I have made it no secret that I have a massive fear of flying. I took my first flight when I was 14 years old and later developed agoraphobia which crippled my life for a good 18 months afterwards. In the worst of it, I was missing school and didn’t leave the house for days on end.
Anyway, my life is nothing like that anymore after some brilliant counselling and a dose sheer determination. However, it was at that lowest point in my life that I decided I wouldn’t let this irrational fear beat me and quickly made it my mission to travel as far and wide as possible.
I didn’t fly again until I was 19 years old. Those first few flights were horrific. I’m not being dramatic when I say they involved floods of tears and full-on screams at every bump during the flight. I genuinely thought that I was going to either die or lose my mind completely every time I stepped foot on a plane.
After a particularly bad flight (probably still my worst experience to date) from the UK to Ireland on a small propeller plane (think luggage flying out of the overheads and white knuckles gripping the seats in front), I couldn’t face another journey without being medicated.
I’ll be totally transparent and admit that I still take at least a 5mg of prescribed Diazepam (valium) before I get onto any flight. This is in comparison to the 20mg I used to take! I probably could do it without the medication at this point but it would be so uncomfortable for me mentally that I haven’t quite had the courage to kick that final crutch yet.
I have tried everything to conquer this fear. Over the past 8-9 years I have flown around 3-4 times per year to make sure that I kept doing what terrified me so that I wouldn’t let the fear grow to a point where I couldn’t face it again.
To beat my fear, I tried: hypnotherapy, medication (herbal), repeated flying, a fear of flying course, speaking to pilots, speaking to cabin crew staff, listening to music and ‘zoning out’, meditation apps…the list is endless.
However, the one thing I found that helped me more than all of the above (of course, teamed with the Diazepam) was reading books about anxiety and flying.
Here are the top 5 books which I would recommend for nervous flyers in order of importance to my personal journey. Number 1 helped miles more than the others because of the reasons I will explain below but all have helped in their own way and made flying a more bearable experience for me.
5) Flying with Confidence – Patricia Furness- Smith and Captain Steve Allright
This book explains the most common questions associated with fearful flyers. It provides real life anecdotes and addresses real concerns that fearful flyers have. The book is careful not to miss the less obvious things that may cause anxiety with sections on how much hand luggage a plane can cope with and how the wing flaps work to the more common fear-provoking elements such as the different type of turbulence and the process of training that pilots must undergo before qualifying.
Overall this is an informative and approachable book and a good overview to kickstart your fear of flying reading journey.
4) Cockpit Confidential – Patrick Smith
This is the most technical and matter-of-fact book on the list. It is much drier than the other books but its approach provides a sense of mundanity about flying that is very reassuring to the nervous flyer. Smith provides detailed and specific answers to questions on aspects such as the different noises a plane makes during flight and the process of security and check-in pre-boarding. All of these things can causes added anxiety to a nervous flyer, so to have then explained in matter-of-fact details arms the flyer with the understanding of why things are the way they are.
3) Feel the Fear and do it Anyway – Susan Jeffers
This is not a book written specifically about fear of flying, nor is it even a book about ‘phobias’ per se. It is actually written to help people deal with everyday anxieties and to teach people how to live their lives fearlessly in day-to-day situations. The book outlines how to make decisions and how to approach life with a win-win attitude, outlining that even if something goes wrong and you feel you have made a wrong choice in life, you have still learnt from your decision and, therefore, you should not feel regret about it.
This book is great for dealing with the pre-flight anxiety build up. For example when you are making the little decisions such as deciding to travel, booking your flight route, deciding what to pack, etc. It states that you should have the attitude that if something goes wrong you will be able to deal with it when/if it happens. I found the mantras provided by this book really calming for dealing with the little decisions which lead to big life changes!
2) The Easy Way to Enjoy Flying – Allen Carr
When I first started reading this book, I quickly made my mind up that I wanted to hate it. The way it’s written is pretty blasé and its approach is based around the fact that if something awful is going to happen, it’s going to happen anyway and there’s nothing you can do about it, whether you choose to fly or not.
As you can see, I pushed through with reading this book and it’s made it number 2 on my list! I think that the approach of this book would have triggered me much more had I been at the start of my fear of flying journey. I would not recommend reading it as your first book on the subject unless you have a much better sense of humour than me or if your fear is only mildly debilitating!
I enjoyed this book enough to finish it in one sitting. It is only around 150 pages long and is written in very conversational manner which makes it an easy and enjoyable read. It will leave you with the sense of “well…if he can do it, so can I!”
1) Soar – Captain Tom Bunn
Number one on my list and I do not say this lightly but this book changed my life.
As you can see from the picture, this book has been read and reread. It is also full of post-it notes. I read this book every time before I fly and during the actual flight. I have marked pages relating to take off and turbulence (aspects of flight I find most stressful) so I can quickly locate them during the flight if I feel my level of anxiety rising.
The book is written in an easy to read and accessible manner, with different sections easily locatable from the contents page. The order of the book seems most logical of the 5 to me and it deals with all aspects of flight from booking to landing. It also provides plenty of anecdotes of people who have overcome their fear through the use of this book.
Probably my favourite thing about this book is its approach to therapy. Not only is the writer a retired commercial pilot, he has also qualified as a therapist in order to combine his two knowledge bases to create this specific and informed work. There are several exercises which are simple and easy to understand (which need to be repeated pre-flight) in order to calm you sub-consciously during your flight.
With the help of this book, I was able to take my first ever long haul flight from the UK to Dubai with little issue. I always keep the book to hand when I begin to feel anxious and the words bring me a solace like I have found nowhere else.
Are you a fearful flyer? I strongly recommend purchasing some of these books to help you with your next journey.
What are some things that help you with flying?
Leave suggestions for others in the comments section below.