Ever since 2009, I have had a chronic fear of flying. It all stemmed from one flight that year. I was going back to Brazil, which I hadn’t been to since I was born, so I was excited. Once we arrived we had to get a tiny plane across the country. Didn’t think anything of it. But the pressure in smaller planes isn't great for a young kid with aggressively swollen adenoids and sinus issues.
If you’ve ever seen those videos of people clamping watermelons between their thighs and squeezing till it pops. Just imagine your head being the watermelon. That’s what it felt like in the sky on that plane. It was the combination of the pressure from the cabin, a disturbing amount of turbulence, and just the anxious thoughts of a child racing through the mind that made flying not the best experience.
As time went by and with each trip abroad over the years it only got worse. The irrational mind starts to take over.
“How tf does a metal tube not fall out the sky”
“I just heard something rattle. We are going to die.”
You know that kind of peaceful thought process that is so much fun.
Then covid hit and it was a great excuse to not go on holiday. It definitleyyyy was not me trying to avoid that activity that I loved so much. You know the one that goes in between you being in your country and then landing from the sky in another. But now it was the summer of 22’ and there was no excuse. I had worked all year and planned to go to Portugal. It was the day before, and all those lovely anxious thoughts started flooding in.
Then I kind of just got bored of being anxious and hopped on over to Youtube to ask its abyss of content what I can do to help my mind with this fear. The first video that pops up is by Mel Robbins. I was intrigued because I’d read her book, 5 Second Rule, and trusted her judgment. So I clicked the video.
I was skeptical at first but she gave 5 simple actionable steps, so I took notes. Here they are for anyone curious:
- Have an anchor thought — visualise one thing you are looking forward to doing when you get to the destination. For me, I couldn’t wait for morning runs on the beach and getting in the sea. Use the anchor thought to stabilise your mind and not let worry hijack you.
- Recognise triggers — If you’re afraid of flying you will look for every reason to justify being nervous. Be very mindful of your thoughts trying to take over and your brain trying to hijack you.
- Everything is a good sign — because it means you’re one step closer to getting to where you’re going. Whether it’s the door closing or weird noise. You’re not trapped in some death tube. You’re just one step closer to your destination.
- Set yourself up for success — Make sure before you get on the plane either make a playlist of something you love or get something ready you can watch. If you’re tuned in to something you really love you’re not going to notice as many sounds that would normally throw you off.
- Use the 5-second rule — Chances are you’re going to experience turbulence or chances are it’ll be a sound you don’t like. When your thoughts drift to something scary or nervous just start the physical count down on your hands. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then visualise your anchor thought.
I had my notes that I’d taken from the video ready and prepped to take on this flight.
As Mel says in the video during the walk up to the plane the thoughts start to kick but I managed to recognise the anxious thoughts and just erased them with the anchor thought. I was now sat in my seat, 11a. Great. A window seat right next to the wing. I started examining it, without even realising, for any loose bits. As if the well-trained staff hadn’t done this already.
Then, you could hear the pilot over the speaker. Ready for takeoff. Seatbelt fastened. Headphones in. Book in hand. Anchor thought ready.
The jet engines start firing up. Louder and louder. The plane gets on the runway and before I know it we’re speeding it down the straight. My stomach drops, I was shitting it. Wheels now off the ground and my mind is overwhelmed with anxiety. But this time I had help.
I close my eyes, listen to the lo-fi beats playing in my ears and just visualize myself running on the Portuguese beaches. Sand between the toes. Salty breeze in the air.
Suddenly, a big bit of turbulence hits and I’m snapped out of the thought and straight back into the anxious reality. But I fight it. Just slow my breathing countdown from 5 and go back to visualizing.
Before I knew it the plane had levelled out and the seatbelt sign was coming off. All around me everyone seemed so calm but in my mind, I had just gone through a mental storm and whirlwind of anxious thoughts. But as we broke through each layer of clouds I felt an enormous sense of gratitude and was able to appreciate flying in a way I had never before. Where I just came from looked so small and insignificant to the vast scale of the skies and fluffy clouds. The world was a beautiful site from up there. All was okay.
I am in Portugal now so we will see how the flight back is, but I’m optimistic. I genuinely didn’t think it would work. Your mind can be a naughty lil fuck sometimes and loves to play tricks on you. But using science and psychology you can actually play it at its own game and override the anxiety.
If you have a fear of flying or know someone that does (send them this) and try it, maybe you can overcome it too.
P.S — Final tip that I was repeating to myself constantly. “Always expect turbulence, then you’ll be ready for it. You’re in a metal tube flying 400mph. Stop being silly.”