One of my foremost parenting goals is to model courage for my kids.
In certain situations, I ace this with flying colors. I’m cool as a cucumber when it comes to mice. I can navigate Colorado roads when they’re coated with snow and ice. Even San Francisco’s earthquakes don’t give me the shakes.
However, when it came to flying the “friendly skies,” my fortitude used to fly right out the window.
“Aviophobia” was not something I wanted to display for my kids. Plus, there came a point in time when flying was mandatory—there was an upcoming flight I couldn’t avoid. My 12-year-old daughter Christie is on a gymnastics travel team and was scheduled to compete in New York City. Traveling by car with her siblings was not an option.
So I dug in my heels and decided to conquer my fear.
Aviophobia is the granddaddy fear that sires numerous offspring. Among them are anxieties related to:
Lack of control
Experts often suggest identifying the causes of your fear—important to identify causes so you know what to tackle. When I read the list of typical concerns, I became overwhelmed. Every anxiety applied to me!
I decided to approach the dilemma like my daughter Christie does in her gymnastics routines, step-by-step.
1. Statistical Knowledge
It’s’s highly unlikely you’ll die in a plane crash. Your chances are one in 11 million. There’s a greater probability that you’d be attacked by a shark. Even the flu can potentially kill you. Traveling by car is reportedly 100 times more dangerous than by plane. When rare accidents do occur, they’re spotlighted by the media.
This knowledge put crashes in perspective. I slashed “crashing” from my list.
2. Deep Breathing
Connecting with your breath was recommended. I practiced focusing on the steady rhythm of slow breathing. With each respiration, I became calmer. I used this method when elbowed by a throng of people.
Armed with this relaxation technique, I ushered “crowds” off my list.
Anchoring is linking a positive object with the negative experience of suffocating. I chose aromatherapy as my anchor. I dabbed some jasmine oil on my wrists before wedging myself in a friend’s Volkswagen. Inhaling the fragrance eased the nausea I previously had in tight quarters.
Now when faced with the prospect of feeling like a sardine, I apply a soothing scent. Lavender is relaxing, too!
Using aromatherapy, I was able to nix both “stale air” and “confinement” from my list.
4. Progressive Exposure
For fear of heights, progressive exposure was suggested. You start with a low height and increase by degrees. My sister’s third-floor apartment has a balcony. Eva arranged a tea party for me, complete with chamomile. We sat and chatted and sipped. It was actually quite pleasant. The herbal tea melted my anxiety.
I progressed to scaling Lombard Street, San Francisco’s most crooked road. With eight hairpin turns, the curvy incline is steep! Eva and I hoofed it together, enjoying the flowers along the way. My crowning achievement was traversing the Golden Gate Bridge.
With this significant milestone, I erased “fear of heights” from my list.
5. Calming Kits
Coaching websites advised focusing on what I could control. I figured my thoughts were a good place to start. I took stock of what I could bring on the plane to occupy my mind. Here are the “tools” I packed for my calming kit:
Crossword puzzle book
Women’s World magazine
Distraction by an in-flight movie was another option. Not knowing if the plane’s film would be suitable for my kids, I assembled a game bag. As I created the “calming kits,” I found myself smiling.
Feeling empowered, I dropped “lack of control” from my list.
6. Safe Airline
I conducted an Internet search of the safest airlines. CNN published an article, naming 20 leading carriers recommended by aviation analysts. Two US companies made the global list—American and United. American Airlines had the cheaper fare, so I booked my flight with AA. The carrier’s motto also struck a chord with me, “Doing What We Do Best.”
Consoled by this slogan, I chucked “mechanical failure” from my list.
7. Wing Seat
Seats over the wing offer the smoothest ride, according to experts. The rear of a jet is most vulnerable to fishtailing. Annually, roughly 60 people get roughed up by turbulence in the US. Two-thirds of them are flight attendants, reducing the number of impacted passengers to 20. Contrast that with the 800 million Americans who take to the skies each year. The way to protect oneself from injury is to heed the seat belt sign.
I made a mental note and tossed “turbulence” from my list.
8. Travel Facts
I read an article by Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for TripAdvisor who reminds us that that most US cities are far more dangerous than airplanes.
Then I came across an ABC News brief. It said that a parent’s fear is highly contagious, creating a harmful influence on children. I didn’t want to increase my daughter’s tension in the face of her gymnastics meet.
For my daughter’s sake, I forged ahead, banning “terrorism” from my list.
I’m grateful to say I’m no longer a white-knuckle flier.
Hopefully, the eight tips above will help you as they did me. You can break free of aviophobia, one small step at a time.
Muster your courage, spread your wings, and soar the friendly skies.
A version of this article was originally published on Miami Helicopter.