Last year I nearly didn’t board a flight home because my anxiety kicked in and panic attack symptoms began. Needless to say, that flight was absolute hell for me!
I would say that I am a fairly frequent flyer. I love to travel and experience new cultures and have lived abroad for the last 3 years. I have never been scared of flying itself and until the age of 21 when I developed my IBS, I was actually very happy aboard a plane. Even then my only major concern was being unable to use the bathroom during takeoff and landing.
So what happened that triggered this ‘new’ fear of flying?
I created an obsession with having a medical emergency on board and being completely helpless. This could be anything from a heart attack to a life-threatening allergic reaction. With this in my mind, of course, I panicked, going through all these scenarios in my head and it has been the same ever since. I would not even eat on a flight for fear of going into anaphylactic shock.
Forced to face my fear
A couple of months after developing this new issue with flying, my boss told me that the company was sending me to New York in 3 weeks. Up until now, flying had always been my choice and short haul distances. The prospect of being sent to New York was incredible, but the fear of an 8-hour flight across the ocean was overwhelming.
The weeks before
I had decided that I definitely needed to prepare for this, to avoid completely losing my shit at 30,000ft in the air. Here is what I did:
- Self-control methods – I read lots of sites and blogs with advice on how to deal with what would come; breathing exercises, distractions, meditation.
- Learn the facts – how many people actually have a medical emergency aboard a commercial aircraft and how many die.
- A medical check-up – I had the doctor check that I was totally healthy to give me peace of mind.
- Controlling where I sat – a window seat in the day and an aisle seat at night, near an exit is my preference. Believe me, this does make you feel more in control.
- Medication – this was my last resort, but as I entered the last week before the flight, I was not sleeping due to so much anxiety. I went to the doctor and he gave me lormetazepam, which he promised would work (with my mindset, I still tried half on a train back from Vienna to make sure).
I took the cowards way out and did not even try natural methods. I followed the doctors instructions and took half a tablet before boarding and the rest half way through the flight. It was great…no anxiety, no panic, I still couldn’t sleep, but that was the least of my worries.
I have not taken a long haul flight since this experience, but I have taken a few shorter ones and I am happy to say that with the help of all the above, I took my last journey with no medication and felt totally fine.
If you suffer from a fear of flying for any reason, then I hope this can help you feel less alone.