A couple of years ago I developed a fear of flying. I have flown a million times and I knew it was a completely irrational fear, but none the less it arrived full on.
I think it started on a trip to Sweden for a training conference where I was really unwell on the trip and something in my brain decided I was going to feel like this every time that I was going to fly.
A few years ago on opening my studio I decided if you always stay within your comfort zone then you will never grow. Opening my studio was quite a scary thing to do but at the same time it also felt quite safe. I had tried businesses before and they hadn’t worked out, so I already knew what the worst that could happen was. It could fail. So far it’s growing, not as fast as I’d like, I should be Richard Branson by now but I guess that every success take years of work.
Today I am feeling pretty pleased with myself as I think I have managed to conquer my fear or anxiety of flying. In the last couple of days I have taken two plane journeys half way round the world and all without incident of fear or anxiety.
For the last couple of years flying has been a real struggle and usually it starts before I even get to the airport with an upset stomach and at the worst vomiting attacks, feeling of dizziness, nausea and thinking that I could just collapse at anytime.
This year I knew I had to get it under control especially as my first flight was going to be about 15 hours long. I knew that this was nothing more than a psychological thing where my sub conscious was saying “you were ill that one time, then the next time. Rather than it might happen again I’ll make it happen” and every time I flew it was being re confirmed as I was ill. But what became curious was it was majorly on out bound flights and lesser on home bound flights. This led me to conclude that it was most likely over excitement and anxiety.
So before I my flight, I had been scouring the Internet to find as many things as I could to help me get over it from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and a number of self help videos on YouTube from people that have had the same problems.
So my intention here is to list some of the things that have helped me to get over this. I am not a psychologist or have any training in this practice but as others have helped me with their blogs I wanted to add mine in the hope it may help someone else. I’ll try to give my understanding and rational behind some of them as the why it works is sometimes as important as the act itself.
I was aware that anything I tried could also become an OCD like set of rituals, and I wanted to avoid this as in my mind it was exactly this kind of thought process that got me here in the first place. This thought train was what I was trying break.
So here is what I found out and what helped me.
The first and the biggest for me was knowing that anxiety and excitement are both emotions that manifest themselves in almost the same way in the body. This I already know as I can over produce ceratonin (not sure if I spelt that right, but it’s your happy hormone).
Now anyone who suffers with depression will think this must be amazing as in some cases they don’t produce enough causing a chemical depression in the brain, but as the saying goes too much of a good thing…. It can be almost as debilitating causing all the symptoms that I have before flying.
I’m hoping that this new mastery will help me control this too.
Now ceratonin is produced in two parts of the body in your brain and in your stomach (apparently your stomach has brain like tissues too, which appear to manage digestion). This can be the cause of butterflies in your belly when you fall in love, or feeling sick to your stomach when you get bad news.
So I already knew that anxiety and excitement had the same physical and chemical responses. But the bit of information that made this useful was that they are both emotions and we have the power to control our emotions. We can not always control what is going on around us but we can control our emotions. This we do have a choice over.
Because of the similarity between these two states is so similar we are able to switch between the two very quickly. The best example of this is riding a roller coaster the fear of the big dip to the exhilaration of the ride after till you get the fear of the loop de loop seconds later.
Because we can switch from one to the other so quickly we can also control this and as I discovered in the most simplest way!
Say “I am excited!”
That’s it. Just say it out loud. This apparently moves the notion from one side of the brain dealing with emotion to the other side dealing with rational thought. Now don’t get me wrong I certainly had to say this quite a few times but it’s amazing that it does actually work especially when I combined it with a few other techniques.
Our body, it appears has quite a large impact on how we feel too. I know this as a fitness instructor there can be days that Im tired and not feeling the love, but after a class that feeling has completely disappeared.
When we aren’t feeling great we generally hunch forward, contracting our shoulders, dropping our head and curling up in to a protective cacoon. It doesn’t take much to realise that this isn’t really the best position for our bodies, if we are crunched up our internal organs don’t have space to do their jobs effectively which can in turn only make us feel worse.
Now think about your body on a day that you feel great. You are standing tall and confident. Your head is lifted and your shoulders are back and down and your spine is long. This is where the fitness instructor part of me kicks in. Get yourself to a pilates class and they will teach you the most natural way to stand where you can run through your body creating correct alignment and switching on muscles that support that neutral alignment.
This really helped me, as I was feeling anxious I realised my body was folded forwards and all hunched. As soon as I stood up tall it allowed my body to be naturally aligned and work again. Which also helped me to feel a lot better.
Combined with saying “I’m excited” this was already having a positive effect. Think of a kid at Christmas about to get their presents!
I have known the benefits of smiling for a long time but had never put it together with the way I was feeling when I was anxious.
So the theory goes that when you smile you squeeze your cheek muscles and that apparently releases a feel good hormone. Apparently an alternative is to put a pen in your mouth like a bit in a horses mouth and it will do the same thing. If it doesn’t then you look silly enough to make someone laugh and hopefully you can join them laughing at you.
The problem for me was travelling on my own you’ll look like a mad cartoon character grinning wildly on your own. The great thing about flying is that there are so many things to smile at around you if you just look. There are so many people doing things that will make you smile or giggle. Look for the kids, they always create situations to smile at. And you can just smile at kids anyway and they quite often smile back. This worked so well on my first flight that the young lady (who was about 5 or 6) that sat next to me on the flight gave me a big hug whilst we were in the cue at passport control, and told me she hoped that I was sitting next to her on her next flight!
Look at the staff on the plane. These guys and girls fly all the time and they look completely at easy. The night before I flew I was working in a club and met a pilot from Delta airways. He had just flown in from the states to London, and London had very bad fog that day causing no end of delays and cancellations. He told me that they nearly had to go to Edinburgh to land. He said this so matter of fact like it wasn’t a real issue, reaffirming to me that there is usually a plan B or C or more and things can be dealt with if there is a problem. He flys the plane for a living and was so chilled and such a nice guy I like to think that all pilots are as friendly as him and care for their passengers like he did. This chance encounter gave me even more confidence.
What’s the worst that could happen
I guess for a lot of people this is the one that causes the most amount of problems for fear and anxiety of flying. The best way out of this is education. Learn what the stats are. You are more likely to die riding a bike than you are driving a car. Dogs and horses can kill you long before a plane. Then way down the line is flying. I think one of my favourite ones was more people are killed by vending machines. I don’t remember the exact number but there are over ten thousand flights in the air right now. With millions of flights in the air a year, your chances are pretty slim.
I also had to think of other scenarios that could happen and to be honest in the last couple of years since this has been going on I’ve had most of them and I survived them all!
I’ve had delays of over 24 hours ( which after that long you don’t actually care about the flight you actually want to get on and get home). I’ve booked the wrong flight and had to change it. There’s been some pretty bad turbulence which actually has never bothered me luckily, but nothing worse than a spilt drink. One windy landing that was a bit like a roller coaster but then this is where the pilots are amazing and like my new friend from delta he wants to get home safe, so it think he is looking after us too. And finally a new one this time my luggage went via Singapore. That’s why I carry a change of clothes and essential toiletries in my hand luggage, just in case.
This is possibly the hardest one of all. I certainly had to work hard at breaking this one. My usually thoughts on the plane up until now was I just had to make it to this next point like baby steps. Get to the airport, check in, go through security, get on the plane, get through the take off, manage the landing, then get through passport control and get out of the airport to my destination. Almost praying that I wouldn’t be sick and figuring out where the next toilet could be just incase (not an easy thing when you never know the airport).
This time on top of thinking Im excited. I thought about where I was going, how amazing it was going to be and what new things I was going to experience.
I had to recognise those thoughts of am I going to be sick and take control and think of these positive thoughts.
When I felt that creeping feeling, I said I am excited, stood up tall, and smiled then thought of the beach I could be laying on.
This seemed to work.
I hope that this may help you if you suffer with fear of anxiety from flying as others have helped me on this journey. The great thing is that lots of these techniques can pass on into every day life too.
Every time we step out of our comfort zone and into a world of stress we become a little more immune to it. In the next 12 months I have 6 flights booked and I think there will be an extra one in a couple of days and I now know I can handle every single one of them!
Right now I am sitting in a restaurant after having had my breakfast. I’m in Bali in Indonesia over 10,000 km from home and travelling on my own. I have walked along a beach that without that flight I would never have seen and there is so much more to do. I flew here with three nights booked in a hotel and just a idea of plan after that I am flying by the seat of my pants.
Tomorrow I take a boat trip to the Gili Islands, my next job is to find somewhere to stay when I get there!
This is taking me so far out of my comfort zone, but I have already met some really cool people and done somethings that I have never done before and I’ve only been here a day. I am happier already in myself and look forward to growing even more!
If I can conquer my anxiety about flying so can you!
Endless possibilities are waiting for you over the horizon.
Stand up tall, smile and say I am excited!
Now go have an adventure!
ad. It’s now 9 days later and essentially my last day I really did fly by the seat of my pants quite literally! Every flight you can see on those little maps is one that I have taken in the last two weeks and each without a problem. Some I booked by just turning up at the airport and getting the next flight to where I wanted to head towards. I have been to Kuala Lumpur and seen the Pretonus towers and to Sumatra and see the Sumatran Orang-Utans. In the early hours tomorrow morning I fly home via Singapore I think we’ll somewhere beginning with s. Thanks to some great advice I have been able to concour my problem with flying. I will have taken 8 flights in two weeks.
i hope this article gives you hope and maybe just the right bit of advice to help you.