The first step to overcoming your fear of flying is to reduce your ‘background anxiety’.
What’s ‘background anxiety’?
It’s the amount of anxiety you feel in your day-to-day life. In other words, the anxiety levels you live with 24/7.
In my experience, people with a fear of flying often have higher background anxiety levels than others.
As a result, we tend to react more fearfully to ALL stressful events.
Imagine a door at home slams unexpectedly.
The person with a higher background anxiety level will tend to jump higher than everyone else.
Why does this matter to you?
By reducing your background anxiety levels, EVERYTHING you hate about flying is likely to seem less scary.
For example, take turbulence. The simple act of reducing your background anxiety levels will often leave you feeling less fearful when thinking about it.
And when actually experiencing it.
Your other flying-related concerns should be less troubling, too.
Meanwhile, if your main worry is about having an in-flight panic attack, it’s likely that a lower background anxiety level will REALLY help.
Finally, if you reduce you background anxiety, you’ll reap another massive bonus: greater calmness in the rest of your life.
How to become calmer
There are a number of techniques that have been shown to powerfully reduce background anxiety in large numbers of people.
Let’s take a look a look at ‘em.
Aerobic exercises are the ones that boost your heart rate.
Think jogging, swimming and cycling.
And research shows they’re an excellent way to get your background anxiety under control.
They also tend to lift your mood.
Another great thing about aerobic exercise is that you’ll probably start feeling the benefits almost instantly.
Within minutes of starting your first session, it’s likely you’ll feel:
- More optimistic.
- A greater sense of wellbeing.
And these feelings can stay with you for hours.
Even better, if you work out a few times each week, these good feelings can expand to FILL your day.
But how much aerobic exercise must you do to put a dent in your background anxiety?
That’s a hard one to answer as it probably varies from person to person.
But you could do worse than a 20-minute jog three times per week.
Or you might achieve similar results – but in less time – by doing ‘high intensity intermittent training’ (HIIT).
HIIT involves doing short bursts of intense activity.
For example, going as hard as you can for 15 seconds on a static bike. Then repeating 2 more times over a period of about 5 minutes.
Do that 3 times per week and you could soon notice a reduction in background anxiety.
All with just 15 minutes of effort per WEEK.
For more information about HITT, check out the work of Dr Michael Mosley.
As you know, there are loads of relaxation techniques to choose from.
However, I suggest you start by trying the one that worked for me.
Known as ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ (PMR), it has three main benefits:
- It’s easy to do.
- It can yield results fast.
- It’s free.
How does it work?
PMR involves tensing – then relaxing – your muscles. And doing so in a systematic way that targets each of the main parts of your body in sequence.
At the end of the session, you’re left with a deep sense of tranquillity.
How long does a PMR session take? Different people will give you different answers.
But in an ideal world, you’d aim for at least one 20 minute session each day. Ideally seven days per week.
However, if you’re as lazy as me, you’ll struggle to re-shape your day to fit in 1 x 20 minute session consistently.
After all, you need to find a time when you won’t be disturbed.
And a quite place in which to do it. That has a comfy chair for you to sit.
As you face these barriers, remember that 20 minutes spent on PMR may well benefit you more than almost any other activity competing for that time.
Like hanging out on Facebook. Or staring at the telly.
But what if you simply can’t find 20 minutes a day?
Then go for 15 minutes.
Or 10 minutes.
Heck, even 5 minutes done consistently is likely to be miles better than nothing.
When to do your pmr
The best time of day for doing PMR will vary from person to person.
But besides choosing a time when you won’t be disturbed, you also want to make sure you’re not sleepy or hungry.
Falling asleep during PMR is easy. After all, it’s deeply relaxing.
But while dozing off is fine on occasion, you’ll get more out of the exercise if you’re awake throughout.
In my experience, trying to do PMR seconds after getting out of bed will usually result in me falling asleep again.
Therefore, if you’re going to do it first thing in the morning, maybe have a shower beforehand.
Or a cup of tea.
Anything that gives you time to wake up.
Likewise, I avoid doing PMR just before bedtime as I’ll inevitably nod off in minutes.
Obviously you’ll need to experiment to see what times work best for you.
In terms of hunger, I find it hard to do PMR if I’m starving. But I avoid eating a meal just before a PMR session.
That’s because a full stomach also sends me to sleep. The solution?
Kill your hunger pangs with a light snack. Like a banana with peanut butter. Or anything else that takes the edge off without filling you up.
How to get started
I suggest you start by accompanying your sessions with an audio recording of someone guiding you though the process. Once you’ve got the hang of things, you can stick with the recording. Or go it alone.
Where can you find recordings? There are free ones on YouTube and in the iTunes store. And you’ll find low-cost MP3 downloads on Amazon.
When should you start?
The answer is NOW. Because the sooner you’re doing PMR consistently, the quicker you’re likely to get comfortable flying.
Because although you’ll feel great after just one session, the sense of relaxation will wear off in an hour or so.
But if you consistently do a session each day, it’s likely you’ll find the calming effect will last a little longer each time.
And become a little more ingrained in your day-to-day life.
The bottom line
Simply becoming a calmer person will not, by itself, eliminate your fear of flying. But typically it makes the process of overcoming your fear less traumatic.
And it will allow you to achieve your goal faster.
Minimise caffeine consumption
I love drinking coffee – especially first thing in the morning.
Without that jolt, I can’t get moving.
But as you know, too much of it can leave you feeling on edge.
That’s why you should try reducing your daily intake.
After all, the less caffeine swishing around your body, the lower your background anxiety is likely to be.
What’s more, if you can avoid it in the afternoon and evening, you’re likely to enjoy better quality sleep – a key factor in helping you feel calmer.
And don’t forget that it’s not just coffee that contains a ton of caffeine.
Other offenders include energy drinks, colas – and chocolate.
Quit the fags
For lots of us, dealing with background anxiety involves reaching for a ciggy.
But there’s a small problem. It turns out that cigarettes (and e-cigs) make your anxiety WORSE.
In a nutshell, they BOOST your anxiety by inflicting nicotine cravings.
Next, they offer a ‘solution’ to your elevated anxiety in the form of a nicotine fix.
That works – until you start craving the next cigarette.
So, if you can escape this vicious cycle, you’ll enjoy a less anxious life.
To learn more about how nicotine affects your anxiety levels, watch the video on this page (scroll down the page to find it).
Another benefit of avoiding nicotine is that you’ll probably sleep better. That’s because nicotine is a stimulant.
And like all stimulants, it undermines the quality of your sleep.
So if you ditch cigarettes, you’ll typically wake up more rested.
And when you’re more rested, your background anxiety will often be lower.
Check out this research for more info.
Go easy on the booze
Having a drink is one of my favourite pastimes.
But if you’re not careful, it can boost your anxiety levels.
You see, while alcohol is supposed to relax you, it turns out that it can do the opposite. Especially when you drink lots of it.
There are several reasons.
For a start, drinking can affect your mood by reducing your brain’s supply of the feel-good chemical called serotonin.
In turn, lower serotonin levels can make you feel anxious and depressed.
But that’s not the only problem alcohol can cause you.
It can also make you feel more anxious by causing your blood sugar levels to drop.
And unusually low blood sugar can lead to symptoms like dizziness, confusion and nervousness.
Meanwhile, the dehydration caused by alcohol can be a further cause of anxiety.