I didn't fly until I was nearly twenty and I remember staying awake all night in anticipation. It was only a two hour flight to the Whitsundays but I remember every bump felt like I was going to drop out of the sky and every noise was so foreign. I remember looking around and seeing people watching a movie like it was no big deal and thinking how could they be so calm when we are up so high in so much danger. I was sweating and hyper alert. Even though the landing was a standard landing I remember touching down and feeling so thankful for being on the ground.
For the rest of the holiday it was in the back of my mind that I had to get back on the plane to get home every time I thought about it my stomach did flip flops. I have never fully delved into why I have such a fear of flying but I think for me personally its a combination of things. I remember watching 9/11 over and over again and thinking how terrified those people on the plane must have been which is weird but I really do still think about it to this day every time I get on a plane. I also think the lack of exposure to flying when I was young coupled with a fear of heights and lack of control are all factors and triggers for me.
About a year later I was due to fly to the states alone the fear of getting on the plane completely overshadowed the excitement for the trip to the point where I didn't want to go.
I was sick of feeling this feeling of impending doom when I thought about the trip so I decided to go to a hypnotherapist. I was expecting to look into a spinning pattern and wake up feeling cured it didn't quite work that way instead I was conscious for it all and remember everything. I just felt sleepy and the woman was saying things in a soothing voice like "I no longer have a fear of flying" I am not sure how much of the hypnosis worked but I do remember her giving me breathing exercises and mantras to say to myself which I think helped me more. I got on the plane but I remember right up until we took off I felt an urge to run off the plane.
I cried during take off and then decided to get roaring drunk to calm my nerves (this later would become my only coping mechanism for getting on a plane) as soon as I landed in America I felt such a sense of accomplishment which soon turned to dread knowing I had to get back on that plane to get home. After the America trip it was a while before I flew again I totally avoided it. Even the idea of flying induced anxiety, the flight back was really turbulent and I cried for four hours vowing to never put myself in that situation again.
But I couldn't help the envy I felt looking at all my friends amazing travel pictures and growing up I always pictured myself travelling the world.
So when my best friend rung me to let me know her boyfriend couldn't go to New Zealand with her and did I want to come for free I knew I needed to just do it, the trip was coming up so soon I didn't have time to think much about it. On the day I was so nervous but I had my bestie and we got drunk on the plane and I was convinced I was over my fear of flying.
The flight home was a completely different story. My friend stayed longer to spend time with family so I was by myself and just after take off I started to have a panic attack the turbulence didn't help either. I couldn't sit still and I was so angry at myself. I thought I was over this. I went into the bathroom and splashed water on my face then we hit an air pocket I gripped the sink and started crying.
After that experience I avoided flying as much as I could, but I felt a void in my life I wanted to travel. I was so angry at myself why couldn't I just get over this.
It turns out I am not alone aviophobia (fear of flying) affects one in three people and after a lot of reading on the subject I realised that people telling me to get over it and that flying was the safest form of travel wasn't going to cut it.
So I decided to take action getting blind drunk before a flight was getting old and also getting to your destination with a hangover is not ideal.
So I did my research I found a podcast called fear of flying school and one of the things suggested to me was learning all about the plane and how it is run so I can now tell you every noise from take off to wheels down I cant recommend this enough it helps you feel a bit of control over the situation and gives you a mental check list which pre occupies you from horrible thoughts.
Another thing I do is I ask the air hostess about flying conditions when I board and explain I am a nervous flyer this one is crucial for me because A. they tell you when turbulence is coming and B. When it hits unexpectedly they give you looks of reassurance and talk to you to calm you down this has really helped me get through many flights. I even remember on a Qantas flight after letting the hostess know I was a nervous flyer, she spoke to the pilot who let me go into the cockpit and let me ask any questions about flying.
I also keep my mind busy when I get anxious I once played Tetris for four hours straight during a bumpy flight.
This year I am proud to say that I have flown the most I have ever flown in my life (in June I flew Singapore - Australia - Hawaii in 24 hours) and while moments of nervousness will always be with me though practicing mindfulness and changing my negative thoughts into positive ones I can say that I am at a point where I am looking forward to future travel.
I was also pleased to read that Virgin have just introduced Smiling Mind a meditation program now available on Virgin Australia’s in-flight entertainment to help all flyers practice mindfulness in the air to help nervous flyers. There is also a Fear of flying school for extreme cases.
If you are reading this and you have been avoiding air travel I am not going to preach to you that it is the safest form of travel and there is nothing to be worried about but what I will say is find what works for you to get you feeling comfortable in the skies because it can land you in some pretty amazing places