For travelers with a fear of flying, the recent series of air disasters is just the thing to keep them from boarding a plane. Experts agree that fear of flying isn’t rational. Still, 6.5 percent of the population, or 20 million people, are affected by it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, which has labeled aviophobia as an anxiety disorder.
So what are travelers to do in the face of such catastrophic events? Yahoo Travel reached out to experts on aviation psychology to get some advice:
Avoid the news
“The number-one thing is not to read every detail about the crash and get hooked on it because it will only reinforce the fear,” says Carol Cott Gross, who lectures on fear of flying and for 35 years ran a company called Fly Without Fear. “And do not go to see any movie that has Bruce Willis and has to do with a plane crash — you should see a stupid movie.”
Remember the facts
We’ve all heard that you have a greater chance of slipping in the tub and dying than getting killed in a plane crash. Captain Tom Bunn, an airline captain and licensed therapist who is president and founder of SOAR, a fear-of-flying support group, points out that “the chance of something happening to you is incredibly rare.” In fact, the probability of being in a fatal plane crash is low, with experts estimating anywhere from 1 in 11 million to 1 in 29.4 million, “Even if there was a Malaysian air disaster every day it’s still safer than driving,” says Jeff Wise, a science writer and author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger.
“Understand that the language that you’re using creates anxiety,” says Gross. “Don’t say things like ‘I’m a nervous wreck and I’m going to have a stroke.’ Say ‘I have a discomfort level.’”
Focus on relaxation techniques
This is not new advice, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that simple in-flight relaxation techniques go a long way. “Breathing out activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the brain that activates heart rate,” says Wise.
Experts agree that it’s important to have things to keep your mind off flying: books, magazines, iPads, video games. “I even recommend bringing a pet on the plane, which will make you less anxious,” says Gross. And it’s not just in-air: some airports have therapy dogs to calm you down before your flight, including Los Angeles’s LAX, Miami International Airport, and San Jose International.
Seek out support
According to Wise, fear of flying can be conquered. “This is a phobia that is amenable to treatment,” he said. SOAR runs a free weekly group therapy phone session on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Some people go so far as to consult with a psychic: Linda Lauren, a fourth-generation medium who is known as The Travel Psychic says that many clients come to her with fear of flying issues. “I do advise them in some cases if they can change their flight to do so. I might even suggest another airline,” she says. “However, for the most part, if I don’t feel anything negative, I don’t want to encourage them to change flights based on fear.”
There a number of apps on the market that provide coaching and peace of mind. SOAR offers a free app with relaxation exercises and a built-in G-Force meter to monitor turbulence. Another useful tool is the scientifically-developed Flight App VALK, available for iPhone and Android, which has facts about flying and a panic button with an emergency message from a therapist. Virgin Atlantic even has a Flying Without Fear audio channel on its inflight entertainment system.
But most of all, it’s important not to let fear keep you from flying. “Make sure you fly soon,” says Gross. The longer the time between flights the more likely your phobia will grow in scope.