I want to be honest with you, I used to be terrified of flying. I was so scared after a panic attack on a flight once that I thought I’d never fly again and seriously started to reconsider the travel filled life I now lead. I was absolutely terrified of being trapped and the idea of looking out of the window at 37,000 ft in the air in an aluminium can would send me over the edge. When I read the statistic that at least 25% of people are afraid of flying, it didn’t surprise me. For a long time, I was a flyer who could just about manage a flight, but that being said, I was holding on for dear life every time I heard a sound I didn’t understand. The whole experience, even though I was good at hiding it, was traumatic and I was always the first one to spring up when they turned off the fasten seatbelt sign.
One of the scariest experiences of my life was having a panic attack mid-flight. I felt my hands start to clam up, my chest tightened, and my thoughts raced everywhere bad, fast. I ran through scenarios in my head where we crashed, where I would never be able to get off, where I would be stuck there for an eternity – you name it. As I stuck with these thoughts more and more, I realised what was happening and before I knew it, I felt like I was in my own personal hell on earth. Those two hours, still, to this day, feel like the longest two hours I’ve ever experienced in my life. I arrived at my bed for the night feeling fragile and the following day I continued to have panic attacks reliving that traumatic experience. This event had such a traumatic effect on me that for a few months the idea of flying would send me into a frenzy of hot sweats and pulsating, obsessive thoughts. I didn’t fly that whole time, and I seriously considered giving up everything I was working towards and the life I have now. In truth, there was a trip that we had already scheduled and didn’t go on because I was so scared.
I felt so guilty every time I thought about how I wasn’t just affecting my life with my fear of flying, I was affecting Matt’s. I had a wakeup call that hit me so hard I realised that in order to truly live the life that I knew I wanted that this was something I needed to overcome. Now, under two years later, I can honestly say that I love flying. Flying is an experience I actively look forward to and could probably spend all my time on a plane if I had to. Here are the things that, when put into practise helped me to overcome my fear and turn it into an experience I look forward to.
1. WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF IS EVERYTHING
I truly believe that your thoughts become your reality, and what you speak becomes how you feel. Ever noticed that if someone asks you how you feel and you tell them you don’t feel great, you can often end the conversation feeling worse than you did to start? Speaking yourself into the reality that you wanted to create was not new ground for me, but I’d never thought about applying this idea to my fear of flying. When I did, things really began to change. Saying the same thing over and over again has the ability to create habitual patterns in your brain and creates a belief. The evidence to show yourself this in action is to think about something you think negatively about. Observe how when focussing on the beliefs or statements that you tell yourself around this, forms the belief. If it’s possible to believe somethingnegativeby telling yourself something over and over again, it is also possible to believe somethingpositiveby telling yourself the same thing over and over again. So, I asked myself the questions:
What would the version of me whowasn’t afraid of flying tell herself?
What would she believe?
Once I had my answers, I wrote them down and turned them into statements. I started uttering them to myself whilst I was in the shower in the morning, whilst I was waiting in line at the store and slowly, they became my beliefs. I saw the power of this after a couple of months when it was coming up to the time we were to fly somewhere and I was so excited I could barely hold it in. When I got on that flight, I knew something big had finally settled in and I genuinely enjoyed flying for the first time. It takes work, and can feel difficult at first, but once you realise that you’re in control of your thoughts, you can really make big changes.
2. DO IT REGULARLY
It probably sounds obvious, but the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Have you ever stopped to think about how the idea of doing something for the first time can be quite scary, but then think about that same thing a few months down the line and how you don’t even blink at the idea of it? Once you normalise something, it just becomes a habit. When I used to travel infrequently, I would find the idea of flying really bizarre, but now I fly frequently, I have turned going to the airport, boarding and flying into my routine. Have you noticed when you’re at the airport that you can tell when someone looks like they’ve done this a million times versus an anxious infrequent traveller? The next time you see someone like the former at the airport, look at their gestures, mannerisms and body language and see how you can embody a similar vibe. If you want to use a technique that will help you to feel more at ease with the idea of flying more frequently, use evidence and think about something that you were scared of that has now become easy for you.
3. FEAR OF FLYING CAN’T HURT ME
I used to suffer from crippling anxiety when I was growing up, and the truth was that this fear and anxiety would get worse for me when I gave into fear. When you give into fear, you tell your brains that you agree that this experience is scary. When you stop doing something because of fear, you often build it up to be this huge thing that you could never do again. Years can pass by and you are still trapped by an old anxious thought about something that, even though feels real, if often an irrational fear. The first time I boarded a plane after my panic attack experience, I felt terrified. When the cabin crew locked the doors and we took off I felt like I was going to die, I wondered to myself why I’d put myself in this hell hole knowingly with sound mind! Then, we landed and something pretty awesome happened, I started to feel such a sense of achievement. I started to think things like ‘hey, if I did this once, I can do it again’. Realising that fear, as hard as it can feel to be in the middle of sometimes, can’t actually hurt me has been one of the biggest ways I’ve overcome so many things that have challenged me along the way in my life. Once you realise that the real danger is not the fear that you think is around you, but lies in listening to the fear, letting it control your decisions and how that will shrink your world, things will change for you. Remember to tell yourself frequently why you’re facing your fear of flying and what waits for you on the other side of the flight.
4. BE MINDFUL
Have you noticed how most people on a flight can’t wait to get off? As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is switched off, there is this huge bustle of people stood with contorted necks, just to be the first to get off the plane. We often find when we feel anxious that we are fortune telling into the future or thinking about something in the past which doesn’t feel good to us. The idea of mindfulness is the idea of experiencing your present as it actually is rather than using your future and past thoughts to control your present. There are so many things in our day to day lives that we try to rush through and get out of as soon as possible, traffic jams and waiting rooms are good examples. If you think about it, when we are just trying to get something to rush by as soon as possible you are literally wishing your life away. I didn’t realise when I started practising meditation a couple of years ago just how much the idea of a mindfulness practise would make me enjoy every second of my life so much more. I found that if I was starting to have an anxious thought on a plane (usually to do with it just falling out of the sky in the future) I was able to become aware of what I was doing, focus on my breath and become aware of my surroundings again.
5. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE
Instead of seeing flying as a chore, I see flying as something I can’t wait to do as I make it a fun experience. There is something really amazing about being in a space that for however long your flight is, can offer you. Ask yourself the question, what do I wish I could do that I never seem to create the space for? For me it was reading, writing, and journaling and it was having ideas sessions. it was also sometimes just catching up with films that I perhaps hadn’t watched that I really wanted to or taking the opportunity to mediate for longer than normal. Because you’re in a space with very little distraction, if you can tune into seeing this almost as a self-care ritual, you can see your attention finely tune to the task at hand. Because I started to see flying as a ritual for my self care, I’ve been able to have some of my most creative, expansive ideas whilst in the sky, some of which that have formed the very basis of the business I run today.