How To Overcome Your Fear Of Flying

Something On The Wing
There's... something on the wing... some... thing...

If I think back really hard, I can almost remember the first time I flew on a plane. No, I’m not sure of the exact first time, but I remember flying to Florida to go to Disney World. Or Universal Studios. I’ve been known to mix that one up time and again. Back then, I didn’t have a grasp on the fact that planes can crash.  It’s funny, because I only really realized that recently.

About a year or two ago, I started taking flights somewhat regularly.  The definition of ‘regularly’ can be argued, but it was about once a month.  I was either flying to see friends or to interview for jobs.  My realization that planes can crash became a bit too real, and I became quite frightened of air travel.  My recent trip to London was the ultimate in in-flight nervousness.  I only slept about an hour total (round trip), and after each mini-nap, I was thrown awake by a nightmare of falling helplessly to the ground.

That all changed on my most recent flight.  I don’t know if it was because of my recent addiction to collecting frequent flyer miles, my desire to get away from my hometown, or something completely unrelated.  It was a business flight a few days ago.  As the plane took off, I felt a weight lifted from me.  A grin formed on my face, and I became content.  This has never happened before.

I was sad that Jessica wasn’t with me, but I got a glimpse of what it will feel like when she is – and I’m not in panic mode.  It was important for me to experience it on my own.  As I explored these new reactions to flight, I took note of each mental process that was allowing me to relax and enjoy the flight.

You Are The Plane

Imagine that you are the plane. Imagine your arms are the wings, and your feet are the tail.  Imagine that you have just jumped off of a cliff, but you’re not in free-fall – you’re in complete control of your descent.  You can even choose to ascend, if you so desire.

One of my worst fears has been that the wings of the plane will snap off during flight.  I took a class in college, in which I did an 8-page equation, basically proving that the wings of a plane will not snap off.  So believe me, even if you know the aerodynamics, it’s still possible to be afraid.

However, when I jump off of a large rock, I don’t worry about my arms snapping off.  The problem was that I was thinking of the plane as many individual parts rather than as a complete unit.  When I imagine that my body is the plane, I feel much more of a sense of stability.  I ‘feel’ all of the plane’s parts working together, instead of plotting against each other.

When you imagine that you are the plane, soaring through the sky, you can almost feel the strength of the plane increasing.  It sounds goofy when you think about it, but once you try it out, it will make a positive difference.

The Plane Is A Paper Airplane

Imagine you just threw a paper airplane – and the plane you’re flying in is that paper airplane.  When you throw a paper airplane, do you worry about it breaking into many pieces before it completes its flight?  I surely don’t.  When you think of the plane as a small paper airplane, skillfully constructed and gliding through the air, you won’t be bothered by the magnitude and size of the plane.

One of the keys to making a good paper airplane is designing it in such a way that the wind will take care of keeping it in the air.  This mentality allows you to imagine that the air is working with the plane, rather than against it.  When you think this way, you’ll feel more ‘supported’ on the plane.

Think Of The Trip In Ten Mile Segments, Not Instantaneous Segments

One of the classic causes of stress on planes is the constant fear of the uncontrollable.  As soon as you stop processing your plane-ride in instants and start processing it in ten-mile segments, your anxiety will calm down immediately.  When I was at the height of my flight fear, I would think to myself, We’re going to crash now.  No.. now  No…NOW!  If I had stopped processing the flight as an infinite set of instantaneous moments and instead grouped them into ten-mile batches, I would have saved myself a lot of wasted energy.

This technique is one I learned from music, more than anything else.  When I’m performing or listening to music, thinking in larger quantities always makes for a more satisfying music session.  It causes your mind to work on a bigger piece of information, which increases brain activity and calms you down at the same time.  When you’re only focusing on this instant, it takes more work to focus on the next instant.

As you get through each ten-mile segment, if you still need more reassurance, just tell yourself how many miles (or minutes) you’ve travelled thus far, and nothing has gone wrong yet.  As you travel, the amount of time with no complications versus the remaining flight time will become a large ratio.  If you think of it as a plotted function, it’s one that will hit infinity upon the completion of the flight.  (Sorry for my nerdy math-minded metaphors.)

Go Out And Try It

These techniques worked wonders for me, and I want to hear how they work for you.  When you take your next flight, if you’re normally squeamish, use these tips.  Try them out, and report back to me.  Or if they work, and you don’t feel like reporting back to me, at least share them with someone else who will find them useful.  Flying can be scary, but that should never hold you back from traveling.  As soon as you can conquer that fear, the world is at your fingertips.

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