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Tips for fearful flyers

26 April 2017

Going on holiday is something most people look forward to for months with the thought, 'if only I could just be there, without all the travelling' being a common one. But there are plenty more whose dread of the trip itself can really dampen any pre-holiday excitement.

Up to 28% of the British population have some level of anxiety about flying, whether that's a bit of a nervous tummy during take-off, or full-blown aviophobia. And while some people will keep both feet firmly on solid ground to avoid the panic attacks, embarrassing public behaviour and emotional exhaustion being scared for so long brings, the majority of us grit our teeth and bear it, longing for the moment when we finally feel the plane touch down.

So for those heading off to foreign climes this summer season, here's a few simple tips that helped turn me from the woman who forced a steward into making a PA announcement so he could find a passenger willing to swap seats with me, to someone who can now watch movies and have a little snooze, only taking out my earphones a couple of times per flight to make sure the engines are still running.

1. Pick your seats in advance

The root cause of this particular fear isn't scientifically proven, but we all know that humans love to be in control as much as possible. When we aren't, we start to worry, because of course no one is as capable and trustworthy as we are! There's absolutely no way you're getting your hands on those cockpit controls, but there are a few things you can take in hand to bring yourself a little bit of calm. Most airlines now let you select which seats you're going to be sitting in when you book, either for free or for a small extra cost, and this is well worth doing. Personally, sitting near the back is a big no-no, (please see the incident above) as the noise and movement of the plane is heightened here. I also used to want to avoid window seats, so knowing that I wasn't going to have to fight other passengers for somewhere in the first few rows made thigs a bit easier pre-departure.

2. Go see your doctor

If you're at the higher end of the aviophobia spectrum, there may be medical assistance that can help you out. Diazepam is a member of the benzodiazepine family, also known as Valium, and produces a calming effect. If you let your GP know how much flying you'll be doing, they will assess your symptoms in order to prescribe the correct dosage for however many planes you'll be hopping on and off.

3. Friends in high places

Cabin crew are predominantly there to ensure the safety of the plane's passengers, and they are very used to reassuring nervous flyers. They know all about the aircraft, the sounds it makes, the different types of turbulence - you name it - and will be happy to explain things to you. Remember knowledge is power, and once you can differentiate the sound of the landing gear from the sound of a wing snapping in half, you'll feel a lot more at ease.

4. Practise makes perfect

It may seem counterintuitive right now but fly, fly and fly again, as much as you can stomach it or afford it (perhaps try not to think of your carbon foot print at this point). Professor Robert Bor, a psychologist, pilot and co-author of 'Overcome your Fear of Flying' wisely notes that we look for signs that reinforce our worst suspicions. We might see a harassed looking flight attendant, and suddenly we imagine they know something we don't and are scurrying around preparing for an emergency landing. This is a psychologically bad habit that takes time to break.

5. Sit back and…accept the nerves

If they do come, don't try to fight your feelings. This makes us tense, which in an annoying catch 22 increases your sense of anxiety. Try to take deep breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose, acknowledge that you're in an uncomfortable situation and attempt to focus your attention elsewhere. Introspection or analysis of your emotions at this point are not helpful, and if you can distract yourself in anyway it's definitely worth a shot. So bring plenty of reading material, pop on your favourite album or watch an inflight movie and remember, it will all be over soon!