Coping With Fear of Flying

By Peny Cruz, 25

Anne Hathaway in a scene from the movie Passengers

The fear of flying is very common, so much that 25% of americans reportedly suffer from some sort of anxiety when it comes to planes. From a young age I struggled with closed spaces and the uncomfortable sensation of feeling trapped. The last time I flew before my anxiety worsened, I was 9 years old and I was flying with a distant friend of my father. I was coming to America to see my mother who had moved a couple of months before. The only thing that scared me about flying was the possibility of the plane falling. I remember I kept staring out the window until the guy next to me asked me if I was okay, to which I replied yes. That was the last time I ever looked out the window while a plane was up in the air.

My anxiety worsened after 9/11 but what really made my fear of flying unbearable was when a plane that was heading to the Dominican Republic crashed a few months after. My fear was so vivid that I wasn’t only afraid for me, but I was also afraid for my family and friends. I would ask them for their flight information on every trip they had, and then I would take it upon myself to track the plane and make sure they were okay.

I was afraid of the plane crashing, being hijacked, or even the pilot getting lost. This fear consumed me for about 10 years, in which I never flew anywhere and experienced crippling episodes of anxiety when my family went away. My fear had such power over me that I missed many family vacations and most importantly my brother’s wedding.

I didn’t think that I would ever fly again and for many years I was consumed with regret and a bit of conformity on the restricted life I had chosen to live. For a while I believed that my life would be like that, despite my frequent prayers and desires to not be. Until I decided to seek help. I started researching the topic and asking people for advice. I wanted change more than I wanted to be scared.

At first, cognitive therapy didn’t work. Then I found a therapist who recommended tranquilizers, and together with the motivation from my friends, I was able to take my first trip in 10 years. I am not suggesting that you take pills to face any kind of fear, but because I was in such fearful state, I needed something that would keep me calm. After all, getting off the plane mid route was not an option. The pills I took made me fall asleep which didn’t really help me get familiarized again with the feeling of flying.

Two years later I took another trip, this time across the ocean to Jamaica with a different prescription, which kept me up but calm. I did so well that I thought I was over my fear, but I was wrong. I had waited too long before flying again that my fear took over me once again. There was one time where I got so scared that I missed my flight on purpose. Consistency is key, once you start facing your fears you have to try and do it as much as you can in order to fight the fear.

It has now been 7 years since I started working on my fear of flying. I haven’t flown alone yet, and while I am not 100% fearless I will say that I am a lot better. I’ve flown many times both short and long trips. I have worked with myself trying to understand what scares me and finding coping mechanisms for when I am experiencing discomfort.

Being fearless doesn’t mean that fear is not there, fearless means that you don’t let fear stop you!

And this is exactly what I’ve been working on. We have to work on our minds during those times and teach ourselves to rationalize rather than succumbing to fear.

Every time I fly I do different things. I count from 100–0 during take off, I play cards, I sing, I talk and I always ask to meet the pilot (although on a recent trip back to New York my request was denied due to security concerns). Back in the day that would have freaked me out, but this time I took it as a challenge to trust and believe that everything was going to be okay, and it was. My future challenge is to fly alone.

If fear is limiting you, work on it. Living a life ruled by fear is not living. Challenging ourselves to face our fears is the only way in which we can discover our true self.

Working on me,
Peny

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