"Air travel is the safest means of transportation," is a typical platitude doled out by well-meaning people trying to assuage the nerves of an anxious flyer.
While this may be true, it does little to comfort those mentally talking themselves through getting on an airplane.
Truth be told, most anxious flyers likely know more about airline safety statistics than the average traveler. Many members of this group try to abate their fears by compulsively researching airline-related material. They know what turbulence is and how the plane is designed to respond to it. They know that airplane flaps create lift for take-off and drag for slowing the plane down. And they know where all the emergency exits are found.
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Fortunately, there are ways to help combat a fear of flying. Oftentimes, anxiety is intensified by unconscious habits. Here are five things to practice before getting on your next flight.
Break the anxiety-building rituals
Some aviophobes unknowingly practice pre-flight rituals that, when repeated, can build a sense of panic based on anticipation of an upcoming flight. An example might be someone who checks their passport repeatedly or sets up their airline seat in a precise order each time they fly (iPad in the front pocket, blanket below the seat and crossword puzzle on the meal tray). Or it can be a more obvious ritual like repeating a certain mantra or compulsively touching the outside of the plane while boarding. While pre-flight routines may seem like habits, these practices create a mental expectancy of sorts. Breaking these compulsions helps alleviate building apprehension unconsciously.
Stop compulsively observing
Many people look to flight attendants and other passengers to keep themselves calm during a flight. If the flight attendants seem calm, then everything must be all right. If the other passengers don't seem bothered by the rocking of the plane, then it must just be regular turbulence and nothing to worry about.
The truth is, the flight attendant could look stressed due to any number of reasons, from arriving late to work, to dealing with an unruly passenger. Bearing this in mind can help re-frame perception and lessen the mind's tendency to create stories on which anxiety feeds.
Acknowledge your fear
Flight attendants are people, too. Let your attendant know if you are a nervous flyer. Not only is it comforting to establish contact with a member of the cabin crew, usually they are very good at checking in with anxious passengers and doing their best to make them comfortable. Sometimes a smile during a stretch of turbulence is all it takes to make getting through it a little easier.
Avoid consuming alcohol
Alcohol will do little to help in an anxious situation; for the most part, it just creates a hysterical drunk. If you physically cannot get through a flight without some type of sedation, talk to your doctor about prescriptive options. And once prescribed, take only as advised. Remember, you still need to be able to deplane at the end of the flight.
Aviophobia is a common problem, and a recognized phobia by psychologists. Talk to your doctor about a referral to a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help reconfigure thought patterns that lead to anxious and compulsive thinking. It also doesn't require a long-term commitment as it is administered over a short number of sessions.
The fear of flying can be debilitating. Not being able to fly for work, or to an important family event can be devastating. However, with time and proper treatment, flying can become more comfortable for most. In the meantime, remember the fear of flying is nothing to be embarrassed about.