Flying is one of the most common fears in the UK and can affect how many view travel, restricting their ability to explore and enjoy all that the world has to offer. In this article, I explore why people are often so afraid of flying and offer my top 10 tips on how to beat those jittery nerves.
Why are people so afraid of flying?
“If God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings,” is a popular saying amongst many cynics and sceptics and, in a way, they’re not wrong. Humans, as a species, did not evolve to deal with the idea of flying and consequently for many travellers, the whole experience can feel a bit unnatural.
Which is perfectly understandable – being boxed into a tin can hurtling thousands of feet above the ground is anything but natural. What exactly is it that causes this fear though? Let’s examine what people are really afraid of when it comes to flying and some top tips to calm the nerves.
The reality of flying
There’s an old urban myth that states that you are more likely to be killed by a donkey than involved in a plane accident. However, there’s little evidence to support this thesis, although the sentiment may be heading in the right direction.
A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority in the USA, reported that you are 3000 times more likely to die in a motorcycle accidence than on a plane. 1 The truth is that travel by car or by bike is considerably more dangerous than by air, especially if you consider the number of car crashes per year vs. the number of airplane fatalities.
Yet this does not stop you from stepping into your vehicle every day so what is it that you’re really afraid of?
• Lack of control: on a plane, the control is completely handed over to the pilot, so it’s only natural that you might feel a bit anxious about turbulence or wary when you go to take-off.
• Someone opening the plane door mid-flight: what happens in this situation? Nothing, the answer is absolutely nothing. That door is not going to open, even if it’s unlocked. Nothing will happen and this is because the pressure outside the door is so vastly different from the pressure inside the cabin that the door will always remain closed, even if you’re flying at lower altitudes.
• Terrorism: instances of terrorism on-board commercial flights have been very rare and airport security has been considerably tightened. If any of you have ever flown out of a major US airport, I’m sure you will appreciate how rigorous and thorough most of the security checks are, with many even perceiving them as overzealous and unnecessary.
• Turbulence: turbulence is a common occurrence on most journeys, with encounters usually being mild and harmless, yet it can provoke genuine fear as you immediately picture your vessel plummeting from the heavens. Turbulence on-board an airplane is no more than your car hitting a small pothole on the road. It is rarely serious and definitely nothing to panic over. What is actually happening is that different air currents are hitting your plane, causing some bumpiness and slight roughness.
• Plane malfunctions: did you know that even if one of the engines of your plane suddenly loses power, your plane will still be able to fly and land as normal? This is because most airplanes have multiple engines, meaning that if something happens to one, they can simply switch over to the other or even restart the failed engine as you would do a car. Of course the chances of engine failure are minimal because they are checked so regularly and persistently, that any faults would immediately be identified and rectified. Lastly, even in the event of a worst case scenario, your plane is not going to just drop from the sky like a lead coated balloon. Your pilot should be able to glide the plane to safe, if bumpy, landing.
• Claustrophobia: when you are flying, you will in all likelihood have to remain in your seat for hours and it can be very uncomfortable and nerve-wrecking if you start feeling claustrophobic. If you have enough spare money to splurge, you could invest in first class seats where you will most likely have much more legroom than the rest of your fellow passengers in economy class. You could also research more about the different airlines as some companies are definitely more guilty than others when it comes to this particular fault.
Our top 10 tips to overcome your fear
1) Use Emergency Essence:
Emergency essence is a natural and soothing alternative to conventional anxiety medicines and can be taken for immediate relief when you find yourself in a stressful or unpleasant situation. When you feel frightened or upset, it can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the structure responsible for enabling your ‘fight or flight’ instincts, and this will then trigger the typical symptoms of a panic attack – heart palpitations, increased sweat production, digestive issues etc.
Emergency essence works to regulate this reaction and to encourage your emotional wellbeing. The tincture is composed from the fresh extracts of flowers, like sweet chestnut and bluebells, and is suitable for anyone over the age of 2. Just try diluting five drops in a little water or even rubbing it onto the pulse areas of your skin before your flight and when you are on the plane, use a little directly on your tongue for quick respite.
2) Watch what you eat:
When you feel upset or are living in a state of dread, you’re first instinct might be to reach for a packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate. Food and the act of eating can be comforting and not many people crave carrots when faced with feelings of anxiety or distress; however, if you’re a nervous flyer, it might be best to step away from the ice-cream or that luxury box of chocolates.
There’s a lot to be said about the negative effect of refined sugars, processed fats and caffeine on your stress levels – not only do these fatigue your immune system and stimulate the release of adrenalin, they also cause your blood sugar levels to spiral out of control. Keeping your blood sugar levels steady can have a very positive effect on your stress levels and chomping away on cake and crisps is not likely to achieve this.
3) Drink plenty of water:
Alcohol and stress – never a winning combination! If you’re getting pre-flight jitters, the first thing on your mind might be paying a visit to the nearest bar and drowning your fears with a little Dutch courage. This line of thinking can be terrible for your nervous system though, and will only make you feel worse in the long run. Alcohol and sugary, fizzy drinks like coke contain high levels of caffeine and inflammatory chemicals like histamine. When these hit your immune system, they stimulate the production of adrenalin, which in turn accelerates your heartbeat and plunges your body into a state of panic – you see where this is going, don’t you?
4) Focus on the positives:
If you’re a nervous flyer and you’ve finally been talked into booking a flight, the chances are that there’s an impressive incentive persuading you to face your fears. This could be a luxury, inclusive holiday to Italy, a skiing trip to the Alps, or simply the opportunity to explore and enjoy somewhere new and exciting with your loved ones. The desire not to let your family down and the thought of spending a week or two sunning yourself somewhere exotic is a powerful motivator, so when you feel anxiety building at the thought of facing the Departure Lounge, think of why you’re getting on the plane in the first place. If you’ve booked a holiday, browse through the pamphlets and booklets that you’ve acquired – visualise yourself stepping off the plane and rush of triumph you’ll experience at actually conquering your fears!
5) Try relaxation techniques:
If the power of positive thinking isn’t getting you anywhere, you can always try to master a few basic relaxation techniques. It might seem like a small step, but practice breathing exercises – gentle exercise like yoga or meditation are great way of doing this. When you feel your heart racing or your hands getting sweaty try breathing in for two and then out for four – it’s simple but very effective! This should regulate your breathing and relax your pulse, reducing the activity of your stress hormones and giving your blood pressure a chance to stabilise. Visualisations can help soothe your mind and encourage your muscles to relax, leaving you feeling serene and tranquil in a situation that might initially make you experience panic or anxiety.
6) The more you know:
If you dislike the idea of being placed outside your comfort zone or feel uneasy about being placed in a situation outside of your control, then learning more about your fear can sometimes deprive it of its potency. It’s easy to be mistrustful of something we don’t understand but knowledge is often power and the more you know, the more in control you will feel of your environment. Think about what it is that really bothers you when you’re flying – terrorism? Airplane malfunction? – and then do your research. You will find that most statistics will show you how baseless your fears are. Learn more about the safety procedures conducted on air vessels, familiarise yourself with cabin protocol and try to think rationally.
7) Keep your mind occupied:
Of course, relaxation and acquired knowledge won’t work for everyone and largely depends on the root of your fear. Sometimes the best thing you can try to do on-board a flight is to keep your mind occupied. Bring along a good book or a puzzle game and immerse yourself as soon as you sit in your seat. This can sometimes take the edge off your panic and fool your body into believing that you are somewhere else – a train or a bus. If you happen to be sitting next to a window, keep it closed so you don’t have to peer out at the view and try and focus on your current activity. Memory games or puzzles are very useful for this as they stimulate your mind and force you to concentrate on the challenge at hand.
8) Fear of flying course:
There are some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic or British Airways, which offer comprehensive courses covering how to deal with having a fear of flying. These courses usually last anywhere from one day to a couple of weeks and should give you an inside insight into flying, with some even offering a psychology session and outings to a flight centre, with the chance to try flying on a small plane to get you used to the procedures and movements of flying. If you don’t mind paying for this additional service, it can be a great way to build up your confidence and instil you with the knowledge and techniques you need to conquer your anxiety.
9) Talk about it:
There’s no point in bottling up your fears and putting a brave face on for the sake of those around you. You may perceive your fear as being silly or embarrassing, but the chances are that your colleagues or friends will understand exactly how you’re feeling, since flying is such a common and persisting fear. Sometimes the act of simply talking to someone about your anxiety can allow you to relieve your emotions and rationalise your worries, evening improving the way you perceive the thing that you are afraid of. It can help to have people around you who are supportive and genuinely understand your state of mind so they can offer you the help and encouragement you need to conquer your fears
10) Try AvenaCalm:
If you’re considering taking anti-anxiety medication in preparation for your flight, it might be more beneficial to consider an alternative stress remedy like AvenaCalm. Similar to the emergency essences, AvenaCalm works to soothe the sympathetic nervous system but it is gentler than prescribed anxiety medicines, and works more gradually. You should start taking this treatment at least three weeks before your flight to allow it to work properly as it is slow acting, and not an immediate solution. Instead, give it time and you will start to find that your feelings of apprehension and dread start to become more bearable as the days pass. Your mood should improve and by the time you’re in the Departure Lounge, you should be feeling less like a nervous train wreck and more like your old self.