Fear of flying help
Its name might be daunting but Pteromerhanophobia (the fear of flying to you and me) is one of the most common phobias out there. And it seems to affect all kinds of people, to a greater or lesser degree, no matter how much they fly. Even Martin Scorsese, a man who’s probably taken a few flights in his time, says “Every time I get on an airplane I know I’m not really an atheist. ‘Oh, God, dear God,’ I say the minute the plane takes off. ‘I’m sorry for all my sins, please don’t let this plane crash.’ And I keep praying out loud until the plane lands.”
But the fear of flying is a great example of how important the mind can be in dictating how we experience any given situation. Two people could be sitting side by side on a plane and one of them will be gripping the armrests, his knuckles white with fear, while the other is just, well, asleep.
So if the problem originates in the mind, the good news is that it’s something that mindfulness can really help you with. Like any kind of anxiety fear of flying is self-reinforcing. You begin with the sense of danger, maybe just the sensation of the plane taking to the air is enough to set you off. This feeling of fear sets the mind racing. You might start to consider how far up in the sky you are, wondering how firmly the wings are bolted on, or how many times the pilot has made the trip. But ironically this sequence of thoughts, which you perhaps intended to reassure yourself, exacerbates the feeling, which in turn produces more thought, and so on.
Mindfulness teaches us to try to observe our thoughts, without identifying with them so strongly. I often return to the idea that meditation is like sitting beside a road and watching the cars passing. The cars represent our thoughts, so if we can watch as they pass, rather than getting in amongst them, we have a much easier time of it. By observing our thinking in this way we can intervene in that vicious cycle of panic before it gets going.
If you do suffer from fear of flying, help is on hand in the form of the new Headspace app that contains guided meditations of all different lengths in the Singles section. These might just help you get the headspace you need next time you fly. And they’re certainly more restful for the person sitting next to you than praying aloud.
PS: Did you know that you can gift Take 10 for free? If you’ve found Headspace helpful, why not pass it on to someone you know who fears flying.
If you're planning a trip away, make sure you are following the #MindfulTraveller. All summer long he’ll be undergoing the trials and tribulations of travel, while doing his very best to stay mindful. Catch him over on our Facebook and Twitter pages, along with recommendations from Andy. You can also listen to Andy's holiday podcast for free below.