I will never forget the first time that I got fear of flying anxiety. It crept up on me with no warning, and trying to board a plane to Dublin, I was rooted to the spot. I was sweating, trembling, and my stomach felt like I had just got off the Waltzer at Walton on the Naze sea front! I clutched the side of the doors leading out from the departure lounge as I thought I was going to faint. Instead I was sick. It was embarrassing, debilitating and and an experience that changed my enjoyment of travel for a few years. If you too have ever suffered from a fear of flying or anxiety, then I am sure you can understand the hinderance it is to your life. It is very real, very scary and at the time, feels impossible to overcome.
The sudden feeling of not being able to get on a plane was such a shock to me as I had spent years backpacking around the world, jumping in (and out of) planes like I was getting a taxi. Mammoth, long haul flights never bothered me and I was always full of excitement for my next flight. I have flown to Australia and LA on my own, never batting an eyelid. This sudden fear of flying anxiety was like a punch from behind, unexpected and so alien. It was awful, but I was totally powerless at the times it struck.
I think I can pinpoint when my fear started. Travelling from Jakarta to Bangkok many years ago, on an Indonesian budget airline, it was the flight from hell. The plane had a few malfunctions before we even took off, and it literally felt like it was made of tin cans! You turned your overhead light on, seven rows up’s light went on. The air ducts were taped with black tape to keep them from falling out, and the overhead oxygen masks kept falling down. If it was not so nerve wracking it would have been hilarious. To add to this, the turbulence we experienced on that flight was the worse I have ever experienced, and during one particular steep dip, even one of the cabin crew screamed!
Adding fuel to the flying fear, was what I experienced on a flight I took to Crete when I was about 5 months pregnant. I was sick for the entire flight. Not only was I feeling as rough as a badgers, but the embarrassment of sitting in my plane seat, being sick was mortifying. I felt ashamed and mortified that everyone (because that it how it felt) was looking at me. This made me end up with the additional fear of being sick when I travelled, which ramped up my flying anxiety to the max. (I could tell you here a story about the time I threw up all over my now very close friend, on a flight to Ireland, the first time we met. That was fun but I will leave that for another day….) Anyway, my fear of flying anxiety had gotten so bad, I didn’t get on a plane for three full years after that flight.
Overcoming my Fear of Flying Anxiety
As my boys got older, I knew I had to sort my anxiety out. Travel is at my very core though, so I knew I had to find a way to get over it. I wanted my boys to experience overseas travel, and my fear of flying was hindering this. I couldn’t afford the expensive fear of flying courses, so I started looking for solutions via the internet, willing to try anything to get me on a plane. The first thing that I did was read the book Soar – Treatment for fear of Flying, This did help, as it made me realise a lot of what I feared was unfounded. I could start to internally rationalise, make sense of the fears I felt, and start to feel more level headed. So much so that we booked a flight to Minorca! This was it. I was going to get on a plane!
I knew that I still had obstacles to overcome. It was in the departure lounge that my panic attacks took place. I was told that I could get medication from my GP to help with my flight anxiety. This was appealing to me, but, travelling with two small children, I knew that it was not an option as I had to be alert and fully functioning!
Things I did that Helped
In addition to re-reading chapters of the book, I started taking the herbal tablets, Calms the day before flying, and the day of, as well as squirting Bach rescue remedy into my mouth like my life depended on it on the day I was flying! I also took anti-sickness tablets to try to alleviate the fear I had of being sick. I found keeping myself stress free and calm on the morning of my flight also kept my mind on a level. All this was enough to calm me enough to get me on the plane, it was just the take off now to content with.
This is where meditation came in. I have spoken to you before about my meditation practise, (you can read more about it here, Meditation and Mindfulness), so I knew that it could help me on the plane. I am not talking about sitting cross legged on the floor of the airport chanting here people. Just using the techniques used within meditation like focusing on the breath, repeating a mantra in your head, (mine is “I am feeling calm, I am ok”) help to stop that anxiety building. I also always wear one of my mala necklaces.
Now, anyone that knows me in real life, knows that it is not often that I am seen without one of my many mala bead necklaces on. I have a collection of them. Mala beads, if you are not aware, are a traditional Bhuddist meditation tool, made up of 108 beads to help you count your number of times you say your recitals. They are also very pretty! My malas are all different, made with differant crystals said to have different healing energy, and I choose what one to wear depending on how I feel. Many of my malas I have collected over the years are from the fabulous Elizabeth Caroline London range, and it is very rare I meditate without one on, or in my hand.
I think even if mala necklaces are not your thing, just having a crystal in your pocket or handbag helps. Just having it as a tool to focus your attention should you feel a panic start to swell within you, is a good tip. Even if you are a sceptic about the use of crystals, there is something to be said for having something physical to distract you or change your thoughts when anxiety starts to infiltrate your mind. Trust me, I have been there many times, I know! If your interested, I have popped some good crystals for anxiety at the end of this post x
Some other quick tips I find help with my fear of flying anxiety
*Book the airport lounge if it is affordable. This helps me as it gives me a place of calm and keeps me away from the madness of the airport if I need it to.
*Be super organised. Make sure all of your documents are to hand, liquids if you are carry on only, are all easy to find so you don’t need to panic.
*If you are a reader, get into a really good book a few days before you are due to fly. This helps me as I am keen to pick the book up, and as I am absorbed in it, it helps take my mind off it all.
*Tell the cabin crew you have fear of flying anxiety. they are trained to deal with you, they can help without making it obvious.
*Book your seats in advance. I know airlines often charge for this now, but I used to get anxious that I wouldn’t be sitting with who I was flying with, and this would add to my nervousness.
*If you have an early morning flight, booking a hotel near to the airport can alleviate any feeling of rush or panic. This helps me as I don’t have a build up of anxiety before I even get to the airport.
For me, making the build up to flying as stress free as possible is the key. No rushing, no panic, no stress. It has made a huge difference to my anxiety surrounding travel. If you like the idea of having a physical point of focus, some good crystals for anxiety are blue lace agate, amethyst, black tourmaline and angelite.
I really hope that some of these tips help. If you have a fear of flying, I feel for you. I hated that it stopped me living the life I love for a few years. I really urge you to seek any help you can to get over it. There is a huge world out there to see, full of beauty. You will be so proud of yourself if you manage to take that trip you dream about!
Have you always been fine travelling? Any other thing you cant do at the moment because of anxiety? Have you any other tips for overcoming fear of flying anxiety? Please do let us know in the comments. It is useful for anyone that has these fears xx