• Kirsti Gwynn

How to Overcome Fear of Flying

Last Saturday I travelled back from Cape Town, where I spent a glorious few weeks enjoying the sunshine with family and friends. It reminded me how grateful I am that I’m able to board a plane and be with my loved ones on a different continent within half a day.

But travelling by aeroplane arouses a deep sense of anxiety for many people. In fact, Anxiety UK estimates that at least 1 in 10 people experience fear of flying.

In today’s blog, I’m sharing 4 ways that you can deal with the fear of flying. Even if this specific type of fear doesn’t apply to you, these 4 strategies are useful when it comes to working through any anxiety-provoking situation.

1. Recognise that your Fear Doesn’t Reflect Reality

The protective system in the brain is responsible for keeping you safe. It weighs up whatever evidence it has about this particular situation, and makes an assessment about whether you’re safe in that situation or not.

If it decides that you could get hurt, it sets off its “fear alarm”: bombarding you with a sense of fear and worried thoughts as a way to let you know you should avoid this situation at all costs.

But in the case of flying, as with many fears, the protective system is so zoomed in on the negative evidence that it’s not making an accurate assessment.

The more aware you are of a risk, the more afraid you’ll feel. This doesn't mean there is actually more risk - just more awareness.

Chances are your brain is over-focused on plane crashes you’ve heard about on the news and the scary safety sequence that happens before you take off. What it’s not taking into account is the reality that more than 99.99% of flights arrive safely. The chance of a plane crash happening is as low as 1 in 11 million, and new technology has meant that turbulence hasn’t caused a plane crash in over 4 decades.

The first step, therefore, is simply to acknowledge that your fear does not reflect reality and to realise that you cannot trust that fear. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you’re unsafe.

How to put this into action? When you land safely at your destination on the other side (and there’s a 99.99% chance you will), be careful not to believe fear when it says, “Phew, luckily I made it!”

Instead, intentionally point out to yourself that your arriving safely was not the exception, but the rule: “It makes sense that I arrived safely because flying is a very safe form of transport.”

2. Train Yourself to Stay Calm

In the time preceding your flight, you can mentally practice staying calm on a flight, which will prepare you to be calmer during the real thing.

This is a process called “systematic desensitisation” and is a cognitive-behavioural therapy technique used to overcome phobias.