Good Advice Health and Safety abroad

How to cope with... Fear of Flying


Even experienced travellers can develop a fear of flying – all it takes is one bad experience to shatter your confidence and make future flights seem like a distressing prospect. Here are some ways to combat your nerves.

SIGN UP FOR A COURSE

Virgin Atlantic’s one-day “Flying Without Fear” programme (£249 at 11 UK airports) claims a 98 per cent success rate and is attended by people with varying degrees of anxiety. The course combines methods from neuro-linguistic programming (see below) and relaxation techniques, with in-depth technical information delivered by Virgin pilots, all of which is put to the test with a 45-minute flight at the end of the day. Business Traveller recently attended the course – for a diary of the day visit businesstraveller.com/fear-of-flying. Other options include a one-day course from Aviatours that’s run in conjunction with British Airways – it also costs £249 and runs at nine UK airports. Visit flyingwithoutfear.co.ukaviatours.co.uk.

GET ONLINE SUPPORT

There are numerous web courses that can be completed in your own time, and one free option is fearofflyinghelp.com. Written by captain Stacey Chance, who has 25 years of flying experience, its presentation is a little simplistic but it is reasonably informative.

REWIRE YOUR BRAIN

Handling the way your mind processes fear is key to conquering it. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) involves learning mental and physical exercises to “rewire” your way of thinking. “By using different techniques you are able to interrupt negative thought processes, prevent the release of anxiety hormones, and take back control of your thoughts,” says Gillian Harvey-Bush, a master practitioner of NLP and psychologist.

June O’Driscoll, a licensed trainer of NLP and professional and clinical hypnotherapy, says: “It’s all about empowering clients to work through techniques, rather than them sitting back and expecting a miracle cure. It’s probably the most effective thing I use for phobias – it got rid of my own fear of flying, which was so bad I couldn’t even listen to people’s stories about going on holiday.”

An example of NLP is the “fast phobia cure”, which involves visualising yourself in a cinema and watching your fears play out on screen, then taking control by pausing them, adding humorous music, and so on. “The more you practise the more control you have and the easier it is,” says Harvey-Bush, who offers a 90-minute introductory NLP session for £125. Visit gillianharvey-bush.co.uk.

TRY HYPNOTHERAPY

Some people may have reservations about hypnotherapy but it could be an important part of locating the source of your fear. “Hypnotherapy works well when there is a part of your brain that is ‘sabotaging’ you,” O’Driscoll says. “This is why it is effective for those trying to lose weight or quit smoking. With my phobia of flying, my unconscious was trying to keep me safe but it was doing the job too well, which meant it became a form of sabotage.”

While you are in a semi-conscious state, it’s said that you can talk to the unconscious part of your brain to find out if there’s a negative belief or “bad anchor” that your mind is refusing to let go of. It may be worth trying hypnotherapy if you find other treatments aren’t helping. O’Driscoll recommends using it to “cement” NLP, and emphasises that being in a state of hypnosis is not the same as having your mind controlled. A three-hour “Break-through NLP and hypnotherapy” session with O’Driscoll costs £247, and commonly clears people’s phobias in a single go, she says. Visit thoughtitude.co.uk.

DO SOME RESEARCH

Read Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying (£5). His method involves identifying and correcting misconceptions about flying that lead to fear, and his narrative is logical and supportive. Or try audio CD Overcome the Fear of Flying(£8) by hypnotherapist Glenn Harrold. Soothing music is combined with two 30-minute tracks that talk you through the flying process. Visit amazon.co.uk

Tips for fighting the fear

  • Arrive early Allowing plenty of time before you fly means you avoid any additional stress and have time to prepare yourself.
  • Phone ahead Most airlines have special assistance helplines that you can call if you’d like someone to accompany you during the boarding process and keep you calm.
  • Exercise Working off the extra adrenaline will help you to relax.
  • Avoid alcohol Rather than having a numbing effect, alcohol can trigger anxiety. It’s better to stay in control of your thoughts.
  • Open your eyes While it may feel comforting to close them, it will only amplify your other senses – noises and movement will feel more pronounced and, therefore, more frightening.
  • Tell cabin crew They are trained to deal with passengers’ anxiety, and will keep an eye on you if you let them know.
  • Stay positive Wear an elastic band around your wrist and, as soon as you start to think negatively, ping it. The sensation will distract you and reprimand you for letting your mind wander.
  • Look at a glass of water Put things into perspective by keeping a glass of water in front of you during a flight. You’ll be surprised by how little the surface moves.
  • Pretend you’re on the road Imagine you are in a car and that any turbulence is simply cobblestones.
  • Time your take-off If this is the worst point for you, time it with your watch. Not only will this provide a distraction, it will remind you how short it actually is (about 30-40 seconds).

Rose Dykins