’s incredibly unlikely that the worst will happen.

3. Take yourself elsewhere.
If you meditate, the plane is a great place to practice. Pretending you’re on a bus or in a car, with turbulence being like bumps in the road, will get your mind away from the situation, particularly if you concentrate on every detail of the car trip. Choose the car or bus you’re on and envision the seat under you, the scenery passing, the smell of fresh air from the rolled-down windows, and so on. Every sense you involve in your daydream is one not focusing on the present.

4. Educate yourself or seek help.

If these measures don’t work, consider reading some of the many excellent books or self-help courses available both online and offline to help relieve your fear of flying. A step-by-step process can help you find strength you never knew you had and fight the fear. As a last resort, be willing to consider therapy with a licensed professional. A therapist can help you deal with any past incidents that may have caused your current fears, and can work with you to teach you coping strategies for the future.

While the fear of flying is common, you don’t have to suffer yourself. By educating yourself, using evidence to counter negative thinking, or escaping from the moment, you can overcome your fears and enjoy travel without ruining your trip.

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