Afraid of flying? Psychology can help you conquer the fear that blights holidays

Most of us are looking forward eagerly to our summer holidays, but the prospect of jetting off fills some people with fear. Around 15 per cent of the population is thought to be afraid of flying, but the good news is that clinical psychology has the tools to help them.

Chartered Clinical Psychologist Elaine Iljon Foreman says:

“Trying to conceal the real reason behind a reluctance to fly can be extremely stressful. The problem is exacerbated when a disappointed, and perhaps unsympathetic, partner is affected. Sometimes people force themselves to face their fear – and go through what can be a waking nightmare.”

Elaine adds that fear of flying affects people of all ages. Some have had the fear for as long as they can remember: others develop it after years of worry-free travel. But either way, this fear can cast a shadow over people’s holidays, limiting their choice of destination, spoiling the anticipation, some of the holiday, and meaning they dread the return journey.

But help is at hand. Elaine Iljon Foreman offers her list of 12 Do’s for people who are afraid of flying:

  • If you have health concerns, discuss them with your doctor before booking a flight
  • Visit an airport. Familiarise yourself with it. Watch the planes taking off and landing. Look around and notice how relaxed most people appear
  • If you have other related fears – for example panic attacks or claustrophobia – take small steps, one at a time, to face your fears and build your confidence
  • Show yourself how safe it is. Find out more about how planes fly and safety statistics
  • Mention you are anxious about flying, when booking, checking in and boarding
  • Pre-book your seat online
  • Arrive early: Check in leisurely and go straight through Departure formalities
  • Have a snack and a non-alcoholic drink once you are through security
  • On the plane, make sure you have something interesting to read and perhaps listen to
  • Yawn and stretch. Move around when you're allowed. Eat the meal, talk to others
  • Focus on what you will be doing when you arrive at your destination
  • Work through self-help materials. Seek professional help if that proves insufficient
  • Do it now! The longer you wait, the more you miss out, and the harder it can get.

And there is one definite Don’t:

  • Drinking alcohol, despite what people think, does not reduce anxiety. It tends to increase it.

Elaine adds that while these tips may well be enough to help someone with moderate fear of flying, someone with a more serious fear would do well to seek help from a clinical psychologist:

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the principle that people’s behaviour and emotions depend to a large degree on what they understand is happening. Using CBT, a clinical psychologist looks at the relationship between what people think, say and do. CBT has been used successfully to treat many different anxiety problems.

“Put simply: what a person thinks and anticipates can greatly affect their  reaction to events and to people. It is possible to teach oneself to develop new behaviour, which can then lead to a more satisfying way of life.”