Aerophobia is a complex and sometimes difficult to shake condition, but with sustained effort it can be ameliorated and eventually overcome. If you’re a nervous flyer, experience has shown that three techniques in particular can be used at different points before boarding a plane to help yourself feel more calm and secure once that moment arrives.
Two Weeks Before: Meditate
Fearful flyers tend to experience a lot of anxiety long before they actually have to get on a plane – meaning a lot of needless suffering. But science has shown that a bit of meditation every day helps ground your mind in the present, and this will have a positive impact on your experience on the plane, since when you board your previous emotional load will be much less than if you had been constantly dwelling on fears and negativity during the days before the flight.
Where to start? Well, there are legions of apps and videos out there which can help. Don’t overly obsess about what type of meditation it is – scan the field, pick one that seems accessible to you, and give it a try. As little as ten minutes of consistent practice daily can be enough to make you more calm and centred.
Two Days Before: Visualise Your Safety
The object here is to project yourself mentally into the future, imagining your flight surrounded by a feeling of security. Here’s how you’d do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed or fixed on a specific point.
- Being with three deep, slow breaths.
- Don’t worry overmuch about staying calm; this exercise is not about that.
- Visualise yourself in the third person as if in a movie, passing through the different phases of air travel. You can start by seeing yourself preparing your suitcase and seeing how you are in a safe environment, your home. You can then continue to the airport watching yourself go through security. Nerves may appear at some point; instead of rejecting them, accept them as part of what the experience of travelling implies for you today. It may help to bring to mind an affirmation: “It’s normal to feel nervous right now, but I choose to accompany myself with love.”
- Continue to visualise yourself boarding the aircraft, finding your seat, taking off. Do you notice anxiety rising here? If so, where? Bring to mind another affirmation: “This is unpleasant but not dangerous, I can feel this and at the same time be safe”.
- Visualize yourself on the plane connecting with all of this, and notice how it helps you relate to the experience from a safer place. It may not be nice, but it’s important to internalise that unpleasant sensations can sometimes be just that – unpleasant – but not dangerous.
- Repeast this exercise once a day, including the same day of your flight.
The Day of Your Flight: Get to the Airport Extra Early
For fearful flyers, airports are obviously not places associated with positive emotions. But that’s all the more reason to get there as as early as possible before your flight (when practical and realistic – I usually recommend as much as three or four hours).
The reason for spending so much extra time at the airport is to get used to the visual and auditory stimuli of the world of air travel, to provide enough time to dial down your “anxiety thermometre” and help neutralise those stimuli, which are what initially activate your fear. You’ll have plenty of time to go through all the ariport procedures such as checking in luggage and going through the security control at your own pace, without rushing, which will help you to arrive more calmly at the boarding gate. In addition, you’ll get to familiarise yourself with the new environment, increase your sense of control, and in general live the experience as calmly as possible.
And finally, don’t forget to save five minutes for the visualisation of security before actually boarding the plane (no need to run the whole “movie” in your head, just the part starting where you’re at right now, in the airport)
I hope these strategies serve you in good stead, helping you feel safer on your next flight!
Psicólogo sanitario especializado en ansiedad y trauma Psychologist specialising in anxiety and trauma
Founder of the Instituto Lanzas | @Psicolanzas