Anxious man worried about getting on flight (Dreamstime)
Article 02 September

How to beat your fear of flying: 5 top tips from a psychological expert

With a recent survey revealing that 6% of the population suffer from aviophobia, Clinical Psychologist Dr Nick Mooney reveals his useful tips for overcoming or managing a fear of flying

1: Employ calming techniques

Stressed passenger employing calming techniques (Dreamstime)
Stressed passenger employing calming techniques (Dreamstime)

There are many ways you can calm yourself before your flight. Specific techniques include breathing exercises, mindfulness skills, visualisation exposure exercises and challenging unhelpful thoughts. Each can be useful in counteracting anxiety associated with flying. It is best to practice these in advance so these skills can be put into practice effectively on the fight.

Remember to also be kind and compassionate to yourself. Even though you might recognise the thoughts as irrational, the anxiety you are experiencing is certainly real and valid. It is ok to be anxious and the feelings will pass quicker if you don’t try to avoid or struggle with them.

 

2: Take a fear of flying course

Many Fear of Flying courses include a flight (Dreamstime)
Many Fear of Flying courses include a flight (Dreamstime)

Intensive therapy programmes, such as those offered in ‘fear of flying’ courses, provide some additional advantages, particularly for those with moderate to severe levels of anxiety. These courses are offered by a number of airline operators and most are based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) principles.

Many ‘fear of flying’ courses offer the opportunity for immersive exposure to the anxiety by providing an aeroplane flight as part of the programme. These courses are also usually run in a group format, which can be validating to people with a fear of flying, as they are able to share and normalise their anxiety with other sufferers. 

Many ‘fear of flying’ courses also use former pilots or aircrew, in addition to therapists who specialise in aviophobia. This can instil an extra sense of confidence in the information being provided.

 

3: Understand your triggers

What is your greatest fear about flying? (Dreamstime)
What is your greatest fear about flying? (Dreamstime)

Knowledge is power. Take time to understand your triggers. Try to identify what your biggest fears are. Worrying that the plane will crash or be hijacked may play on some people’s minds, while others may be more concerned about the potential catastrophic consequences of having a panic attack in an enclosed space at 30,000 feet. 

By pinpointing your fear, you will be able to better understand the steps needed to help combat your phobia.

Also, be familiar with the facts by doing your research on statistics relating to your phobia. For example, if your phobia surrounds the plane crashing, research how many planes have crashed recently and what the likelihood of this happening is. Whilst it won’t eliminate your fear, it will put it into context and help you to rationalise these unhelpful beliefs.

 

4: Inform the flight crew

Flight Attendants are onboard to help (Dreamstime)
Flight Attendants are onboard to help (Dreamstime)

Some people find it helpful to inform the flight crew and even neighbouring passengers of your fear of flying. This can help by ‘naming the elephant in the room’ when and if you start to exhibit signs of anxiety. You won’t be so worried about what others might be thinking and you are likely to receive genuine expressions of sympathy and validation. 

The flight crew will be well aware of some useful tips and tricks to manage flight anxiety, so they may be able to offer additional support or assistance if needed.

 

5: Seek professional help

Psychologist with patient (Dreamstime)
Psychologist with patient (Dreamstime)

For those with moderate to severe levels of anxiety, psychological therapy has been proven to help people effectively manage their anxiety when flying. However, one size does not fit all and the specific techniques used for one person may not be the most useful for another. 

It is recommended that people experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety when flying seek support from a qualified therapist with experience of working with anxiety conditions.

 

Dr Nick Mooney is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Re:Cognition Health who specialises in dealing with anxiety associated with flying.

 

Main image: Anxious man worried about getting on flight (Dreamstime)