This year I decided to up my travel game, I had a 2 week trip to Argentina in November, a 14 hour direct flight might I add, and since touching down in England my travel bug was awoken. I am oddly happy with just having a want to travel as my feelings towards flying have not always been so plain sailing. Now I am lucky enough to have travelled quite a bit as a child and up until 18 had no issue with flying. I could even go as far as saying I loved it. In fact I was so much at ease I would fall asleep before take off and wake up when the first meal was served. Though I have made sure my anxiety towards flying hasn’t stopped me from travelling, I am now at a stage where I can plan a trip and not be filled with stress on the day of my flight. So I am going to share my journey and how my anxiety manifested and how I was able to overcome it.. without sounding overly dramatic. On that note, drumroll please.
I first became conscious of a nervousness toward flying on my first solo holiday with my friends. When I had travelled as a child it would normally be on a long haul flight on a big airbus which tends to control turbulence a little better. For this holiday we had found a cheap deal with a smaller commercial airline, so the combination of being away from home mixed with a bumpy flight probably didn’t set me off to a good start. I also hadn’t flown for a few years so my adult brain was now trying to rationalise the concept of flying. The flight packages included some complimentary turbulence, a few drops in altitude and an engine that sounded like it was going to give up mid-flight. This all made for a perfect recipe for flying anxiety.
I found that over the next couple of years this anxiety would amplify, to the point that I would book a holiday and in the run up I would have recurring dreams of flight failures. The dreams would mainly centre around either a problem during take off or becoming aware of an urgent problem in-flight followed by a feeling of stress and fear. Then I would wake up and carry those feelings forward and this created even more anxiety towards flying. My holiday would come around, and I would spend the time I used to love, in duty-free, waiting and worrying nauseous about the hours ahead. Take off has always been the worst part for me, when the engines fires up and it all becomes very loud and very fast, very quickly. I would have sweaty palms and my heart would race and adrenaline would be coursing throughout my body, que introduction: Flight or Fight.
Flight or Fight Response
If you haven’t already heard of the flight or fight response, this is basically our body’s natural reaction to what we may perceive as stressful or harmful situations. Our body pumps blood and releases hormones at a rate to produce enough energy and strength to prepares us to physically fight ‘said danger’ or flee, and run away. Now as you can imagine this is fine, great even when in threat of immediate danger, not sooo great however when I’m stationary in a cramped plane seat for the best part of 5-8 hours. I had installed apps on my phone,coincidently spoken to a pilot and even looked at flying courses aimed at nervous flyers, but my remedy came in the form of, that’s right you guessed it, a book.
I had taken an interest in meditation about 4 years ago, and purchased a book called Peace of mind: Becoming fully present by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book contains affirmations and small guided meditation technique’s. I was on a flight, getting ready for take off with anxiety in full swing and I started to read to distract my mind. Instead of blindly reading, I started to pay attentions to the words, and implemented the instructions. I slowed my breathing and paid attention to it, concentrating wholly on my breathing. I was calming down, my heartbeat was slowing down and my clammy palms were drying up. This book did not miraculously cure-all fear but I was present and conscious, and this was a start.
It’s an on-going process so be patient but adopt a way to keep your mind present, concentrate on your breathing and keep your mind and body united. Everyone will always talk about statistic’s and the probability of an accident. That is all irrelevant when you are dealing with an irrational feeling of fear. Whilst it’s true, the majority of people will go through life with leg room being the biggest problem faced during a flight, that tiny small probability of what if will always over rule any air transport statistic. That being said try not to let your mind run away with worry, especially during the point of your journey that causes you the most unease. I find listening to Jazz also helps, instead of analysing the 100 different sounds an aeroplane makes, block it all out and listen to something calming. Or take advantage of the ‘inflight entertainment’ but do the opposite to your normal routine. Stop paying attention to the sounds, and watching the cabin crew for any signs of a problem. Imagine you’re on a train, a journey that is just as bumpy, and talk to your companion if you don’t have one then pester your neighbour and strike up a conversation. We all have messages and truths we can share with each other we just need a little time and the right situation for it to be apparent.
If worst comes to worst and something is happening, what is sitting down thinking about it constantly going to change anyway? This is one of the situations when you really do need to let jesus, buddha, Allah or whoever else take the wheel and just acknowledge you aren’t in control of the plane; but you are in control of your mind. Embrace the situation, this might even be the longest time you are out of touch with society. For the next x amount of hours you have no phone no social media, but you have you, you have music and books and films and any creative outlet that doesn’t require wifi. So the next time you have a flight, try to change your approach and see what you can gain from it, then slowly over time and after a few flights, your body will stop working against you as long as your mind supports it.