Do you run horrific crash scenarios through your mind while you’re sitting on a runway? You’re not alone. If you’re more worried about flying these days than you used to be, it’s understandable. The two recent Malaysia Air tragedies and their non-stop news coverage could give even the hardiest traveler a case of nerves.
Research has shown that the repetitive nature of the news cycle amplifies garden-variety nervousness and gives passengers a skewed impression of relative danger. Luckily, the facts remain the same. Commercial flight is safer now than it has ever been in history and your odds of being in an airplane crash are extremely small. If you’re a nervous flyer, you’ll want to review our five simple tips for counteracting flight anxiety:
1. Trust the industry.
The truth is that a lot of flying anxiety is projecting and misplacing fears. Your worries are probably not based on whether or not you’re actually safe in your seat in an airplane (in the highly capable hands of the flight crew), but rather the incidental inconveniences and discomforts that disrupt your personal “control” instrument panel. An economy seat in 2014 is not going to be relaxing and comfortable in the manner that you are probably accustomed to at home. Even our most seasoned travelers over here at CheapAir headquarters don’t deny that the seats in coach are often cramped. Some of us even have mild claustrophobia, which, lets face it, can be exacerbated by sitting knee to knee with a couple of strangers on a full flight. It may take a little preflight concentration/meditation, but if you can manage to isolate your feelings of discomfort and loss of control, you’ll be able to better manage those feelings and separate them from feeling unsafe.
2. Go with your feelings.
Wait a minute, you might be saying. You say I’m starting to feel anxious just as we back away from the gate and I’m supposed to feed that rising sense of panic? Well, yes and no. Basically, science shows that fighting feelings of anxiety can actually inflate those feelings. When you start to feel out of control or panicked, the typical response is to dig in emotionally and fight to try and override them. Most of the time, this tactic just doesn’t work. You actually work yourself into a much more anxious state by battling yourself. If you’re on a flight and you start to feel anxious, take a moment to recognize these feelings and acknowledge them. It could be as simple as saying to yourself, “I am starting to feel very anxious. I am starting to worry about the plane’s safety. My heart is beginning to pound.” The next step is to accept these feelings and say something affirmative to yourself like, “This is going to be tricky but I can handle these feelings. I can get through this.” Finally, take some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, to combat the shallow breathing that can lead to panic attack and hyperventilation.
3. Drink responsibly.
If you’re feeling anxious, you’re probably planning to have a cocktail (or a few) before the plane takes off and a few more en route. While that does sound like a rollicking good time, we recommend that you do not get plastered on an international flight. Flying while inebriated? Totally fun! Finding your bags and orienting yourself in a city while inebriated? Not so much. Have you ever tried to describe your lost luggage to baggage claim staff while under the residual influence of six glasses of in-flight cabernet? Not a pretty picture. Also, a drunk tourist might as well be wearing a sign around his neck reading, “Rob Me.” If you’ve just landed in a foreign country and you’re tipsy, you’re catnip to thieves on the airport circuit. On the other hand, dehydration is also your enemy so do plan on drinking loads of water both before and during the flight. And finally, more bad news. Avoid caffeine and coffee if you’re prone to panic attack. Wean yourself off it for a few days before you fly if it’s too painful to do cold turkey. A stimulated mind can spin out in all kinds of jittery, panicky directions. Just. Don’t.
4. Hold fast to the facts.
Remind yourself that the most dangerous part of your travel day is the drive to the airport. Your chance of being in an air disaster is approximately one in three million. You would need to fly once a day for more than 8,200 years to accumulate three million flights. While you should avoid disaster news, it might not be a bad idea to read up on some basic facts and figures about what a normal flight will feel and sound like. There are reasonable explanations for many seemingly distressing noises on a plane. You can even watch a great video called Flying Without Fear on youtube from Virgin Atlantic that illustrates typical sounds and movements on takeoff and landing. Easy-peasy.
5. Distract yourself.
If you know you are going to be anxious, surround yourself with familiar pleasures from home. Load up the iPad with some old school Seinfeld or Friends. Listen to a few of your favorite, relaxing albums. Start a great book before you leave and pick up mid-read during the flight. Basically, don’t depend on the airline to provide you with a distraction that will work for you. Their in-flight programming might not be the medicine you require. The key is to keep these distractions to what you are already accustomed. Think of it as comfort food for your mind.
It can also help to alert a flight attendant if you’re feeling a bit unsure of yourself on the day of travel. In large part, educating yourself and arming yourself with some coping techniques can arm you against the unknown. If you follow these simple steps you will be well on your way to a less stressful flight. Remember, modern air travel grows safer every year.
Please let us know if this post was helpful by posting in our comments section or you can also email us directly at Ask@CheapAir.com or tweet to us @CheapAir.
This post is not meant to replace the professional advice of a mental health professional if you suffer from flight phobia. If your flying anxieties are not mild, you should consult with a physician or counselor trained to treat anxiety disorders.