This weekend I took an awesome impulse trip to Seattle with a couple of my girlfriends, and I had to put my ass on a plane in order to get there. Before I left, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to spend sometime looking at my fear of flying and trying out techniques I thought might help make the experience as pleasant as possible. Here is it, what I did, how I did it, what worked great, what didn't work so well.
Before I even set foot on the plane I spent a fair amount of time time reading articles written by folks who also fear(ed) flying. I read about when they became uncomfortable, some could pinpoint the exact moment, the when, the why, the how. Others had no idea why there were so afraid, they simply got on the plane one day and found themselves afraid. I fell into the second group, I had gone years getting on and off of planes like it was nothing, but simply got on a plane one day and felt afraid. Reading about all these folks made me feel better immediately, I wasn't alone, I wasn't the only person on the face of the planet who feels afraid to fly. I knew this of course, by the reassurance was nice. I also looked up flying safety stats simply to entertain the rational part of my brain. We all know that flying is safer than driving but if you're still a little freaked out take a good long look at the stats I think you'll be surprised with what you find (and I mean that in a good way). Next, I talked with friends and coworkers who are also afraid to fly about what works for them, they suggested: sitting with someone you know talking the whole time, a good book, wine...lots and lots of wine. Armed with ideas and information I made a list of what I thought I might work for me.
This Was My List
- Start a new book, but read only enough to be interested so I'll look forward to reading more on the plane
- Arm myself with several trashy, mindless, gossip magazines
- Talk, Talk, Talk (my poor friend flying with me)
- Bring along a notebook and pen and jot down ideas for my blog
- Take long, slow, deep breaths, counting down from 100
- If all else fails, wine, wine, wine
Armed with my list I felt a little bit better after boarding the plane. Because I was flying Southwest I was able to grab a seat next to my friend up towards the front. My first real test came during takeoff, the turbulence and the adrenalin pumping through my veins lead to anxious feelings. I attempted to talk to my friend, making jokes and small talk, but this did not work. I pulled out a magazine, but I couldn't focus, so I closed my eyes, got as comfortable as I could and started taking deep breaths and counting down from 100. To be 100% honest this was the last thing on my list I expected to work, but it did, and in that moment it was exactly what I needed. By the time I got down to 1 the turbulence had stopped and my breathing was normal, I felt totally calm. Next, I pulled out my book and started to read. I used this calm moment to re-frame how I felt about the situation, I chose to feel thankful that I had two quiet hours to simply read. I told myself I was not about to start feeling stressed out and anxious that I was floating up in the air, everything out of my control. I read until it was time to prepare for our descent, at that point I was feeling calm and happy and used the last 20 minutes to chat with my friend about our wonderful trip keeping my mind occupied.
It took a little preparation, an open mind, some deep breathing (this still helped more than anything else), and re-framing of the situation but I left the airport feeling better about flying than I had in years. I know that I can expect some of these same anxious feeling to reappear on my next flight, but there is something very soothing about knowing I have the tools to deal with my feelings in a very nice, calming, way.