In Search of: Surviving the Flight, Even When You’re Scared

For those that don’t know, allow me to let you in on the worst kept secret in the history of secrets: I’m afraid of flying!  Yes.  I travel the world, yet the mere thought of getting on a plane gives me nightmares.  I have visions of plummeting to my fiery death.  I fight anxiety for at least two days prior to take-off.

This is no run of the mill, it bothers me to fly kind of phobia.  This is the kind of phobia that requires me to make peace with my untimely death prior to each and every flight.  And if there are multiple layovers?  Forget it.  Each new flight brings with it more terrifying thoughts.  In my history of flying, I have pretty much conjured up every possible horrible event that could occur.

But seeing as how I love to travel, my wanderlust overcomes my fear of flights each and every time.  Thank goodness!  Over the years, I have developed a few strategies that help me cope.  And if you’re also afraid to fly, one or two of these rituals might help.  Here goes:

  1. Drugs.  I told my doctor about my issues, and she prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication.  It relieves anxiety (at least as best it can when gallons of adrenaline are also coursing through my veins).  Top the anti-anxiety pill off with a melatonin tablet, and I pretty much have a lovely cocktail ready to send me to dreamland.  (Double bonus with melatonin: it’s an over the counter, natural sleep aid and works wonders for jet lag and time zone changes.  If I arrive in a location where the time zone is entirely different than mine, a melatonin the first night helps me get on track with the sleep schedule of my current locale.)  If you’re as terrified of flying as me, I highly suggest you talk to your doctor about getting a medication that might help the situation.
  2. Ear plugs.  This might be my new favorite trick.  One thing that scares me on flights is all the engine noise (and landing gear noise and wind noise and whatever other noise you can imagine).  In particular, when these noises change throughout the flight as flight gear is adjusted, I am immediately on high alert.  Ear plugs help block those particular noises, especially the changes in noise levels.  Bonus: they also help with changes in air pressure.  I have a terrible time with popping my ears, and earplugs make it so I don’t have to pop them as often.
  3. Sleep mask.  I do all I can to sleep throughout my flights (even short ones).  I don’t care if I’m flying in the middle of the day or the middle of the night.  It’s hard to be anxious when you’re asleep.  A sleep mask will block the light from the window or the reading light of your neighbor.  Also, the mask helps you to imagine you’re not actually on a plane.  Pretend you’re on a bus, and it’s windy (turbulence).  As silly as it sounds, these things can help.  I once slept through an entire 24 hours worth of flights, with the occasional wake-up to use the restroom or have a drink.  Additional plus:  I did NOT arrive at my destination jet-lagged.
  4. Reminders.  Prior to my flight, I give myself a few reminders.  First, and foremost, remember that the pilot did not come to work today to die.  He does this every single day (or at least on workdays), and this particular pilot has made it through every single flight he’s ever taken, which likely counts in the thousands.  Another important reminder?  Kay syrah syrah.  Whatever will be will be, people.  Whatever happens, you’re no longer in control, so regardless of how much anxiety you send into the world, it will do you no good.  If the plane goes down, there’s nothing you can do about it, and worrying and feeling anxious and giving yourself a near heart attack will not help.  In fact, it will likely shorten your life (in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with planes yet everything to do with stress wearing out your body).

So there you have it — my pre-flight rituals.  I wouldn’t call them fool proof in any way.  There are times I do every single one of these things, yet I end up spooked and scared the entire flight.  But most of the time, they help a lot.  After all, I’ve never run off a plane prior to closing the cabin doors, screaming, “NOOOOOOO!!!!”  In my book, that’s pretty damn good.

How about you?  Do you have any tips that get you through your own phobia of flying?

This entry was posted in Ramblings and Rants, Trip Planning and tagged .