Are you one of the one in four Australians who feel nervous when they fly? Aviophobia, the fear of flying, has become an increasingly common phobia, according to Flight Experience Sydney. It can be caused by a single direct influence, such as a traumatic flight experience, or a combination of factors including stress, anxiety or feeling a loss of control.
“What most people don’t realise is that turbulence during flights is actually avoided more for comfort rather than safety,” said Flight Experience Sydney co-owner Ben Evans.
“Turbulence is like ‘waves of air’ that an aircraft passes through, similar to riding a boat on choppy water.
“Aircraft are designed to withstand severe turbulence and multiple simultaneous lighting strikes. All major aircraft systems are also built with at least two back-up systems.”
Mr Evans said passengers also have nothing to worry about when it comes to the professional experience of pilots. Airline captains typically have well over 4000 hours of flying experience and they are audited every four to six months in order to keep their licence.
If your heart races the minute you board a plane here are some top tips from Ben Evans to help you relax:
As anxiety increases, your breathing may get shallow. Learn to control your breathing and even try a meditative breathing exercise to relax. When you’re in the boarding area of the airport or sitting on the plane, close your eyes and start breathing slowly and deeply in for four counts and out for eight counts. Focus on expanding your lungs and stomach to feel the full effects of deep breathing. Focused, deep breathing is an instant stress reliever. To increase focus, listen to white noise or nature sounds to help block out the hassle of passengers around you and the ambient noise of the plane.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
This requires more time than deep breathing but its effect can be quite powerful. During PMR you will feel tense but you will also relax small groups of muscles, one-by-one. The process will teach you to recognise what tension feels like and practice releasing that tension from your muscles. During the flight, sit in a comfortable position. Beginning with your feet, notice how your muscles feel. Tightly tense the muscles in your feet by curling your toes and hold that tension for 5-10 seconds. Then, release the tension from your feet and let them loosen up. Notice the difference between the two. Repeat the cycle of tensing and relaxing each group of muscles, practising on groups of muscles including legs, pelvis, stomach, chest, back, arms, hands, neck and face.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This is a form of de-sensitisation or exposure therapy. It is a way of dealing with negative feelings. Essentially it’s not events that upset you, but the meaning you give to those events. It’s important to change the way you think about the things that make you fearful. More easily said than done, a good way to approach this is to learn how to identify and challenge negative thoughts with realistic ones. Questions you can ask yourself include: What evidence do I have for and against my thoughts? Is there another way to think about this situation? Is the way I’m thinking helpful? Eventually your unrealistic thoughts will be replaced by accurate thoughts, leading you to feel less fearful.
Skip alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol tends to be the first thing people think about consuming to alleviate anxiety about flying. Don’t give into temptation! Even though it might be fun to fly with a buzz, it is easy to overdo when you are already a bit nervous. Those prone to panic attacks should skip caffeine on days they are flying. Caffeine increases the heart rate, making it more likely that you will have a panic attack when faced with a situation that already makes you anxious. An alternative to alcohol or caffeine is chamomile tea. It relaxes your entire body. You can even bring a few teabags in carry-on and ask a flight attendant for hot water to make your tea on board.
Stay focused, but not vigilant
Don’t distract yourself from the flying experience, but rather take it in and remind yourself about the safety of the environment you are in. You could even engage in the enjoyable components such as in-flight entertainment and refreshments! Remember that every flight provides you with the opportunity to make the next one easier. Your goal is to retrain your brain to become less sensitised to the triggers that set you off.