Photo Credit: NTSB via Getty Images
I've never been a fearless flyer. Being in different cities or even countries? Sign me up! But getting there? Not so much. And hearing about plane troubles or crashes in the news really doesn't help.
It got even worse when I had my first baby. Butterflies turned to full-on flips and suddenly I found myself trying to justify driving to a destination rather than getting on an airplane. (Really, if you factor in the time to get to the airport, the waiting, the flight time, getting the rental car and driving where we need to be, we could drive there in just twice as many hours.) Yeah, I didn't even buy that one.
And the first time my husband and I flew together -- without our little baby -- we were both on pins and needles, worried we'd leave our child an orphan. But while my spouse got over this anxiety, I've become a scardy-cat. One thing that helps allay my fears, though, is that this fear of flying parental shift is common and that my worries don't have to keep me grounded.
"It's common for fear of flying to emerge around transitions in one's life," Dr. Martin N. Seif, anxiety specialist and founder of Freedom to Fly Now, says, adding that having a baby is one of the more common triggers that initiates a fear of flying. Seif says fear of flying is really a confluence of a variety of phobias. "Lots of people flew fearlessly prior to (having a baby), and it's bewildering to them (that they're now anxious to fly," he says. "Once they develop the episode of panic they’re afraid of re-experiencing panic in a similar situation."
So, what's a fearful mama to do? We asked Seif for some advice:
Learn about your fear. "Anxiety loves ignorance," he says. "So anything that you know that teaches you about it is going to help to reduce the anxiety." Remind yourself that you have flown many times in the past with little anxiety and there's no reason this flight should be any different. And familiarize yourself with air travel safety stats. According to Executive Travel magazine, cockpit technology, airplane design, pilot skills, passenger cabin upgrades and air traffic control and airport improvements may make air travel the safest part of your day.
Stay in the present. "When you're anxious, you're always future-thinking in a catastrophic manner," Seif says. "You're always going, What if I can't handle this? What if I freak out? What if it feels like there's no air on the plane? Your job is to stay as close to the present as you possibly can. Instead of what-if, try to stay with what-is. The closer you can stay to the present, the more you're able to manage the feelings that you have." Take advantage of having a few hours to actually read a book, watch a movie or catch up on the news. Once you land, you can call to check in with your family.
Don't be so hard on yourself. Maybe you must travel for work. Or you need to attend your cousin's wedding. Or you're desperate for a girls' weekend with your college BFFs. That's OK. You're allowed to fly cross-country, even if it puts you ill-at-ease. "Do not ask for perfection," Seif writes on Freedomtoflynow.com. "You can function well with high levels of anxiety. You are not likely to scream, faint, or do the embarrassing, outrageous, or dangerous things you sometimes picture in your mind. Remember that anxiety is disturbing but not dangerous. Take comfort in the fact that while you may be feeling shaky, your inner anxiety is rarely apparent to others."
Seek treatment. While psychologist Dr. Gail Saltz says many folks turn to alcohol or anti-anxiety drugs to calm their nerves, she says those aren't great ways to tackle your fear of flying. "There are excellent treatments out there," she tells iVillage. (Watch the video below.) "One of the best is called virtual reality therapy. There are a number of centers offering this now, where in eight to 10 sessions you can really get over your fear of flying. You basically wear a headset with a visor that simulates the plane ride, so it really feels like you are on the plane. But while you're doing that, the therapist is speaking into your ear…to teach you the relaxation methods and to desensitize you to the fear."
Talk to a therapist -- before booking that next flight. Saltz notes that sitting with someone and identifying your fear can ease anxiety. "Going over it and over it visually in your mind with the therapist while they teach you and help you to relax," she says, "can be really helpful.”
WATCH: How to Deal with a Fear of Flying