Fear of Flying: This Seasoned Traveler Confesses

Don’t let your fear of flying keep you from your dreams

Many of you know the feeling. First, you feel a creeping fear in the pit of your stomach. Panic starts to envelop your whole body. You try to distract yourself from your negative thoughts, but they won’t go away. Then, somehow, parts of your body become numb, and you don’t know why. All of these sensations and more are part of the experience of fear of flying.

 My History with Fear of Flying

According to some statistics, roughly 25% of Americans experience nervousness about flying. Only 6.5% suffer from aviophobia, though, which is the actual fear of flying. Despite my love of travel and worldwide adventures, I am one of the 6.5%.

In my childhood and teens, I struggled with my fear. I even once passed out on a flight to Washington, D.C. with a school group and had to be taken to the hospital on a layover in Chicago. But the embarrassment I felt did not help end my fear.

The fear lessened a bit as I got older, and I went on multiple flights without problems, though I did experience slight nervousness.

I thought I had conquered my fear of flying for good. And then I had my daughter. Something about becoming a parent pushed me over the edge, and my fear returned with a vengeance. Suddenly, I became so fearful that I often wept during flights. During turbulence, I clutched my husband’s arm until I hurt him. But the worst was yet to come.

In 2013, I took my daughter on a mother/daughter trip to Ireland. I had flown a lot in the months before the trip, and I thought I had a handle on my fear, or I would not have considered going. On this flight, the poo hit the proverbial fan. I won’t go into all the details in this post, but you can read about my experience here. Long story short, my daughter had an asthma attack mid-flight, I fainted, and then we both got to visit a London hospital. Ever since that flight, my fear of flying can only be described as intense. Even thinking of flying, like I am right now, causes me to panic.

I’m Not Alone

Judging by some of the comments I found on fear of flying message boards, my experience is common. There are many people who develop the fear after years of flying, or whose fear suddenly escalates. Sometimes, a scary flight causes the fear to develop or increase. There are also people, like myself, who begin to fear flying after becoming a parent. A good friend of mine who never had this problem before started to feel panic on airplanes after having her first child. Headline flight disasters, like the 9/11 crashes, also cause people to suddenly develop a fear air travel.

Often, though, the fear isn’t related to the act of flying at all. Other anxiety-producing events can cause it to develop. If you go through a particularly stressful period, you are at risk for developing anxiety issues and panic attacks, leading to a flying phobia next time you board a plane.

So, what do you do?

Even though I know all the statistics related to the safety of air travel, I still fear getting on an airplane. In the long run, this is a problem for me because I make money from writing about travel. I also really like going to new places that can only be reached via plane or boat, and boats take too long. In the short run, I am taking my daughter on a mother/daughter trip to Paris in two weeks, and I don’t want my fear to ruin it.

I am not the kind of person who can fool herself into believing something. Unfortunately, many fear of flying programs attempt to do just that: trick your brain to believe it is not afraid. Some very intelligent people find these programs ineffective, due to their ability to think their way out of them. Maybe this is my problem (LOL). These programs work wonders for many, however, and I suggest you try these first. Just Google “Fear of Flying Programs” to find them.

Some even find ways to control the fear without outside help. Many use deep breathing or positive thinking exercises to calm down. Others find ways to distract themselves from the fear, like reading a book or listening to music. If your fear is minor, these self-soothing methods may work for you.

For those of us who get no relief from the above methods, medication is a last resort. Currently, this is where I am in my struggle with aviophobia. I am not ashamed of this, and I advocate the use of medicine if no other remedies work. There are many anti-anxiety medications available, but your doctor must prescribe them. Don’t be ashamed. It’s better to use them than it is to put yourself through the torture of a panic-stricken flight.

Go Forth and Fly

It doesn’t matter if you are new to travel or if you fly all the time. The fear of flying can develop in anyone, often for no understandable reason. If this problem affects you, seek help before it is too late. The day of your flight is not the best time to decide to tackle the problem. Millions of people battle this fear, and there is nothing wrong with you for fearing air travel.

Try out a fear of flying program, either one online or one of the many offered by major airlines. Talk to your doctor if you think medication is your best solution. And try to remember that flying is safer than car travel. Whatever you do, get on that plane and experience the world! Life is too short to let fear of flying prevent you from seeing all the beauty this planet has to offer.





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