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Five Ways to Overcome the Fear of Flying

Updated: Jan 16

Travel – one word that works like magic, filling our heads with images of fun and romantic holidays, deserted beaches, colorful street markets, delicious food, and air travel. But that last one, 'air travel' doesn't always evoke good thoughts and happy memories.

For up to 30% of the population, the idea of taking a holiday and traveling by air is something that at best makes them feel anxious and at worst fills them with terror and makes them avoid the idea at all costs. This is a real shame because travel is all about exploring the world, discovering new places and learning about different cultures.

But traveling is also about discovering yourself. If there’s one thing that the person with a fear of flying already knows about themselves it’s how terrifying flying seems to them. What they may not know is how much they are missing out on. If they DID know they would be far more determined to get rid of their fear. Once they have reached that point, however, they then have to decide just how they are going to do it.

I work as a phobia specialist in my clinic on world-famous Harley Street in the heart of London, and I regularly see people who are afraid of all kinds of travel – not just flying. Whilst aviophobia – a fear of flying – is the most common kind, there are people who are fearful of other types of transport including boats, trains and even cars. Many who suffer find themselves wondering if it is even worth trying to travel. For others, traveling is made much harder because they suffer from social phobia. The thought of being so far away from home makes them anxious and the idea of meeting and mingling with total strangers only adds to their anxiety. So, many decide to stay at home instead.

What causes these concerns?

The primary emotion of every type of phobia is fear. The fear can sometimes be traced back to an event that happened in the past – often in childhood – which triggered a negative feeling or aversion person for that situation. Fear of flying is one of the most common phobias. Other common phobias include a fear of dogs where, as a child, the sufferer was warned that dogs can bite or maybe they were actually bitten. Likewise, a powerful and scary book or movie can have a negative impact on any imaginative child.

The fear of flying can be triggered in the same way. Powerful film footage of a plane crash on the news, with images of aircraft wreckage, or a movie about an aircraft tragedy are all that is needed for someone to link air travel with potential danger, in their mind.

To help my clients overcome their fear of flying I use various techniques including neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – in which I help my clients to identify the structure of the fear and to change it. This is combined with Eriksonian Hypnotherapy, which helps to desensitize any past traumatic memories.

In addition, there are exercises and processes that I ask patients to do themselves.

Five tips to try at home.

Here are five tips to try at home and although they are primarily aimed at people with an aviophobia, they can be used by people who are fearful of other types of transport too.

1. Two weeks before you travel.

Try to avoid watching the news on television or reading newspapers as news of an aircraft crash will put your mind in turmoil. This will happen, even if you are reminded that statistically, air travel is by far the safest mode of transport. Far better, just to focus on the fact that air travel is so safe.

2. The day before you travel.

Set some time aside to try some visualization techniques. Relax and imagine you are enjoying yourself away. Perhaps you are sitting by a beautiful pool with a drink, relaxing on a golden beach or sitting on the aircraft looking at the amazing views from the cabin window. Make these images as bright and happy as you can – as these daydreams can come true.

3. On the day of the trip.

The airport is a very stressful place for nervous travellers especially with the solemn-faced security officials, the patrolling police officers with their guns and dogs and the inward sense of panic as you reach the gate as you feel you are at the 'point of no return', If any of these thoughts do set your thoughts spinning, it is well worth trying the ABCD technique I have developed specially for people with phobias.

Accept – Accept how you are feeling even if you feel a little frightened. It’s probably just because it’s the first flight following the treatment. It doesn’t mean anything.

Breathe – Take three long deep and slow breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe in, count to 3 and as you breathe out, count to 6. This way it will take you twice as long to breath out as it does to breathe in. As long as you keep to the ratio 1:2 you can choose the rate that suits you best.

Center Yourself – Move your attention from your head down to the top of your pelvis, where your belt buckle usually sits, and centre yourself. Observe your feelings and emotions, and notice that they are beginning to subside.

Determination – Realize

you have successfully challenged your discomfort and won. If you have done it once you can do it again. It’s an attitude.

4. During the flight.

Try to feel through the aircraft and feel how hard the air is as it pushes up against the underside of the wings. This is especially useful in turbulence, as the bumps allow you to feel the ‘solid’ air even more profoundly.

5. On your holiday.

Take a few quiet moments each day to remind yourself how great your holiday is and to congratulate yourself on being strong enough to get on the aircraft. Picture the return flight and you sitting confidently in your seat for the trip and the fun you are going to have to share all your holiday stories – and photographs – with family and friends.

Click Here to find out more about The Phobiaman Clinic in Harley Street in London.

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