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How to Work Through Your Fear of Flying

07/25/2014 12:53 EDT | Updated 09/24/2014 05:59 EDT
Colin Anderson via Getty Images

It has been a tragic week for airline safety, and very difficult for those who fear flying. My heart goes out to all those effected in these recent tragedies. With three plane crashes in less than a week there are more nervous flyers than ever. We are in the middle of the vacation season and there are multitudes of people preparing for air travel, but it seems that even the most stoic flyer may be left feeling apprehensive.

Fear of flying is a common fear that many people struggle with. In my work as a therapist I have assisted several people develop coping strategies when it comes to flying. The main rule is "do not let fear stop you." Anxiety is natural, but when we give into fear it only gets worse. When faced with a fear we are given an opportunity to work through it. Do not let fear stop you from what you want to do, or what you need to do.

Courage is not something that arrives before we are ready to take on our fear; actually, it is quite the opposite. Courage is something that occurs after we have worked through the fear. What I mean by this is that the more fears we face, the more opportunities we have to earn our courage. Fear of flying is an example of this. I have seen many people almost paralyzed by the fear of flying, but once they get to the end of their flight they feel a relief and gain a sense of personal triumph. In a way, courage is much like compound interest -- the more you invest in it, the bigger your returns.

This week we are seeing a significant increase in flyers that have not had an issue before with air travel, but are now experiencing a new or heightened fear of flying.

Here are a few tips any flyer can use:

1. Thought Stopping. If you are having intrusive thoughts concerning possible disaster scenarios, visualize a stop sign in your mind and tell yourself "STOP."

2. Be honest with yourself. Do not lie to yourself by saying you are not afraid when you are. Admit your fear but do not dwell on it. Keep telling yourself "I can handle it" and "I have done this before and I can do it again."

3. Remember to breath. Do a simple breathing exercise. Breath in, hold your breath for 4 seconds and let your breath out slowly. When we breathe deeply and slowly, chemicals are released in the brain that actually relax us. It is difficult to stay agitated or afraid if you are doing deep breathing.

4. Use your imagination to your advantage. Imagine yourself at your destination, relaxed and enjoying yourself. Keep going back to the scenario of yourself at the other end and the flight being something in the past.

5. Distraction can be very helpful. Bring books, puzzles or games to distract you during the flight. Something that forces you to concentrate is a healthy distraction that will make your flight might easier.

6. Remember health and moderation. Do not distract yourself with alcohol, caffeine or lots of unhealthy food. Eat nutritious food that is easy to digest. Stay hydrated, but again stay away from alcohol and caffeine. People often think these substances will calm them down, but they actually increase the level of agitation and fear. It also becomes very easy to overdo alcohol and caffeine, which can cause a whole new set of difficulties. Nobody wants to be on the airplane beside the highly anxious, caffeine-pumped or intoxicated airline passenger. That is its own recipe for disaster.

Remember, the odds are staggeringly in your favour. Statistics show that one would have to fly every day for 55,000 years before being involved in a fatal crash. Embrace the opportunity to develop courage, and enjoy the destination waiting for you on the other end of the flight.

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