Phobias - conquering a fear of flying

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Abbey talks to us about overcoming her fear of flying

How my fear of flying began

I’ve never been a good traveller – I was always the kid throwing up on the coach on every school trip! And so, I’ve always started long journeys with some anxiety. But as I got into my teens, I developed a real fear of flying.

Unlike when I travelled by car or coach, I was very aware that the plane couldn’t be stopped, which led to me feeling trapped. I would panic about being sick and the embarrassment that would come with it, because I would be unable to remove myself from the situation.

People would always tell me how safe plane travel was, but it didn’t help. My fear was never about the plane being unsafe, it was about being in a situation I had no control over. I know now that this is actually a really common reason that people are scared of flying.

Trying to get over my phobia

Despite my fears, I always managed to get on a flight, but I’d be anxious the entire time. I would start shaking, sweating, and often crying, hours and sometimes days before getting on a plane. I tried reading books, listening to soothing music, and even taking medications that the doctor prescribed to make me sleepy, but nothing worked.

Over time I became convinced that something terrible was going to happen every time I flew. Once, I arrived at the airport to board a flight but ended up becoming so panicked that was unable to get on the plane. I drove home from the airport feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I would like to say this prompted me to seek help, but it actually took a few more years to pluck up the courage!

Discovering cognitive behavioural therapy

Eventually I reached out to a counselling service and they recommended I try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I worked with a therapist to explore the things I was thinking and why my thoughts were becoming overwhelming. We talked about the types of things I was worrying about and how to cope with these thoughts.

It took a little while to put this into practice, but since having CBT I have flown several times and genuinely not felt panicked once. There have been times when I have felt nervous about the journey, but the CBT has allowed me to recognise when this is happening and cope with the feelings before they become too much to cope with.

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