I thought I'd share a personal story about my fear of flying, and how I managed to get over it. Over time, I've gone from having an almost paralysing fear about flying to actually enjoying the experience.
A little bit of history
My fear of flying really came about from a fear of heights that I've had for as long as I can remember. My first flight was in 1999, when my family and I travelled to Egypt. I don't remember much about the flight, apart from the fact that I hated it.
I didn't fly again until 2003, and since then I've made over 15 flights of varying lengths. My most recent flight was over nine hours, and it was the most relaxed travel experience I've had in a long time.
The most regular problem I had was having nightmares about planes crashing. They either involved me being a passenger on a plane that was crashing, or being an observer to a plane crash. Sometimes I would have these as often as once a night, but I generally had one at least once a week. They ranged in clarity, but the most vivid dreams felt completely real and often led to me waking up in a cold sweat.
Where did the fear come from?
Why are we so scared of flying? What factors make it scarier than something like taking a bus or a train?
Even though there's a much larger chance of being killed in a car accident, the fear of being killed on a flight seems to be much greater. It might be because plane crashes are always given a high media profile, or because they're often much larger than a road accident.
I think the main fear comes from the lack of control people have when they're flying. At least if you're driving you can swerve to avoid an accident, but if something goes wrong on a flight there's nothing you can do. That's quite a scary thought.
How I beat it
I didn't solve the problem in one go, but I took several smaller actions that all added up.
Beating the bad dreams
I used a technique I learnt from lucid dreaming, called the “reality check”. The idea is that whenever you perform a common action, you consciously ask yourself if you're dreaming. A good reality check to perform is closing your nose with your fingers and trying to breath through it. If you're dreaming, you'll be able to breath, which will induce a lucid state.
Because my nightmares involved planes, every time I saw a plane I would perform a reality check. This enabled me to become lucid in any dream that involved planes, and I could change the outcome to something more pleasant. It takes practice and discipline, but this really helped with the bad dreams.
Changing the visions of death
I used to associate flying with visions of death, which didn't exactly help the fear. I made a conscious effort to stop myself whenever these thoughts came up, and to think about a more peaceful situation. For example, I changed these visions so that instead of the plane plummeting into the ground, it would crash land and everyone would make it off unharmed. Instead of seeing myself paralysed in terror, I transformed the image of myself into someone calm who offered help to the other passengers.
It sounds simple, but it made a big difference to my general attitude about flying.
To put my mind at ease, I looked around to learn about the safety checks that are performed, and how safe various airliners are. These few pieces of information made a huge impact, mostly because they appealed to the logical side of my brain. Flying is safe. Really safe.
Learning to enjoy it!
I've found that getting a window seat makes the flight much more enjoyable. Some of the views can be absolutely breathtaking, especially around takeoff and landing. Take some time to reflect on how amazing it is, and it will help you relax. Alternatively, watch every single film they show to take your mind off things.
Since I started using these techniques, I've been able to enjoy the experience of flying. It takes time and a proactive approach, but beating the fear of flying is within everybody's grasp.