Afraid of Flying? Here's How to Relax, from the Experts
By Liz Weiss
As any anxious flier can attest, air travel can inspire a sense of dread, panic and, at worst, paralyzing fear. The stress-inducing scenarios can make even the most experienced fliers apprehensive: Turbulence could rattle the plane. A feeling of entrapment could result in claustrophobia. Just pondering whether your pilot is well-rested or if your plane’s instruments are intact could spark the jitters. Add a fear of hyperventilation or a panic attack in-flight and it’s easy to see why as many as 6.5 percent of Americans suffer from such a severe fear of flying that it’s classified as an anxiety disorder or phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Lucas van Gerwen, a clinical psychologist, pilot and director of the VALK Foundation in the Netherlands, estimates about one third of the adult population across the Western world has some degree of anxiety associated with flying.
Fortunately, you don’t have to succumb to air travel fear. With some guidance from van Gerwen and Dr. Martin Seif, a Manhattan-based psychologist and author who studied phobias to remedy his own fear of flying, U.S. News has pinpointed seven smart strategies for alleviating anxiety before takeoff and staying calm and collected at cruising altitude.
Determine your triggers
According to Seif, the “fear of flying is really a confluence of many different fears.” By singling out the anxiety that provokes your fear — be it a phobia related to turbulence, crashing or claustrophobia, for example — you can identify the alarming thoughts and images that cause distress and abate flight anxiety. Many nervous fliers avoid taking to the skies entirely, which makes it increasingly challenging to face your fear head on, said Seif. It’s also critical to recognize your underlying fears in order to undergo the appropriate treatment. “A good assessment is of vital importance,” emphasized van Gerwen, noting that fears associated with flying vary drastically. Once you’ve identified where your anxiety comes from, you can practice cognitive-behavioral therapy, which includes relaxation and breathing techniques. Plus, you can expose yourself to triggers to vanquish your fear of flying altogether.