A Stanford MD’s Self-Hypnosis Exercise For Anxious Fliers
Try it next time you travel.
“The first step is to get your body comfortable,” Spiegel says. So for folks with flight anxiety, invest some time into organizing your flight accessories, like neck pillows, soft blankets, comfortable clothing, stress supplements, etc. Your body and mind are connected, he says, so the tension and cramping you feel in your body may manifest into more anxiety.
Once you’re feeling comfortable physically, you’ll enter the mindset shift. “Float with the plane and think of [the plane] not as a container that’s controlling you but as a comfortable experience,” he says. If you prepare your mind to take any turbulence with grace beforehand, it may not catch you off guard and spark anxiety.
“The second thing is to think of the plane like an extension of your body, like a bicycle,” Spiegel says. Meaning, you don't think about the contraption while you're riding, since you actively control the pedals. Try to think of the plane in this same way, and try to think of the pilot as an extension of your brain. Both of these scenarios will help you create more of an illusion of control over the safety of the flight, he shares.
Finally, think about the difference between possibility and probability, he says. While it’s possible to be involved in a plane crash, it’s not necessarily probable. In fact, you probably do many things in your daily life that are more dangerous, like driving a car, for example. Reminding yourself that anxiety surrounds a possibility and not a probability may help ease those jitters, just a bit.
Now, if your anxiety is only related to the takeoff, landing, or short-lived turbulence, Spiegel suggests imagining that you’re somewhere else you feel at peace—on a beach, in your bed, etc. This is a classic method that can be used in many different situations of momentary discomfort, be it in an elevator, a crowded space, driving over a bridge, etc.
It’s important to note that many mindfulness tricks similar to these work best for folks with anxiety that is somewhat manageable. If your flight anxiety prevents you from flying no matter what relaxing techniques you employ, it may be best to seek professional help.