I had one bad experience.
For me, flying had become a very stressful experience after that one time.
We had a lot of turbulence to the point where even the flight attendant was telling us through what I’ll call the plane phone to remain calm, but she said this in a super panicky and shaky voice that it convinced no one.
The plane was so cold I thought I was on the verge of frostbite in that flying fridge, it was a really bad flight, I could easily complain some more but that’s not the point.
Coming to terms with the idea of dying on every flight and being okay with it shouldn’t be in a passenger’s standard cognitive repertoire.
Worrying about how my family will cope after the plane crashes or ruminating about how I will be remembered on this Earth once I’ve departed prematurely isn’t adaptive at all.
The goods new is though – I got over it. I got over my fear of flying.
Maybe it’ll help you, too.
In this post, we’ll look at some really good tips that helped me get over my fear of flying.
Things that helped me overcome my fear of flying
1. Learn some facts about aerotravel
It’s easy to think that you are a little chemical spec in a metal tube and the only thing below the floor you or separating you is a big drop.
But if you take the time to read about flying and learn how aviation works, you’ll realise that flying by plane is safest form of transport.
Turbulence will always occur in aviation, no matter what. It is as natural as experiencing bumps on the road while travelling by car. There’s nothing to be alarmed about.
It’s just the media that fuel our fear of flying by overemphasising very rare plane crashes. Because of the media, we overestimate the risks of plane crashes.
It’s also a fundamental psychological bias to overestimate the probability of unlikely events occurring.
2. Eat well before the flight
Worst thing to do is board a plane hungry.
When you’re hungry your prefrontal cortex (PFC; reasoning mind) isn’t functioning well due to low blood glucose.
In other words, if you are hungry, parts of your brain don’t perform up to scratch because it has no fuel to do so.
Hunger also affects your willpower as the PFC is responsible for that and you need willpower to retain composure.
Not only does hunger subdue your reasoning part of the brain but low sugar leads to an accentuation of the impulsive mind which will make your fear spiral out of control.
3. Practice some visualisation
Visualise that everything is going to be okay. The plane will land softly on the tarmac, your parents or whoever will pick you up, and will take you home so you can have a nice warm shower and will later cook you a nutritious, home cooked meal.
Be a specific as you can.
4. Reinterpret the situation to your benefit
Cognitive reappraisal is basically reinterpreting events for your benefit.
Something that really helped me was reinterpreting the plane ride as a car or train ride, or a limo ride and that the driver is just casually dropping me off somewhere.
Thinking of the plane ride as a train ride where I’m just travelling on stable train tracks which go up and down and are slightly bent to explain the turbulences made flights more bearable.
5. Deprive yourself of sleep the night before
Do that so that if you manage to fall asleep, you’ll hopefully sleep through the whole flight.
6. Get drunk
It works every time but there’s something strange about drinking on a morning flight… I’d drink as an absolutely last resort so that I relied more on adaptive coping mechanisms (like all of the above, for better or worse) rather than rely on a substance.
7. Keep flying – better yet, fly more
There’s a very effective treatment for anxiety called Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP).
Basically, the treatment revolves around you exposing yourself to the thing that makes you anxious (e.g. flying by plane) and making sure you don’t do things that would easily help you in reducing that anxiety (e.g. like drinking alcohol on a plane flight.)
The idea is to increase your anxiety to uncomfortable levels only for you to realise that nothing bad actually happens during this anxiety so there’s no point of experiencing it.
Over time, increasing your anxiety threshold without any adverse consequences will desensitise you to this fear.
With every next flight, your fear gets smaller and smaller.
In my case, I didn’t want fear to dictate my life and force me to miss out on the many adventures ahead of me. So I decided to travel to various places in Europe, flying each time.
I even travelled for 12 hours straight from London to Hong Kong – this was a huge challenge which helped me overcome my fear. After all, if I can travel by plane for 12 hours, what’s a piddly 2- or 3 hour flight for me?
On the way back to London to Hong Kong I thought to myself – I did it once, I can do it again.
I’m so comfortable flying now that I even managed to write and finish this post on a plane flight.
As humans we overestimate risk.
We have the special ability to be able to make future projections (i.e. imagine the future) in hypothetical, fictional scenarios to deduce probabilities of bad things happening.
For example, we’ll imagine the probability of getting hit by a car when thinking of crossing a red light. We’ll often overestimate the risk of getting run over which will result in just waiting at the zebra crossing.
Overstimating risk is good because it makes us vigilant and cautious. But this stems from fear.
Fear is the one of the most powerful emotions which we possess.
It is a powerful motivator that is designed to protect us and keep us alive.
Fear is knowing that breaking into your neighbours home in the middle of the night could result in arrest and fear is knowing that acting on your impulse to punch a stranger in the face could result in potentially serious injury.
In order to avoid those scenarios, fear works in your favour and is a life-preserving rational impulse. Again, it exists to keep you alive and for this reason it is an adaptive emotion.
But fear can also be an irrational emotion and can sometimes rule our lives in a way that isn’t healthy and can manifest in maladaptive ways like anxiety disorders and chronic stress.
It’s important to be aware that overestimating risk and experiencing fear are actually good things.
Above all else though, be aware that you as a human also tend to underestimate your ability to adapt and that you’ll be able to conquer your fear with a little bit of effort.
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