Updated: Aug 24, 2022
In this FAQ series with clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher, we ask how someone should get past their nerves when flying returns to normal?
Fear of flying comes about when our worry brain overestimates risk, underestimates our
ability to cope and ignores the data that suggests that flying is actually safer than crossing the road!
Similar to the fear of needles, avoidance of flying tends to make our anxiety worse (not to
mention limit our lives!), so the only real way to reduce this distress is to expose ourselves to this experience with a plan for managing the anxiety WHEN it turns up, rather than wishing that it won’t. The good news is that the process is very similar to other fear. So much so, that you might even see a bit of cutting and pasting from what I have said before.
The most important step is to understand anxiety and expect it to turn up. Expecting it to turn up means that it loses the element of surprise (which can add to its impact) and allows us to plan for it. Part of this plan is to learn some anxiety management strategies to help it pass on its way more easily. Note that these strategies don’t make anxiety disappear, so this is about flying WHILE being anxious, not waiting for anxiety to disappear before we get on the plane. Some of these strategies are outlined in the series of short videos that you can access through our 7-day aerophobia challenge.
With these strategies on board, there are two main ways of facing up to travelling in a plane:
1) Grin and bear it
In psychology ‘speak’, it means 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. To help you get there, it is also important to remember what resources you have available to you (aka those anxiety management strategies you’ve been practicing) and maybe even a support person going through this with you. Someone who may have to exert a little bit of pressure if needed, to help you stay the distance.
2) Break the experience into steps or in other words “graded exposure”
This can be in real life or equally useful through VR exposure therapy. In both cases, it is worth acknowledging the battle fought with anxiety, so make sure you have a treat in store to celebrate your bravery. Rewards aren’t just for kids, you know!
For some, the use of medication that can reduce the level of anxious arousal if it feels
completely overwhelming can be appropriate (on the advice of your doctor).