Many fearful flyers often look to external solutions to calm their anxiety. But there’s a powerful tool inside all of us that we can use when what you’re looking for is calm, which has come to be known as “mindfulness”. And it’s a tool which can also be used to manage fear of flying, and have a better experience on board.
First of all, it’s important to understand that aerophobia often stems from anticipatory worries and catastrophic thoughts about what might happen on the flight. Therefore, good management of these thoughts that bombard you with concerns about safety is key.
Basically, mindfulness invites us to be fully present in the current moment, freeing ourselves from the influence of anxious thoughts. This forms the basis of techniques which have attention management as a central pillar.
For example, mindful breathing techniques aim to allow you to focus on each inhalation and exhalation to anchor your attention in the present, thus reducing anxiety. And beyond breathing, other techniques which focus on the body can be very useful when you have a fear of flying, since the anxiety manifests itself at the muscular level throughout our bodies. For example, it can be helpful to perform a “conscious body scan” to detect any tension or physical discomfort related to fear: you close your eyes and direct your attention to each part of your body, from head to toe, observing any sensation of tension. With each exhalation, imagine tension dissipating and releasing, allowing your body to relax and feel greater peace.
At a cognitive level, mindfulness invites us to observe our thoughts without judging them or becoming attached to them. This is extremely useful during the flight, since it’s very likely that unpleasant or worrying thoughts will arise. If they do, I recommend that you observe your thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky, without trying to stop or analyse them. You are the sky and thoughts are the clouds that come and go. By allowing thoughts to flow without identifying with them, it is easier to reduce their impact on your emotional state and find greater peace of mind.
Last but not least, here’s a strategy as simple as it is effective: gratitude and acceptance. Instead of focussing on the negative or feared aspects of the trip, turn your attention to the things you can be grateful for at the time. For example, appreciate the opportunity to travel; the safe construction and operation of the plane; and/or the privilege of experiencing new adventures or seeing new cities or countries. This won’t totally eliminate your fears, but it will give you a much broader perspective than the one that’s skewed by your catastrophic thoughts, offering you a much friendlier take on flying.
Give these a try, and you’ll be surprised how much they can help. Have a good flight!