Scared of Flying? Here are a Psychologist’s Tips to Help You
Written by Dr Nick Mooney for Doctify
What is more fun than heading off on a holiday? Whether you prefer soaking up the sun or swooshing down the slopes, getting away from it all is not only enjoyable – its good for your mental and physical health.
But what it if you can’t set one foot on a flight without freaking out? A fear of flying can ruin a week away or, in extreme cases, even prevent it from happening.
If that is true for you, don’t despair. There are ways to combat this anxiety and psychologist Dr Nick Mooney is here to tell us what they are.
Can you help yourself?
Specific techniques, including: breathing exercises, mindfulness skills, visualisation exposure exercises and challenging unhelpful thoughts can be useful in counteracting anxiety associated with flying.
It is best to practise these in advance so they can be put into practice effectively on the fight. Remember to also be kind and compassionate to yourself. Even though you might recognise the thoughts as irrational, the anxiety you are experiencing is certainly real and valid. It is okay to be anxious and the feelings will pass quicker if you don’t try to avoid or struggle with them.
What professional help is available?
Psychological therapy has been proven to help people effectively manage their anxiety when flying. However, one-size-does-not-fit-all and the specific techniques used for one person may not be the most useful for another. It is recommended that people experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety when flying seek support from a qualified therapist with experience of working with anxiety conditions.
For mild levels of anxiety, skills and information provided by common forms of talking therapy can help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are able to help people to better manage their discomfort and make flying a more enjoyable experience.
And if that doesn’t work?
Courses such as those offered by ‘fear of flying’ courses provide some additional advantages, particularly for those with moderate to severe levels of anxiety. These courses are offered by a number of airline operators and most are based on CBT principles. Many ‘fear of flying’ courses offer the opportunity for immersive exposure to the anxiety by providing an aeroplane flight as part of the programme.
These courses are also usually run in a group format which can be validating to people with a fear of flying, as they are able to share and normalise their anxiety with other sufferers.
Many ‘fear of flying’ courses also use former pilots or aircrew in addition to therapists who specialise in aviophobia. This can instil an extra sense of confidence in the information being provided.
What about triggers?
Understand your triggers. Try to identify what your biggest fears are. Worrying that the plane will crash or be hijacked may play on some people’s minds while others may be more concerned about the potential catastrophic consequences of having a panic attack in an enclosed space at 30,000 feet.
By pinpointing your fear, you will be able to better understand the steps needed to help combat your phobia.
What about actually on the flight?
“Some people find it helpful to inform the flight crew and even neighbouring passengers of your fear of flying. This can help by ‘naming the elephant in the room’ when and if you start to exhibit signs of anxiety. You won’t be so worried about what others might be thinking and you are likely to receive genuine expressions of sympathy and validation. The flight crew will be well aware of some useful tips and tricks to manage flight anxiety. They may be able to offer additional support or assistance if needed.
Is there anything else?
Do your research on statistics relating to your phobia. For example, if your phobia surrounds the plane crashing, research how many planes have crashed recently. Find out what the likelihood of this happening is. Whilst it won’t eliminate your fear, it will put it into context and help you to rationalise these unhelpful beliefs.
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