What to do if you're afraid of flying

My close friend contacted me yesterday while waiting in line to board a plane. She gets flight anxiety, and those working at the airport were, if anything, exacerbating this.

The pilot announced there was going to be a lot of turbulence (there actually was hardly any), which started my friend down the anxiety rabbit hole that so many of us are familiar with. And then, when my friend asked if she could switch her flight to the next day, the flight attendant scoffed and said, "It won't be any better tomorrow." And this sent her into a full-blown panic attack.

First of all, I wanted to tell my friend, "You're not alone." In fact, aviophobia, or fear of flying, is one of the most common phobias. And there are a lot more people who have a fear of flying that doesn't reach phobic levels.

“A lot of it is the lack of control they have in the situation,” Todd Farchione, the director of Boston University’s Intensive Treatment Program for Panic Disorder and Specific Phobias, said in an interview with Time Magazine. “When the doors close, they’re in it. They’re stuck. They can’t get out of the situation. I think that’s often what’s most frightening for most people.”

So, what can you do? My friend can't tell her boss, "No, I can't travel for work." And she shouldn't have to miss out on vacations or traveling back home to see her friends and family.

One of my favorite authors, Tarryn Fisher, recently addressed flight anxiety on her Instagram. Every Tuesday on her Insta story, she hosts "Tuesdays with Tarryn," where she answers questions and gives advice to her readers.

Last Tuesday, someone asked her, "Help me with my fear of flying? I get panic attacks on planes but I love to travel!" (To my friend – hey! Was this you? haha)

Tarryn responded, "It helps to not be at the back of the plane. It helps to have extra leg room. It helps to bring distractions. Watch a movie. Put your earphones in. If you have a panic attack anyway – close your eyes. Breathe deeply and picture you're in an open field."

"I look at the sky, I picture wide open space full of grass. The sky is so huge. If you feel calmer, keep building: Put a barn in the field, paint it. Hear birds. Breathe. Touch the grass. It's wet. Breathe. Look at your bare feet in the wet grass. Breathe. Put your earphones in, listen to the song that calms you. Breathe. You're okay. Order a drink, make it a double."

This led to a discussion in the Facebook group, Tarryn Fisher's Passionate Little Nutcases, where other readers shared tips on how they cope with their fear of flying:

• "When taking off, I put my head between my legs as I feel more grounded during the take off. Once the plane levels out, I feel better." - Dani Kirkpatrick

• "(My friend) finds that (the smell of) a Vicks vapor rub stick helps her. She feels like it opens up her airways and lets more air in. ... Also Xanax meds and a major distraction, like a stand-up comedy routine downloaded onto an iPad." - Janet Beasley Silliman

• "I made sure I had music playing on each take off and landing. And I played games during the flight." - Carrie Moore

And, for me, whenever I get on a plane, it helps me to remember that, according to statistics, the probability of you dying in a plane crash is around one in 20 million!

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