How I overcame my fear of flying and you can too
You wouldn't believe that 20 years ago I jumped out of a plane for charity. Of course, back then I had a different brain, no dependents, lots of naivety and little awareness. As I have grown and experienced the world, I have acquired anxiety. I am more aware of what I and others have to lose if I die. My anxiety is based on a fear of losing my life and being able to love and care for my child, husband and dog.
I have experienced turbulent flights which have helped develop my fear of flying. My negative thoughts stem from these experiences. I also watched movies involving plane crashes (not a good idea). I used to look out for news items on near flight misses, plane crashes and terrorist incidents involving flights. I do not do this now, I switch off or switch over.
So, having agreed to fly to Newcastle from Bristol return in one day (don't ask), I was forced to face my fear again. As a counsellor, I used my skills to put theory into personal practice. My self-awareness was needed to regulate my responses to the anxiety.
Breathing is key to remaining calm. It sounds strange but I often hold my breath when anxious (not good). When I felt my anxiety heighten at take off and landing, I inhaled for a count of four and exhaled for a count of seven. This lowers your heart rate.
I adopted a relaxed pose - open hands, palms facing up, eyes closed and feet firmly on the ground. This tricks your brain into believing you are relaxed. Fake it 'til you make it!
Let negative thoughts go
Noticing my negative thoughts, for example, "that noise sounds like the wing is damaged", or "that man has wild eyes, he might be a terrorist". Then addressing them with "it's just turbulence" or "it's just he has striking eyes, they are actually stunning". By responding with "it's just", minimises the panicking to a logical way of thinking.
Know your role
Reminding myself I am "just" a passenger and the only expectation of me was to be a passenger. I have no control over anything else. Allowing myself to be a passenger instead of the virtual pilot took responsibility away from me, relieving me of pressure placed on me by me, (I know, weird eh!).
The safety talk raised my anxiety levels, reminding me there are dangers with flying (or why would we have a safety talk). I replaced the internal negative talk about crashing to factual statements such as "flying is safer than travelling by car" and news reports about crashes are "news because they are relatively rare".
Once I had overcome the take-off and felt relaxed, I distracted myself with duty-free shopping. However, I avoided reading any articles about flying!
When embarking on the landing (as a passenger), my mantra was breathing in "I'm alive", breathe out "I'm breathing". I must have got myself into such a relaxed state, I was actually startled when we landed because I wasn't prepared for it. Find a mantra which suits you.
Facing my fear of flying allows me to go on adventures and live my life to its fullest. I hope you can adopt my methods to help you face your fears too. If you want to overcome your fears, working with a qualified counsellor can be invaluable in raising your self-awareness, developing coping techniques and conquering your fears. You know you want to!
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About Nicola Griffiths
My background is with people who have experienced trauma, childhood abuse, domestic violence, depression and anxiety. I have an interest in dissociative identity disorder. I was a children and families social worker and I worked on the leaving care team. Dip in therapeutic counselling, BA Hons in applied social studies, Dip in social work, NNEB.