How I conquered my fear of flying

IMG_6545I was terrified of flying, especially during take off and turbulence. I read so many books based on overcoming your fear. I studied psychology to try and comprehend how my fear my caused. I started thinking about take off at least 48 hours before the flight. I’d usually ask the air hostess ‘will there be much turbulence?’ Knowing it was going to be a bumpy flight, felt reassuring. I became an “air nuisance” – introducing fear in the calmest of passengers. Usually I would end up apologising and making a statement like ‘I’m the worst person you could sit alongside’. I would sometimes have a glass of wine before my flight and it did help. However, I agreed to a round the world trip in 2017 and I knew a glass of wine before my 16 hour journey wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to let my fear stop me from gaining new experiences.

I started to research where my fear had come from and tried to work backwards to overcome it. My parents would say things like you were never afraid of flying before’ and ‘you’ve been flying since you were a baby, so where did my fear come from?’ Well in 2008, my family and I were on a flight from Zante, Greece to Dublin airport, unfortunately we did have an emergency landing and everybody was crying. I remember my mum kissing me and crying and I thought she was trying to say a farewell goodbye. Nevertheless, I was naive to this sort of thing! One of the flaps to slow the plane down wouldn’t work. Luckily we landed ok but there were fire engines everywhere and we landed on a longer runway. After this, surprisingly, flying didn’t bother me and I continued to be confident. Three years ago, I was on a flight from London to Cork in a terrible storm. Before this flight, I was fearless and had no problem flying on my own. It was such a rocky flight, that I was shaking and so petrified for the full hour. The man on the seat alongside me was flabbergasted with how nervous I was. We got off the plane and an elderly couple said to me ‘ that wasn’t too bad in the end’. I thought to myself it felt like the end!! I started to process the technical issues of flying and acquired a fear of heights too. Thinking deeper into ‘what ifs’ didn’t support my dread to fly alone.

Usually, while others slept soundly around me, my heart was pounding and I was alert to the possibilities of a engine failure, the pilot passing out, or lightning. I continued to travel, enduring torturous flights to get to my destination.

On one flight, I was on sudden turbulence was experienced and I woke the girl up alongside me thinking she might comfort me. She stood up to allow me to go to the toilet but I had to explain the real reason for waking her, then I rang the call bell for the air hostess. I found myself petrified. My legs trembled and I felt the urge to vomit. I stood up with her mid flight shaking and crying in front of everyone. I was five minutes into the flight and I evidently feeling mortified for the rest of the time.

Before my round the world trip I got diazepam, but my aunt informed me it’s banned in some countries and Asia requires a lot of documents for this medication. Two days before I decided not to take them with me. I had to try and embrace the fear and do it anyway! While booking my round the world trip, I asked the travel consultant for reputable airlines, even though I ended up flying with Angkor wat airline, the smallest plane I have ever been on. I couldn’t even stand up on it as it was so small. I had looked up and researched all the flying safety statistics and drove myself insane. My friend told me that’s my problem, that I think about it too much.

Finally, I decided that enough was enough – and started to work on cognitive behavioural therapy. I read two helpful books, one written by British Airways called ‘Flying with confidence’ and another one which was about a counselling group of people with cancer and I can’t remember the name of it. There was a line in the latter book that said ‘I shouldn’t be afraid of anything, my time will come and we are all going to the same place. How can you be afraid of something you haven’t experienced?’ It was such a sad book and there is obviously no comparison in both situations, but it was reassuring to use her thoughts and relate them to fears. I wrote down the line from this book on a piece of paper. Every time I was about to take off on my world trip, I read that line and played music to distract me. Flying with confidence book said it’s a good idea to distract yourself. After all of this I decided I still wasn’t as confident as I had wished.

On one flight to Indonesia, I made myself record the take off and I even sat on the window seat, something I would never do. Looking back at my recording made me realise that I’ve done it so many times and there’s nothing to be afraid of. My mum gave me a list of statistics and explained that flying is safer than driving. You have more of a chance of dying in the car on the way to the airport than to die on a flight. Now I am afraid of driving haha! In Bangkok it was crazy, their average car speed is 150kph!

I am still slowly overcoming my dread of turbulence but since I researched the make up of a plane and the power and force it was built to deal with all types of weather. I know flying shouldn’t be something to stop you from gaining more cultural experiences, travelling to learn new languages and ways of life. Please speak to me if you feel the same and I might be able to support you.

Hope that helped!

Zweena

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