As we age, our fears and worries tend to worsen – we ask ourselves more 'what if' questions than we ever did. Symptoms and debilitating anxiety from fear of flying is a growing issue in individuals nowadays. However, there are positive ways in which you can beat the anxieties of flying and turbulence by understanding what's going on around you when you're on board.

Fear of flying phobia, scientifically known as aviophobiais an anxiety disorder triggered by the thought of flying or the act of being in an airplane itself. A whopping 25% of Americans suffer from nervousness during a flight, while in fact, 6.5% are 'aviophobic'. Here are some of the best flight anxiety tips you can try to overcome your deepest fears when flying, like coping with change in sounds on an aircraft and dealing with turbulence anxiety.

How to overcome fear of flying turbulence

How to overcome fear of flying turbulence

1. Meet the Captain on the plane

The most important single thing an anxious flier can do is meet the Captain. Ask the gate agent if they can arrange it – if they can’t, ask that they board you early so you have time, once you board, to ask a flight attendant to check with the Captain and see if you can visit the cockpit prior to departure.

Giving up control is difficult but once you meet the Captain and see for yourself that he or she is bright, alert, confident and capable, you begin to trust this person to get you to your destination safely.

During the flight, if you hear an unexpected noise, instead of imagining disaster, you will picture the Captain’s face, know that they heard the same thing and will take care of anything that needs to be done about it. Also, the Captain will make extra announcements with you in mind!

2. Network with other anxious fliers

Most fearful fliers think no one else feels the way they do. That may seem odd when you consider that one person in three fears flying. The reason is obvious – anxious fliers are embarrassed to admit how they feel. If you post on our fear of flying message board or take part in one of our chats or free group phone counseling sessions you will find others who feel just the way you do and give you support.

3. Manage your stress to control your fear, claustrophobia and panic

Stress hormones are what cause those feelings of a pounding heart, rapid breathing, perspiration, tension and psychological changes. If stress hormones build up, they make it impossible to recognize that the worst that you imagine is not actually happening! They can also cause claustrophobia or panic attacks, which is to be avoided.

The key to controlling fear of flying, claustrophobia and panic is controlling the release of stress hormones. Stress hormone release can be triggered by thoughts, so distracting yourself from anxiety-producing thoughts will help. But only up to a point – some stress hormones are released due to unexpected noises or the feeling of dropping in turbulence.

The only way to stop stress hormones from being released in turbulence is desensitization or training the mind to produce oxytocin which inhibits the amygdala, the part of the brain that releases stress hormones. Full desensitization is hard to achieve, and if so, may fade, so a better approach is to keep the amygdala inhibited with oxytocin. This requires preparation. You will need to train your mind to automatically release oxytocin every few minutes.

Try this breathing exercise to help you control a panic attack.

Let's try a visualisation exercise: In October 2016, British couple James and Sarah were about to board their honeymoon flight to Los Angeles when the groom suddenly became overwhelmed with panic. Tears flooded down his face while he told his new bride that he was petrified of the long-haul flight across the pond. Consumed with fear, James refused to get on the plane leaving a flabbergasted, angry Sarah threatening to board without him. Without knowing it, their luck was about to change. A man running towards the gate to make the very same flight was in fact renowned hypnotherapist, Jason O'Callaghan.

Jason noticed the newlyweds acting strangely in front of the gate and decided to introduce himself. After hearing their predicament, Jason put James under a trance for five to six minutes while Sarah and the airline staff looked on in wonder and disbelief. Moments later, James walked calmly and willingly onto the flight, miraculously cured – a true story that proves that therapy or hypnotherapy can help you with the stresses that plague you during a flight.

Good Zing Expert and Cognitive Hypnotherapist Kirsty Hanly offers therapy that can move you through the unconscious patterns that hold you back in life. 

How to relax during turbulence​

How to relax during turbulence

• First, turbulence is not a threat to the plane.

• Second, if you use your seat belt, turbulence is not a threat to you. Think about it – have you ever hear of a pilot being injured in turbulence? Of course not, turbulence is totally safe when you follow the rules! They always wear a seat belt. Passengers are injured only if they're not using a seat belt. Flight attendants are in a tough spot for example, if turbulence begins unexpectedly, they still have to secure the galley before taking a seat. 

• Third, think 'Jell-O.' It helps to visualize something substantial holding the plane up. Air doesn’t seem substantial because you can’t see it.

• Fourth, track the G-force produced during turbulence. When you feel the plane drop, it’s easy to imagine it is moving more than it actually is. You can download apps that have a built in G-force meter that measures how forcefully turbulence is moving the plane up or down. By scientifically monitoring these G-forces, you will prove the plane is nowhere near what it can handle. You can also prove the plane isn’t falling.

• Lastly, temporarily desensitize the amygdala to dropping. This is an exercise that can be done before your flight. The day before you fly (so the desensitization is fresh), go to some stairs with another person. Step up on the first step and turn around to face the floor, seven inches below. Put your arm around their waist and have them put their arm around yours. On a count of three, jump together to the floor. You’ll be in mid air, and zero-G (same as falling out of the sky) for about a tenth of a second. The amygdala ordinarily reacts to falling, but this is different. You are falling with your arm around someone and their arm around you. The amygdala will figure falling can be so bad after all. Doing the a few times will temporarily cause the amygdala to 'chill out' when it senses the plane drop.

Guided meditation for flight anxiety​

Guided meditation for flight anxiety

A two-minute exercise can burn off accumulated stress hormones and free your mind. Learn and use the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise prior to your lfight so that you can use it on the plane should you feel panicked. This is nothing more than a focusing exercise, something to intensely occupy your mind so disturbing thoughts can't take hold. Prove to yourself that you have the means to control anticipatory anxiety. Start by doing the 5-4-3-2-1 every fifteen minutes. Then every hour. Then, whenever you feel the need.

If you are not troubled by panic, this exercise can get you through a flight. However if you do suffer from panic, you will need to establish control that works automatically – try this:

1. Sit or recline comfortably.

2. Focus on an object in front of you.

3. Keep your focus on that throughout the exercise. If you eyes drift off, just bring them back. Do it out loud first. Then, try it silently. See if one works better for you than the other.

4. Say or think, "I see" and name something in your peripheral vision.

5. Say or think, "I see" and name something else in your peripheral vision.

6. Continue until you have made five statements. For example,  "I see the lamp, I see the table, I see a spot on the lamp shade, I see a book on the table, I see a picture on the table."

7. Say or think, "I hear" and name something you hear.

8. Say or think, "I hear" and name something else you hear.

9. Continue until you have made five statements (repeat something if there are not five different things you can hear).

10. Say or think, "I feel" and name something you feel (not internal, like heart pounding or tension, but external).

11. Say or think, "I feel" and name something else you feel.

12. Continue until you have made five statements. For example,  "I feel the chair under me, I feel my arm against my leg", etc.

That completes one cycle. It takes intense concentration and that's ok because it's exactly what you want and need. As you concentrate on non-threatening things, the 'fight or flight' hormones that were in your body when you started the exercise get burned off. As they get used up, you get more relaxed. See, you don't have to make yourself relax – as the old ones get used up, you just get more relaxed.

So what about the next cycle? If you always made five statements, you soon could do the exercise without intense concentration, and your mind could drift back to 'bad' thoughts. We keep concentration intense by making one change each cycle. Instead of doing five statements again, do four statements. Then, in the next cycle, do three statements. Then, in the next cycle, do two statements. Then, in the next cycle, do one statement. Then, in the next cycle, go back to five, etc. Stop when you are as relaxed as you want to be. If you want to be more relaxed, or to fall asleep, simply continue. If you lose count, that is a good sign because it means you are getting so relaxed that you are losing count.

Fear of flying treatment​

Fear of flying treatment

1. Learn how flying works

A lot of what anxious fliers fear really can’t happen. As to things that can happen, that’s no secret. When an airliner is designed, a team is assigned to list everything that could possibly go wrong. Then, for each thing that could go wrong, a team works out a way to make sure the plane can get back on the ground in spite of the problem. In any case, when you learn how controlled flying is, you will feel better about being on a plane.

2. Get someone to track your flight

Knowing someone has you in mind as you fly really helps, so have a friend or a family remember enter your flight information and promise to keep an eye on you as you fly.

3. Filter out sounds

Bose Comfort35 Wireless Headphones

If ear plugs just don't cut it, invest in noise cancelling headphones. The Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones offer high quality noise cancellation with up to 20 hours of battery life per charge and up to 40 hours in wired mode.

4. Know about noise abatement

On some takeoffs, power is reduced after reaching about one thousand feet (roughly twenty-five seconds after liftoff), which can be frightening if you don't know what it's all about. Ask the Captain when you meet him or her if the power will be changed significantly after take off, and ask how it will feel.

Expect and understand the physical sensations that are a natural and routine part of flight. Imagine this – you get in an elevator on the ground floor, and press the button for the tenth floor. The door closes, and as the elevator starts to rise, you feel heavy. As the elevator approaches the tenth floor, it has to slow down and stop. As it does, you feel 'light-headed.' In an elevator you know what the feeling is about, you are just slowing down your ascent. And although this feels like falling, you aren't falling at all.

5. Get a sense of your space and choose the right seat

Stretch out your arms and and legs, to sense the physical space that is yours. An aisle seat can also give you more visual space – many find visual space more important than physical space, so remember to try and see what suits you best.

Remember, your physical saftey is taken care of so it's up to you to make sure you have the tools to protect your personal and mental safety during your flights. You can take back control!


Read next:

Natural Ways to Kick Anxiety to the Curb!

5 Simple Ways To Control Your Anxiety And Panic Attacks


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Click here for the best flying tips from an Airline Pilot to help you overcome fear of flying, control flight anxiety and deal with turbulence during a flight.

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