So, as I’ve mentioned before I am possibly the world’s worst flyer. No matter how often I fly or the duration of the flight, I am a nervous wreck and for me it is possibly the thing I enjoy least in the world which is not great when you are a travel blogger. From take off to landing my anxiety is at a critical level. Therefore, when Gavin Fisher the founder of Cloud Courage got in touch and explained his story and offered his advice and tips for the nervous flyer I felt that it was information that I needed to share with the blogosphere. I actually flew to Slovakia last week and returned yesterday and used Gavin’s tips before and during my flights and I can confirm that it helped me feel more settled and less frightened, something I hope will disappear completely as time goes on using these tips and techniques. I hope this information can help you too.
Helping people tackle their fear of flying is something I just stumbled upon.
I’m a long time private pilot, and fly a lot on business for my day job (IT for a biotech firm). I guess I’m a good listener, and when people find out I’m a pilot they often tell me about their recent harrowing experiences on a plane. And of course, human nature being what it is, in the absence of knowledge they’ll make the wildest associations between what the observed and the what they think the cause is.
So I’ve heard many stories of “terrifying failed landings” (a routine maneuver called a “go around”), “planes hitting air pockets and dropping hundreds of feet” (moderate turbulence).
I’ve become somewhat of a “reassurer in chief” among people I know who are nervous flyers, and I thought a blog would be a good way to help more people. This is a real quality of life problem for a lot of people, and flying has been such a big and enjoyable part of my life I just want to give something back.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a flying family – my dad was a pilot and we’d take family vacations by small plane. I got my pilot’s license at 17 (in fact I could fly a plane before I could drive car), and I’ve been at it for more than 30 years, (with no accidents I might add).
When it comes to conquering a fear of flying, knowledge about planes and what is going on around you is important and can be helpful, but is often not enough. Many people who are afraid truly know flying is safe, but they are still afraid. So I have read, and continue to read, everything I can on fears and anxiety, on fear circuitry and how our brains process and respond to fear.
Honestly learning about fear and anxiety has been eye opening and life changing for me. While I have never suffered from a fear of flying, I am an introvert, and for a long time hated interacting with large groups of people in a social situations. I was also terrified of public speaking. What I have learned about facing fear and anxiety has helped me immensely. I can and have spoken to groups of 1000+ people. Speaking to a crowd like that, on stage, is the real deal. You have to put on makeup… the bright lights come on… you can’t see anyone beyond the first row of seats… and everyone is just sitting there, waiting for you to speak… Dammit, just writing this gives me heart palpitations! But I know I can do it, because I know how to deflect and overcome the fear, and just get out there and DO IT!
That’s the power of knowing how to overcome fear – just about anything becomes possible.
Top 6 tips for Nervous Flyers
1. Be organized
Know ahead of time where you are going to put your car keys, passport, boarding, hotel reservations, and all your other important travel documents.
I have specially designated places in my carry on bag.
Car keys go in a small zip pouch in my backpack. Boarding pass folds up and goes in my back pocket. Passport goes into the zip pouch of my iPad sleeve, which itself goes in my backpack.
Having all this stuff organized, means one less thing to stress over. Thinking about it beforehand means not having to decide in a rush, while stuck in the aisle with people queuing behind you.
2. Control something. Anything
One of the stressors of flying is the feeling of not being in control. Sure, the are somethings that are not in your control, (you are not flying the plane for example!), but there are small things you can control.
One idea is to plan a non critical activity while on the plane. (Something like a meal or a side trip at your destination). Do some research on options before you leave, and print it out or save it to your tablet or phone. Then do the detailed planning while you are flying. Really dig into the details, decide what you will be wearing, what time you will leave & return, what you will eat. Write it down. This detailed planning will help you feel in control again reducing stress and anxiety.
One of the reasons flying is scary is that it feels so unnatural, being so high up in the seemingly thin air just feels wrong! You can combat this feeling through the power of visualization.
When in the air, visualize your plane as a yellow submarine.
The air is really thick. You can test this for yourself by sticking your hand out the window of your car on the way to the airport (Seriously, you should really do this, and remember what it feels like)
When you are going slow, you can hardly feel the air, but when you are going fast, the air pushes on your hand and you can hardly keep it on one place.
Now if the air feels that thick at 40 or 50 miles per hour, just think how thick it must feel at 10 times that speed, which is how fast planes fly. And when your plane is flying, it is *smack in the middle* of this thick air. A lot of people visualize a plane flying as a toy plane hanging by a wire from the ceiling of a kid’s bedroom. But that’s not how it works.
Scrub that thought!
Remember sticking your hand out the window of your car? The plane is inside that “thick” air. Think of a submarine under water, with the water is all around it, supporting it. The same thing is happening with your plane – it is being held up by the thick air all around it.
4. Give yourself a talking to
For exercise I run. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes it hurts, and it’s hard to keep the motivation to do it regularly. A few years ago I met an older guy who told me he enjoys running up hills. My first reaction was to think he was nuts, but he was adamant. He told me he liked running hills, and he told himself (he would literally say out loud “This is great! I’m enjoying it” while running). So I started doing the same thing, and while the sore muscles and burning breath were still there, somehow they didn’t feel so bad anymore.
As you are walking onto the plane tell yourself,
“I know I can do this, and I’m enjoying the challenge of it”
5. Practice box breathing
Very simply, you breath in through your nose for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Exhale slowly for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4, repeat
The most important things about box breathing
- You must breath through your nose, as this greatly increases the production of Nitric Oxide which is critical in reducing stress
- Do this for at least 3 to 4 minutes at a time. Try listening to music while doing box breathing, and doing it for the duration of one full song
- Practice this before your flight, twice a day for at least 10 days. If you wait until you are in the midst of a panic attack to do this for the first time, then it’s probably not going to have the effect you want
- If you can, try gently humming when you exhale (if you are on the plane, your seat mate probably won’t even notice above the sound of the engines). And humming increases the intake of Nitric Oxide 15 fold!
6. Play Tetris
A lot of people I speak to about flying have memories of a particularly bad flight, often really bad turbulence. Well, it turns out that playing the computer game Tetris can reduce the frequency and impact of flashbacks of that traumatic event.
Get Tetris onto your phone, and play it a few times so you are reasonably good at it. And then if you do encounter turbulence, play a few games afterwards – you will effectively wipe out those bad memories!
Further information and great advice available from Gavin is available on Cloud Courage