Learn to fly: How to manage flying anxiety as a business traveller
Does just the idea of flying give you clammy palms and make your pulse quicken?
You may have aviophobia, or, a fear of flying. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, more than 40% of Australians experience some form of flying anxiety. Ranging from slight discomfort to full-blown phobia, aviophobia can be crippling. As a business traveller, it’s particularly unproductive. Time spent stressing about flying takes energy and mental space from other more productive things.
Psychologists report that the reasons for aviophobia are many and varied – and most sufferers have underlying, pre-existing anxiety related issues – but there are tools to take control of the fear.
Arm yourself with these tools and strategies for beating anxiety and reclaim your travel life from the fear of flying.
If your imagination runs wild with visions of catastrophic outcomes for the duration of a flight, distraction is a great tool to redirect your thoughts. Books, movies, that last minute presentation you need to finish; you can find solace in concentrating on something other than your environment. Noise cancelling headphones are also great to help dull the sounds and take your attention away from every little fluctuation and change in-flight.
Avoid caffeine and keep blood sugar up
As a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine works by speeding up the messages sent between the brain and the body, thereby exacerbating anxiety and nervousness. If you are a nervous flyer, avoid ingesting caffeine before and during your flight, instead opting for juice or non-caffeinated beverages. Snack on fresh fruit, nuts plus other substantial (and wholesome) snacks to keep your belly full and your mind calm.
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Treat the fear with a course
- Virgin Nervous flyers program: Extending their vow to “give every guest a smooth experience”, Virgin Australia offers what they call a ‘Nervous Flyers’ program. Identify yourself as a nervous flyer (your Travel Manager can assist with this while booking) and you’ll receive assistance from the Virgin Australia team the whole way along your journey. The service includes: an email with information and wellness tips plus a behind-the-scenes look at operational aspects to help demystify the flying process a week before; a positive affirmation SMS, created by VA’s mindfulness partner Smiling Mind, on the day of travel; and extra care and attention by cabin crew who will “keep an eye out for you and pop by with a friendly hello during your flight”. Think of it as your in-air turbulence buddy.
- Fearless Flyers: In partnership with Qantas, the Fearless Flyers program is a not-for-profit organisation that helps flyers overcome their fear. Run by volunteers including aviation experts and psychologists, it’s the second oldest course of its kind in the world. You can book in at centres in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
- Fear of Flying school: Operated by pilots from Flight Experience – a flight simulator centre – and psychologists from the Sydney Phobia Centre, the Fear of Flying School runs regular courses helping aviophobes combat their fear.
Though this may sound counter-intuitive, exposure therapy is a popular method of treatment for anxiety disorders. The idea is to confront fears face-on in an attempt to remove the associated anxiety. With more positive memories and real life scenarios in your head, the less your imagination can fill the void with potentially negative outcomes. Start with short flights and work your way up to longer international flights to ease yourself in.
Meditate, use breathing techniques
Breathing is a powerful tool for calming nerves and grounding yourself. Being mindful is a method of meditating that hijacks what’s known as the ‘monkey mind’, stopping the spiral into fight or flight and anxious thought patterns. Breathing is a big part of this and can help calm nerves, tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system – also known as the rest and digest system. In fact, an increasing number of studies are showing that mindful breathing, such as the type used in yoga and meditation practices, are effective in treating anxiety and insomnia.
“These techniques influence both physiological factors (by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychological factors (by diverting attention from thoughts),” according to an article published in the Scientific American magazine.
The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is a great place to start, or download an app like Calm for a guided meditation.
Learn the science
Familiarising yourself with facts can help mitigate the effects of anxiety.
Since “anxiety thrives on ignorance”, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it helps to arm yourself with knowledge and facts. “They will not eliminate your anxiety, but they will help you manage it.”
Learning about the reasons behind turbulence – and how planes are equipped to deal with it – will fill the vacuum with information, making it less likely that your brain will step up with the negative, emotional reaction instead.