Scared of Flying? Six Steps to help you relax when going somewhere new
You don’t have to be a raider of the lost ark to enjoy adventure. It’s not about jumping out a plane or diving with sharks. If you enjoy doing something new in some place you’ve never been before, then YOU ARE an adventurer. It can be as simple as sampling a local food or taking a walk and seeing where you end up.
Sometimes, to experience adventure you need to get on a plane. For many people, the thought of getting on a plane is way out there; near to impossible. Those I’ve met fall into two categories:
- Never been on a plane ever
- Have vowed never to go abroad again (because the last time was so harrowing)
Thousands of people around the world have learned to live with the fear of flying – by keeping their feet firmly on the ground. They’ve decided not to fly and they’re happy about it. Then there are thousands of other people, who are just desperate to overcome their fears.
So, what’s the difference?
The biggest and most obvious difference I can see is…suffering. Buddhists talk about suffering as being what happens when you’re attached to something. And, if you’re desperate to get on a plane but feel too frightened, it’s because you care about something. You’re attached to something important that has meaning for you.
What does flying meaning to you?
The fear and frustration of not being able to fly is what you get when you have the desire to get on a plane, but can’t. The disappointment of yet another year spent going-local and the guilt of subjecting your family to “not there again! Why can’t we go somewhere hot?” are what you get when you value new experiences and having fun with the people you love.
Adventure is all about doing new things and having fun with people. Is this what makes flying meaningful for you?
The Fear of Flying is about a loss of control – Let’s look at the bigger picture
A natural question to ask when you’re struggling with the fear of flying is “why me?” “Why can’t I cope with this when no one else does?” “Even my kids are ok with it, am I just weak?”
Well, let’s look at the bigger picture for a moment, because there are probably some reasons why you feel this way. Flying phobias are a type of travel anxiety. Just like feeling afraid of getting on a bus or a train can scare you, so too can flying.
A lot of people are also scared about going in a car. They might not like others driving them or if they drive they either need to have someone in the car with them or they’d rather be on their own.
Travel phobias are about feeling unsafe away from home. Home is treated as the place where you feel most comfortable and the place you want to get to when you feel frightened. This is what happens with agoraphobia. You get scared that you’ll panic and be quickly overwhelmed. So, you stay inside to avoid the risk. But, why does this happen?
It’s all about control
When you’re scared of flying it’s because you don’t feel safe. And, when you don’t feel safe, you do stuff to make yourself feel better. You run away, get out or cling to people to keep them close. You might also get lost in your own head fighting with your thoughts, trying to distract yourself or relax.
It is easy to get pulled into a battle with your anxiety. It’s just your mind trying to control stuff and get rid of your fear. The trouble is that when you get on a plane, you trust someone else with your safety. You trust the pilot, the engineers who built and maintain the plane and the air traffic controllers who look after the airways.
When you trust all these people to keep you safe, you are definitely not in control.
Your fears about flying might not be about the plane crashing. Many people I’ve spoken to say their fears are about losing control of their emotions. They’re frightened that their anxiety will go through the roof, that they won’t be able to cope and it will have an impact on everyone else.
As soon as you leave your house, you have to start trusting other people. If you don’t then you won’t feel safe.
I’ll let you into a secret. I’m actually writing this article whilst sat on a plane. And the great thing about it is that I’m noticing all the random thoughts going through my head. There is a lot of uncertainty inside me. There are lots of things I don’t know, like:
- How will I get to the apartment?
- Will I get ripped off by taxi driver?
- What if my bag gets lost?
- Will I be able to find a pharmacy if I get ill?
When I go somewhere new, my mind naturally gets busier thinking about all the things that are outside of my control.
Now, flying doesn’t frighten me anymore. It used to. There were times when I got scared of the plane crashing or feeling anxious and being sick. Writing this article, I’ve noticed that there are all these other uncertainties about what will happen. And this makes it more stressful than sitting at home watching TV.
Six Steps to help you relax when going somewhere new
Here we get to the meaty bit – what you can do that will help you relax and get on a plane. I want to help you build your confidence so you can enjoy your time with your family and friends when you go abroad. I want to help you find the freedom to go anywhere you like, whenever you like. But there is a trap you need to avoid.
There is a trap that many people fall into when they want to get past their fears. They wait. They wait until their fears go away before they start to live. The trouble is waiting rarely works. You learn how to cope with fear by putting yourself in the situations where fear shows up.
You can’t ride a bike by watching other people or learn to swim by sitting on the edge of the pool. You have to get involved.
This is your first step.
- MAKE A COMMITMENT: A commitment comes from an intention. “I will get on a plane by x and fly to x”. To begin with, it will help to clarify why you want to get on a plane. It’s probably about adventure to some degree. But it might be about other ideas or words. Try to find the words that make sense to you.
Once you’ve got your ‘why’, make the commitment to yourself. Take that step. Notice the urge to wait until you feel ready and step over it.
- MAKE A PLAN: When you make a plan, you’re getting into the detail of your commitment. You are working out what needs to be done so that your dream becomes a reality.
Your plan will depend on where you are at. For example, if you tend to avoid other forms of travel like getting in a car, getting on a bus or train, then that will probably be a better place to start. If you avoid situations where you feel out of control like being in a lift or sitting in the middle row of the cinema, then start there.
Tackle these situations first. Build your confidence and keep doing it. You make progress when you do this stuff every day. Take one small step every day. If you leave it days or weeks apart, then it will take forever or too long. It’s time to get busy being brave!
- NAME YOUR FEARS AND ASSESS THE RISK: So, what are you scared of? I gave you some ideas earlier, but it’s helpful to identify just what goes on in your head. Try to capture the thoughts about what your mind says is threatening.
Depending on what you come up with, you can then respond differently. For example, if you’re fears are about something that happened – a memory – then notice how although the memory was upsetting, it is also not happening right now. You are here, now. Your memory was there, then. It is different and it helps your mind and your body to keep telling yourself this. In a gentle and kind way of course.
If your fears are not based in a clear memory i.e. they are an imagined threat, then try to turn your attention to making a risk assessment. I don’t mean calling out health and safety and putting on a hard hat. I mean ask yourself what is the real danger here?
The solution to avoiding fear is not always to subject yourself to fear. Different situations require you to do something different. When you practice making a distinction between the possibility of losing control and the probability, then you get better at assessing the actual risk.
Once you’ve done this fairly and accurately, summarise your findings. Make a conclusion on what you’ve discovered and then act appropriately.
- CHOOSE TO MAKE YOURSELF SAFE: The fear of flying is not just about avoiding it. It is also about rigidly following a rule in your head. When you avoid flying, it is because you’re adhering to a rule in your mind. FLYING is the same as SCARY or BAD. And, so you SHOULD avoid it.
Following rules is a big problem. Because many rules are just learned from what has happened to you. Even if you’ve never been on a plane, you can still be scared because you’ve experienced not feeling in control. So, your fear gets generalised and shows up in any situation where you feel ‘not in control.’ These rules become powerful forces in the background. Often you don’t even see them. They’re like people pulling the strings behind the scenes.
When you make a choice, you ask yourself “does this rule work for me?” Here and now in this situation is where you can ask the question. The answer may be yes or it may be no. It may have been yes before, but it may not be yes now. Make a judgement and make a choice.
You can leave the situation or escape it. Doing so may be what you need to do to make yourself safe. This works when the threat is real.
In many situations, we can feel unsafe without actually being unsafe.
If it like this, then try to stay where you are. Try not to run away from it. Learn to have your fears and be where you are. When you do that, you’ll get much better at coping with what frightens you.
- TAKE A BIRD’S EYE VIEW (pun-intended): When you take a bird’s eye view, you’re up high looking down at something. It changes what you see. You see what else is there next to what you were seeing when you were down low.
You can start practicing this here and now. Notice you reading these words. Say, “here I am reading these words”.
And, then, try to notice YOU noticing – ”here I am noticing ME noticing”.
When you notice the YOU, noticing, you fly up high and see more of what is happening. Your thoughts and feelings are there happening inside of you. And YOU are the one who is noticing it all.
- GENTLY FOCUS ON A NEW INTEREST: Once you’ve observed your fears, shift your attention to something new. Focus on a different interest. What are you interested in doing right now?
Do you want to do something fun? Do you want to talk to someone? Or do you want to make sure you learn and remember what you’ve read here?
Whatever it is, make a commitment to go and do that as soon as you’ve finished reading this.
And, do this when you are on a plane, in a car, on a bus, on a train or out for a walk. Once you’ve noticed your fears and made a choice to stay safe. Once you’ve taken a bird’s eye view, turn your attention to something you’re interested in. It might be reading a book, listening to music or do some work.
Try to make a connection with an activity that interests you. When you attach to an interest, it stimulates your mind and your body in a good way. You feel more secure and more content. You feel like you belong, connected to an action or a person.
And, take a rest when you need to.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to get started?
My advice is read back through this post. Make some notes and plot out the six steps. This is you guide to help you relax when you go somewhere new. It is six steps that I think will help you get on a plane with your friends or family. It is your ticket (not literally, of course) to a new destination.
Get started as soon as you can. Be gentle and be brave. You are an adventurer. You just need to live it.
Please share this article with your fellow adventurers and wannabe jet-setters. I’d love to hear your reactions. Just leave a comment or two below.