We’ve all heard it said. Statistically, “they” say, flying is the safest form of travel. Sure. OK. But when you’re flying up into the air in a huge piece of heavy metal, it certainly doesn’t seem likely. I actually love to fly. I get excited by the idea of going anywhere on an airplane. But that doesn’t mean my imagination doesn’t go wild during takeoff.
According to Lucas van Gerwen, an aviation psychologist and director of the VALK Foundation, which studies how to treat flying fears, more than 26 million Americans suffer from a fear of flying.
For many people, a fear of flying stems from the fact that they don’t really understand just how airplanes work. For others, a lack of being in control of their vehicle can be the cause of the fear. In other cases, experiencing a bad flight—bumpy or one with some sort of mechanical failure—can contribute to the fear. While in other cases, simply hearing about a plane crash can cause the fear to surface.
Whatever is causing your fear, you can certainly overcome it. Try these tips and learn how to fly comfortably next time.
1. You should learn how a plane works.
Go to the library and find a book on flight. There are many (I should know—I have son who is obsessed with flying). Or go online and read about aerodynamics. While some of the information might make you turn glassy-eyed and make you feel like you’re in high school physics again, some of the information will be very useful. For example, according to National Geographic Online: “Essentially, to keep in the air, a plane relies on two forces—the thrust of the engine and the uplift of the wings. Just like a bird’s wings, when a plane’s wings move through the air, air flowing over the curved top surface of the wing moves faster than the air flowing on the bottom surface, decreasing the pressure on top, thereby creating uplift and keeping a plane in the air. The engine of a plane works to create high pressure and forward momentum to propel the plane forward: modern jet engines mean that planes can fly higher, faster and more efficiently than at any time before.”
2. You should produce oxytocin.
“I should do what?” you ask. Yes. You can, according to SOAR founder Tom Bunn, encourage your body to produce oxytocin which, in turn suppresses your amygdala. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that stores memories of fear and responses to it.
“The trick to this whole approach of fighting flight anxieties,” he says, “is finding ways to shut down the amygdala …The best way,” he says, “is to encourage your body to produce the hormone oxytocin, which banishes fearful thoughts. Women produce this chemical particularly well by thinking of nursing a child, men by contemplating sex. Not that I should act on such thoughts aboard a plane,” he adds.
“This isn’t about you telling someone, ‘I’m having a panic attack. Let’s sneak into the bathroom together,’ ” Bunn says with a laugh. “Instead,” he says, “imagine your dog looking at you. Your dog looking at you like you’re the only person in the world also produces oxytocin in you,” he says. “And, unlike with people, you can always depend on your dog to look at you like this.”
3. You should find the app for that.
An app? Of course there’s an app—isn’t there always? The VALK foundation developed an app that can walk you through your flight. It works in airplane mode, of course, and there is even a panic button during the flight to help calm you down. There is a mini-aviation course, recommended exercises and relaxtion techniques as well as other helpful information.
4. You should check the weather.
Go online and find out what the weather will be like between your take off and landing points. Knowing that there might be a thunderstorm over the Midwest or wherever will prepare you for any turbulence you might encounter along the way.
According to National Geographic: “Turbulence—that bouncy, dipping sensation experienced often when we fly—can be the biggest cause of panic among nervous fliers when they are in the air, but turbulence is nothing really to worry about. Turbulence is caused when a plane flies into different types of air pressure or air currents, notably thunderstorms, by air flow over mountains or weather frontal boundariess. These waves are spontaneously generated and associated with jet streams at high altitudes, near the cruising levels for airplanes. When a plane flies through turbulence, the sensation is like being in a small boat on a stormy sea. Although the shakiness can cause panic, induce travel sickness and cause minor injuries, it’s important to know that the plane itself is in no real danger.”
5. You should eat.
Really? You’re thinking. I don’t think I should I eat. No, really. You should. According to an article in National Geographic, “A report conducted by the Alpha Airports Group (AAG) found that around three-quarters of the 1,122 members of the general public surveyed admitted to being scared of flying—with eight per cent stating that they refused to get on a plane at all.
The study also claims that in-flight meals can help passengers overcome their fears, by breaking up the monotony of flying and providing passengers with an activity.
Enjoying an in-flight meal can help distract you from fears of flying. But what you eat on the flight can be equally as important too as the nutritional content of food can naturally help you to relax. Dishes containing carbohydrates and fats in the form of pasta, biscuits or cheese create lipids in the bloodstream, which help you to relax.”
So eat up! It might help after all!
6. You should go slow.
If your fear of flying starts when you go to the airport, then go to the airport before you ever take a flight. Call ahead and ask if you can have a tour (this is easier if you have kids—or friends with kids). Visit the terminal. Hang out for a bit. Get comfortable in the airport. If you were trying to overcome a fear of horses, you wouldn’t go jump on a horse and gallop away, right? No. You’d go meet a horse and maybe stand next to him for a while. Or pet him. You’d build up your exposure. So, go to an airshow or an aviation museum. Get comfortable with the idea of planes. Then, take a flight. Maybe take a discovery flight in a small plane. Small planes are actually great exposure to flying because you are practically in the cockpit and you can see everything that’s going on. You can talk to the pilot. Then start flying. And try to fly often so you don’t lose the progress you’ve made. Use different breathing and meditation techniques to keep yourself on the airplane and get comfortable being there. Then, do it again.
Have you overcome a fear of flying? How did you do it? Let us know!
Featured photo credit: ABC via fogsmoviereviews.files.wordpress.com