8 mistakes made by nervous fliers

Fear of Flying School

If flying freaks you out, it’s almost certain you’re making one or more classic mistakes.

Do you recognise any of these?

1. Being an anxious person

If flying makes you nervous, there’s a good chance your ‘background’ anxiety levels are too high. In other words, you’re more uptight or highly-strung in your day-to-day life than you should be.

Why does this matter?

Because if you’re always feeling a bit anxious, it doesn’t take much extra stress to tip you over into feeling really anxious about something. Including flying.

In contrast, more relaxed people have less negative responses when exposed to stressful situations.

How do you reduce background anxiety?

By doing relaxation exercises.

Now, you’re probably thinking these sound like a time suck.

But take it from me, spending a few minutes a day relaxing will deliver a great return on your investment. Why?

Because, as you’ll discover, even a smallish reduction in your background anxiety will make flying much less scary.

And it’ll improve your quality of life.

2. Being a shallow breather

When you start feeling nervous, your breathing typically gets shallower. By ‘shallower’, I mean breaths that are shorter, quicker and faster.

These only make it as far as your chest, rather than down into your belly where they should be.

Why is that a problem?

Because it upsets the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. In turn, that imbalance gives rise to a host of unpleasant symptoms that can make you feel more jittery.

For example, you can feel dizzy, ‘unreal’ and as though you’re existing outside of your body. It can also cause your body to tingle.

Interestingly, many people who suffer anxiety disorders take shallow breaths 24/7. Yet they don’t realise it.

The result?

They only have to crank up the shallow breathing a bit and they start feeling panicky.

Luckily, if you’re a shallow breather, you can easily become a deep breather. The trick is to practice simple breathing techniques.

3. Fearing panic attacks

Do you fear having a panic attack? If so, you’re not alone. It turns out that for many nervous fliers, this is their biggest worry.

Unfortunately, the more you fear a panic attack, the more likely you are to have one. So what’s the solution?

Weirdly, the answer lies in you getting comfortable with the symptoms of panic attack. Why?

Because although panic attacks don’t feel great, they’re not actually dangerous. Nor do they mean something dreadful is about to happen.

With this in mind, settling into a safe place and then deliberately making yourself panic is a great idea. How so?

Because if you regularly experience controlled panic attacks, you’ll soon get used to the symptoms. And while they may not feel great, you’ll know via direct experience that they don’t represent a threat.

At that point, their ability to freak you out will be diminished. And once they seem less scary, your chances of having one on a plane will shrink.

4. Being ignorant about how planes work

Another big worry many people have is that something will go wrong with their plane. Sound familiar?

If so, it’s a safe bet that your worry is an unreasonable one.

After all, every element of flying is planned and executed in obsessive detail. And if a problem does occur, you can be sure there’s a contingency.

So if you’re worried about a particular thing going wrong, you need to find out how that thing actually works. And what happens when a problem does arise.

The more detail you have, the better.

After all, information is power. Especially when it comes to challenging irrational negative thoughts as they (inevitably) creep into your head.

5. Allowing negative thoughts to go unchallenged

As you chip away at your fear of flying, it’s inevitable that the negative thoughts that have plagued you in the past will keep popping into your head.

Annoyingly, there is no technique that will block them.

Which means they’ll keep scaring you witless – unless you find a way of taking away their power. But how?

By challenging them with facts.

In other words, you can neutralize your irrational negative thoughts by judging them against the information you’ve gathered about the object of your fear.

For example, let’s say you’re worried about turbulence. To overcome this fear, you must build a solid understanding of what turbulence is. And how planes and pilots cope with it.

That way, the next time you start worrying, you simply need to recall the facts. And instantly, you’ll feel calmer.

6. Avoidance

I became so nervous of flying that I avoided flying altogether for several years. But it turns out that’s the worst thing you can do.

Why?

Because avoidance allows your phobia to fester.

After all, by avoiding the thing you fear, your mind is free to associate that thing with all sorts of terrifying stuff.

In contrast, if you force yourself to spend time with the thing you hate, you’ll see that it’s not as bad as you’d imagined.

Not nearly as bad.

When it comes to flying, the more exposure you get, the quicker your fear levels will drop (assuming you don’t make the other mistakes I’ve mentioned in this post).

That’s why you must get your butt in the sky as often as possible.

But what if you’re one of those people who only hate certain kinds of flying? Like flying at night. Or over the sea.

The advice remains the same: you’ve got to expose yourself to the thing you fear.

7. Calming yourself with booze or drugs

As you know, getting smashed is a popular way to address a fear of flying. Sadly, it’s also ineffectual.

Yes, it can knock you out initially. But as the effect wears off, you can feel more jittery than you otherwise would.

And it can be hugely inconvenient – especially when travelling with friends, family or colleagues. Or when you have to go straight into a meeting when you land.

More seriously, it’s just another form of avoidance that allows your phobia to grow.

8. Believing media hype

Do you find yourself taking special note of media reports about plane incidents? And then becoming even more nervous about flying?

Well, as a former journalist, I advise you to take these reports with a huge grain of salt. Why?

Because they tend to exaggerate the dangers of flying.

They do this in many ways. A common one is to overstate the seriousness of a given incident. For example, a ‘near miss’ or an aborted take-off.

Why do they do this?

Because audiences are attracted to dramatic stories about flying, not mundane ones.

And bigger audiences are what every media organisation craves. After all, for a commercial media business, the larger the audience, the more advertising revenue it will generate.

Even not-for-profit media organisations need to maximise their audiences in order to justify their funding.

Meanwhile, car crashes (which kill vastly more people than flying) are regarded by most people as relatively dull. That’s why they get little news coverage.

What’s your best defence against media hype?

Discover the facts about flying. Then use them to question what you see, hear and read.

More help…

When you board a plane, do you get that awful feeling of being trapped?

If so, get your FREE copy of my eGuide, Trapped: Why You Fear Being Stuck On A Plane – And What To Do About It.

It’s brimming with practical techniques you can start using TODAY (including the 3 vital steps to controlling a panic attack).

Here’s what people are saying about it…

Thank you for making this guide. I’m really glad I found it.” – Lauren.

Once I read what you had to say, I started to laugh in relief. Finally, someone understood.” – David.

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Thank you for putting such a valuable resource out there!” – Lisa.

To get your FREE copy instantly, click here.

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23 comments

  1. Chancellor Flint

    ive always lived with GAD and well it hasn’t been easy but ive never been afraid of planes until recently… on the last plane right i was on the plane shook so violently that me, my little sister, and my mother thought we would die and now for the up and coming trip im scared more than ive ever been

  2. Sarah Dixon

    I get myself into such a panic about the plane crashing, terrorist attacks, turbulence, birds hitting the engines and making them fail, and 101 other scenarios that could happen whilst I’m in the air.

    I’m an intelligent person and I know the statistics of crashing are very low compared to driving and other means of transport; I think my biggest problem with flying is: I have no control unlike a car, and the chances of survival are low if anything should happen. I also don’t like heights.

    I’ve tried alcohol, calming pills, and eventually avoided flying for 7 years.
    I recently not the bullet and flew for the first time this year; however for the 9 months from booking the holiday to flying- I suffered a number of stress related health problems including the rather bizarre losing all sensation in my feet. The feeling came back after my holiday and after I survived the plane home.

    Now my partner wants to go abroad next year and I’m getting anxious even about the thought of it. Anxiety is the worst. We literally had the best holiday ever: it’s just the flying.

    For the whole flight I kept repeating in my head ‘2 hours- just survive 2 more hours: 1 hour and 50 minutes- just 1 hour and 50 minutes’….and so forth the whole flight. I nearly drove myself mad. My heart was thumping the entire time and this was whilst on calming pulls too.

    I’m considering hypnotherapy!

    1. Tim Benjamin

      Hey Sarah – thanks for sharing your story. You might find some useful help here and here.

  3. Anonymous

    I have a fear of flying because I am scared the plane will crash and we will die. I have only ever flown with easy jet but on the holiday I am about to go on I have to take rynair so I am scared something will happen. And the week before we go away I always have dreams of planes crashing and exploding

  4. Amanda

    I am in the nervous shallow breather category. I have flown twice, and on the last return flight (Murcia to East Midlands 10 hyr ago) I went into serious meltdown during the taxi to the runway. Full on panic attack, tears, wanted to get off the plane. Another passenger helped me control my breathing by getting me to breathe into a paper (sick) bag. It worked! In all my panic and subsequent breathing we had taken off and was airborne. I will remember to breathe slowly and deeply when I fly again next year.

    1. Tim Benjamin

      You’re right Amanda – breathing slowely is vital 🙂

  5. Cathy

    My biggest fear is not around the plane crashing, but my inability to get off if/when I want or feel the need to. I have NO control. I am OK driving – but a train or plane….ugh!

    1. Kerry

      I have the EXACT same feeling. I have daily anxiety and panic attacks fairly often. I have a trip next month with my family to bring my 6yr old to Disney in Florida for the first time. It is only a 3 hour flight, but I have been dreading and fearing it. I don’t want him to see me panic and make him scared too. I only feel comfortable driving because I know I am in control. That worst fear is having no escape. Once I am on the plane, I know that I am stuck for that amount of time no matter what. I don’t know what to do. I take a small dose of Xanax 3-4 times a day and sometimes that doesn’t even help. Every year it gets worse.

  6. Grace Gregory

    I am mainly petrified about planes because I am worried about crashing and because of my bad experience- I have always been either constantly feeling sick or constantly being sick, and one time we had really bad turbalance and my mum was having a panic attack and that just me feel more worried and sick.
    So now whenever I even see a plane on t.v or anything I get worried, and when my parents made me get on one to Portugal last time I actually cried. I am not scared of anything more than planes.

  7. Tina

    I have never flown before and in 2 weeks I have to fly for my job. I am absolutely terrified at the thought of not being able to escape if I need to. I am already on an anti anxiety medication and now I feel I need a zani on top of it 😥

  8. Debbie Payne

    Hi Tim. I enjoyed flying prior to 2002, when I went to America and experienced turbulence for the first time ever. It scared me so much, I’ve been frightened ever since. I’ve flown to Germany twice more since then and had a smooth flight, but I just can’t shake this irrational fear.

  9. Bobby

    I learned to be scared from my father –
    He drank himself into oblivion to fly –
    It’s hard to believe that I have more than 2000 jumps from airplanes and I too get stressed about commercial flight. My dear begins with idea that I have zero control over the entire process.
    I’m inside a tube and I can control anything – I have to surrender to everything and that brings up all my trust issues all at once.

    Turbulence reminds me of all of turbulence of my life and I think about my childhood and events I’ve long forgotten while I fly – turbulence shakes my memories free. I’m lightly depressed for days after I fly remembering my neglected lonely youth – I was out of control as child and everyone I needed to trust let me down – this is what flying brings up for me.

    If I sit in a military cargo plane with the pilots and I can see them operating the controls I have no fear. It’s just sitting in a commercial airplane looking out of the window is such a powerless scarey feeling!

    It’s transparent that flying conjures up my early experiences in life and I have a boat load of unresolved early anxieties that are not closed
    Flying is therefore a workshop if I stay present and direct my mind to surrendering and trusting

  10. Karen

    I have flown a few times over the years, but never felt comfortable. The older I got, the more I avoided it (haven’t flown for 16+ years at this point). Just reading this article made me cry…I simply can’t bear the thought of flying. I have had a recurring dream for decades, of seeing a large passenger plane crash to the ground. It’s so vivid I can’t watch planes flying in the sky; I feel as though I’m destined to actually see one crash someday. Or worse, be on that plane. We’re retired now and my husband wants to tour Europe, go to Hawaii, visit Australia! I’d really love to, but getting there seems impossibly terrifying. I’m running out of excuses, and I truly want to travel more; I just can’t get on that plane. I think back on all the business trips I avoided, all the “stay-cations” and car trips I insisted on. I rearranged a lot of career opportunities and fun family adventures because of my fear of flying, and it makes me sad.

  11. mohini

    Hi .. Yesterday i had a return flight which was good but i had a terrible experience.. my body is trembling even now… I fear that aeroplane will drop a few feet .. I fear the weightless feeling.. I fear the heart sink.. It was a 2.5 hour flight.. and every second felt like an hour.. I told my neighbor and he spoke to me about other things .. but it dint help.. i am the problem.. my mind…. Earlier i feared only take off. now cruise altitude scares me too much… I agree with your point 1.. I am always stressed in life… I have decided to never travel again.. I focus only on the down ward movement of the flight..

  12. Suzanne

    My partner wants to take me on holiday and I know I am holding him back but I am just scared I won’t make it on the plane because I will panic I am not afraid of flying but the claustrophobic feeling I can’t get off I feel the same about a train as that is where I first experienced a panic attack I know it’s all linked but I feel like a crazy person. I last flew 5yrs ago and have flown many time previous time to America / Europe I just seem to have hit a wall.

  13. Bec

    I have travelled extensively and used to love flying. Now I’m at the end of a 9 month trip in South America/Europe and freaking out about the 2 x 12 hour flights to get home (to Australia). Weirdly my flying anxiety started because of dangerous bus rides. I had a panic attack on a bus after it nearly collided with a truck on a mountain road in Peru. I was so scared of taking a particular bus journey in Bolivia that I debated it for weeks and eventually booked a flight instead (statistically far safer) but I somehow transferred the fear I had about the bus and I was super anxious on that flight. Now I’m terrified of flying. It’s like I flicked a switch on and now I can’t turn it off.

  14. Rachel

    I have flown all my life with very little fear until this trip. I leave for England today and for the first time, I’m so terrified of this flight I can’t stop crying. No matter how I tell myself it will be safe and do relaxation exercises, I keep seeing the plane crashing in the Ocean. I have to go and I don’t want this fear to keep me from doing what I want to do, but I feel paralyzed. I wish I had more time to help myself, but I was never afraid of flying before.

  15. boi

    I have a huge fear of takeoff. Every time I think of the speed the plane goes at when it drives across the ground, my stomach turns.. I’ve been 12 holidays which is 24 flights and I STILL panic.. every year it seems to get even worse too. I don’t know what to do.

  16. Katie

    I leave for Florida in 9 days. I have been losing sleep over the flight. Take-off is the absolute worst for me. I take 2 Xanax, and even that doesn’t help as much as I want it to. I usually bring some sort of puzzle books with me to help keep me pre-occupied. I also bring headphones, because I can literally not listen to them talking about “in case of an emergency”. It all freaks me out. Not being in control, being so high, the loud noises for take off, and the weightlessness feeling. I’m better on trains, but not 100%, because I know I can get off at the next stop if I have to. I hate having this issue, and I know I have to keep it together so my boys don’t see me so scared. I just want to get up in the air and come back down as soon as possible. It sucks. I’ve been looking on boards, and it helps to see I’m not alone. I’ve also been looking up actual flight time to see how long I will actually be in the air. I’ve suffered from anxiety for so long that I can usually just accept the symptoms of it. Just sucks!

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