How to overcome the fear of flying

Overcoming one fear can help put others in perspective.

How to overcome the fear of flying

Ever since I was a child I can remember being afraid to get on an airplane. As an adult, I am proud to have finally conquered that fear. How did I overcome it? Not easily. It all began two years ago, in October of 2013 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis was devastating news for me and my family. Especially since prior to my diagnosis, I rarely (if ever) got sick, even with a cold or the flu. Then suddenly I found myself facing those words, “you have cancer”.

I went on a research binge and read everything I could get my hands on, anything about breast cancer and what was currently the best protocols. I had to make a decision about whether to have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I was scared. But I needed to make the decision and fast. So I decided to go with the lumpectomy because it was the less invasive surgery of the two.

The night before the procedure, I couldn’t sleep. I had never in my thirty-five years been “put under” for any kind of surgery. I was scared out of my mind. The day came and I went into surgery when I came out my husband asked me, “It wasn’t that bad was it?” To tell you the truth it wasn’t.

What has this got to do with my fear of flying? Well, after I had to endure a year of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I decided that it was time to get myself onto an airplane and into the air. Previously, when I had been invited to various work conferences I would always chicken out. This year I was invited to a professional development conference in Las Vegas, NV. Which is just a little too far away from Michigan for a drive. So I asked my husband if he would go with me and do this first flight together. He agreed.

Getting to the airport was pretty uneventful and I managed to keep my nerves in check. Checking our luggage and getting our boarding passes was easy. But when we had to stand in line for the security check, which proved to be a long process, I had too much time to think.

Once through that process, we moved through the terminal and were able to find a bite to eat and settle in for our hour wait to board the plane. At this point, I was pretty nervous and my stomach was starting to churn. I began practicing all that positive self-talk I teach in the Michigan State University Extension RELAX program and it helped me to calm myself and continue.

When they called out that our flight was ready I boarded with my husband. I had chosen an aisle seat so that I wouldn’t have to look out the window and watch the earth disappearing below me. I started telling myself not to hyperventilate and reminding myself over and over, “I can do this!”

I was very worried about how the take-off would be but after all the anticipation it turned out it wasn’t very bad at all. In that way it was similar to my surgery experience, dreading the moment in both cases had been far worse than experiencing the moment itself. The turbulence during the flight did give me a little scare but I remembered a co-worker of mine that said she pretends that it’s a bus and as funny as that sounds it helped!

I’m glad that in the last couple years I have gotten out of my comfort zone and not let fear get in the way of experiencing new things.

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