Fear of flying? Here’s how to cope

29 Nov 2018
POSTED BY Ashlee Starratt

This Christmas, we’re changing tack in our house. Instead of flying home to the UK for the festivities, my parents will be joining us in Muscat.

I’m looking forward to my Mum’s expertise in the kitchen: she’ll check that the turkey isn’t dry, that my roast potatoes are crispy on the outside and melt-in-the-mouth fluffy on the inside. She’ll also ensure I don’t pour too much sherry over the Christmas pudding when we set it alight to make wishes, thus heading off a health-and-safety hazard.

My biggest challenge is going to be how to get her here in the first place.

Mum, now 72, hasn’t flown for a few years now. A particularly turbulent short-haul flight that my parents took to Europe three years ago unsettled her considerably.

Fear of flying is a well-known phobia. Stars such as Jennifer Aniston have suffered from it (although Emirates paid her US$5m [RO1.92m] to advertise their airline in 2015 so I’m assuming she’s recovered), as have fellow actors Billy Bob Thornton and Whoopi Goldberg.

I’m unsure if Mum really does have aerophobia but I’ve found out as much as I can about it and tried every diplomatic trick in the book to cajole her into getting on that plane. I even offered to put her and Dad in business class, until my husband hit the roof.

According to the British charity Anxiety UK, fear of flying or aerophobia is an excessive worry about air travel that can affect one in ten people, or more.

Anxiety and panic attacks are the most common traits but the phobia can affect two types of people: those who feel they will lose control of their emotions and embarrass themselves and those around them; and those whose fear is associated with turbulence, bad weather or a fault with the aeroplane.

The fears might not necessarily be related to aviation but could be as a result of stress incurred by personal problems.

Mum’s difficulties start when the monitors start showing the safety procedures, and when flight attendants start jabbing their fingers at the emergency exits.

She said: “I start to hyperventilate, I get butterflies in the stomach, my mouth feels dry, and I feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety.”

After placating her, I explained that statistically (according to aviation experts), the chances of a plane crash are one for every 1.2million flights, with the odds of dying, one in 11 million. The chances of dying in a car accident are one in 5,000.

“Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” was Mum’s tart response.

OK, so that didn’t work. Next I recommended some tips I had found out about, and which are listed below.

Eventually, Mum’s doctor referred her to a counsellor, with whom she talked out her fears and anxieties under a program of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

Her counsellor has helped her to identify what causes her anxiety, how it builds up, continues, and incurs her panic and, more importantly, how to deal with it.

So now it’s a case of fingers crossed for Christmas. Mum is now looking forward to strolling on Qurum Beach on Boxing Day, and Dad will roll his eyes and say, “Yes, dear”, as usual.

Here at Y, we hope you have, as an old Air Canada slogan once boasted, “Flights so good, you won’t want to get off!”

And to help you do just that, here are some coping strategies, as recommended by the British clinical psychologist Professor Robert Bor:

  1. Keep yourself distracted. Keep watching the entertainment monitor, and keep the headphones on.
  2. Try some breathing exercises: take slow, deep breaths in the mouth so your belly expands, then breathe slowly out through the nose.
  3. Learn how the aeroplane works. Find out how it takes off and flies, how air traffic control keeps planes apart, and what happens during turbulence.

(Sources: China Daily, Anxiety UK, BBC, Professor Robert Bor)




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