SuttaCentral

Scared of flying


#1

I will be getting on an airplane soon but I have developed anxiety and fear about flying. It is pretty bad. Any tips and advice on how to calm myself down both now before I get on and while I am on the plane?

Thanks


#2

I just shifted this into the Watercooler as a more suitable place to collect suggestions on this.

I’d suggest trying to keep your mind calm by sending lots and lots of metta to the airline people and fellow passengers. I have seen that some of the airlines run fear of flying programs.


#3

There are four protective meditations, meditation on the Buddha, loving-kindness, cemetery meditations, and meditation on death. In the Anapanasati sutta third tetrad, the instructions are:

“[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in gladdening the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out gladdening the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ —MN 118

The instruction to gladden the mind relates to the first two protective meditations, and to steady the mind, to the last two, including meditation on death. Steadying the mind is required when it is subject to the agitation caused by sensual desire or anger. So a practitioner experiencing fear of flying (sensitive to the mind) is aware of the steadying effect of meditation on death. To be thrown into this mental state should be valued, as long as it is understood according to dhamma.

What “protective”means:

https://www.arrowriver.ca/dhamma/protmed.html


#4

You may keep thinking or repeating the words/idea: Nothing is belonging to my self. This (i.e. I) is not mine; I am not this; this is not my self.


#5

The odds of perishing due to an accident on a single commercial flight is placed at one in 29.4 million. Based on overall numbers, odds of being in a plane crash is one in 11 million.


#6

I’m sure this is a very common condition, and in many ways a natural reaction. How about just accepting the fear in a kindly, self-accepting way?


#7

Hi Lookingforpeace,

Reading your post I was reminded of a talk I recently listened to by Jack Kornfield in which he recounted stories of his time with his teacher Ajahn Chah:

One particular episode involved a scary road trip the two of them took. It starts around minute 43 in the video.

I like Martin’s suggestion of trying to meet your fear with openness and kindness. If it is not too overwhelming, perhaps you could use the opportunity to explore fear in terms of the 4 satipatthanas, observing physical sensations, feeling, heart-mind, and phenomena as just that.

I wish you relief from your anxiety and fear.


#8

Yes, practising satipatthana is a good suggestion.
I haven’t flown for quite a while, but I can recall getting very nervous about it - though I also found it quite exciting!
There’s something quite claustrophobic about passenger jets, I found flying in a small plane much easier.


#9

If the fear of flying is anything like the fear of heights while climbing, it may help to:

  • Disassociate self by saying “this anxiety and fear is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.” This is a surprisingly effective weakness in the armor of anxiety and fear. It acknowledges the feeling without grasping. Feelings are impermanent.
  • Close your eyes and count your breaths. Slowly and gently. I flew to India this year doing exactly that. No movies. Hours and hours and hours of counting breaths. Flights and breaths are both impermanent. Watching the breath is quite peaceful.

Non-self counting breaths has gotten many of my friends up terrifying heights.

May your flights be peaceful and serene.


#10

Try asking your mind: ‘I am scared of…’. and letting it finish that catastrophic sentence. You will know your real fear. Then when you understand it, test it against the statistics- see how likely it is to actually die from a place crash, which I’m assuming is your fear.

With metta,


#11

Part of my fear of flying was to do with the sense of powerlessness. Years ago I did a hang-gliding course, which was scary, but at least I was in control… well, mostly.:laughing:
I never quite worked out how to land properly, and mostly ended up crashing upside-down. But it was great being up there!


#12

The Buddha himself had some good advice on confronting fear, which he absolutely advised people to do. Though I do not mean to make any accusations, one source of fear may be anxiety about your own conduct. Occasions of fear can be opportunities to scrutinize your own ethics–just as we nowadays say that a brush with death may cause our life to flash before our own eyes.

Before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I too thought, ‘Remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest are challenging. It’s hard to maintain seclusion, and hard to find joy in it. Staying alone, the forests seem to rob the mind of a mendicant who isn’t immersed in samādhi.’

Then I thought, ‘There are ascetics and brahmins with unpurified conduct of body, speech, and mind who frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest. Those ascetics and brahmins summon unskillful fear and dread because of these defects in their conduct. But I don’t frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest with unpurified conduct of body, speech, and mind. My conduct is purified. I am one of those noble ones who frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest with purified conduct of body, speech, and mind.’ Seeing this purity of conduct in myself I felt even more unruffled about staying in the forest.

And some aspects of fear arise simply because we are expecting them to arise. But we should never fear a thing that we entirely expect. Just watch it arise, be aware of it, and then watch it pass away:

Then I thought, ‘There are certain nights that are recognized as specially portentous: the fourteenth, fifteenth, and eighth of the fortnight. On such nights, why don’t I stay in awe-inspiring and hair-raising shrines in parks, forests, and trees? In such lodgings, hopefully I might see that fear and dread.’ Some time later, that’s what I did. As I was staying there a deer came by, or a peacock snapped a twig, or the wind rustled the leaves. Then I thought, ‘Is this that fear and dread coming?’ Then I thought, ‘Why do I always meditate expecting that fear and terror to come? Why don’t I get rid of that fear and dread just as it comes, while remaining just as I am?’ Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was walking. I didn’t stand still or sit down or lie down until I had got rid of that fear and dread while walking. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was standing. I didn’t walk or sit down or lie down until I had got rid of that fear and dread while standing. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was sitting. I didn’t lie down or stand still or walk until I had got rid of that fear and dread while sitting. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was lying down. I didn’t sit up or stand still or walk until I had got rid of that fear and dread while lying down.

In all, “Fear and Dread” is one of my favorite suttas:


#13

:scream_cat: :meditation:

One of my favorites as well.

Perhaps flying is not a problem but an opportunity for practice. :flight_departure: :eyes:


#14

The average person living in the United States has a 1 in 102 chance of dying in a car crash , compared to a 1 in 205,552 chance of dying as a passenger on an airplane.

Several sites cited similar statistics.


#15

I fly fairly often for work and leisure, usually at least 10 round trips per year, and have flown hundreds and hundreds of times, both local puddlejumpers and long hauls between the US and Europe/Latin America, and that has given me plenty of time to ponder the fear of flying.

The real reason as @Martin alluded to is lack of control.
And i will add that is exacerbated by ignorance of how flying really works, and which sounds or movements the plane makes are normal and which are cause for concern.

I’ve been in terrible turbulence where even I was white knuckles and sweating and praying to any vague notion of God, and the guy next to me just kept calmly reading the New York Times and sipping his coffee. I’ve also seen people nearly having a panic attack simply when the engines fire up for takeoff, or when the plane dips slightly as it gets up to cruising altitude.

The fear of flying is simply fear of the unknown and lack of control.
I’ve learned by now that certain sounds and movements are perfectly normal, since I’ve experienced them countless times and still landed safely. Others may make my heart race but I still logically know they’re perfectly fine. And fortunately I’ve never been in a situation where even the pilots and flight attendants were visibly scared, but I imagine I would be able to tell immediately since it will be so different from my usual experience!

Takeoff and landing are the scariest because they’re the noisiest and you can really feel the air bumping the plane. Once you’re at cruising altitude, you can almost forget that you’re racing 500mph at 30,000 feet because it’s fairly tranquil and you really don’t “FEEL” the plane.

I would echo what others have said and practice the satipatthanas and remember how much safer air travel is than any other mode of transportation. I use my frequent 4-hour flights from PDX to DTW as a chance to meditate…even though Delta offers some nice movies in the seatback media player! :slight_smile:


#16

Thank you very much for the replies. I really apreciate it. I stil have some time to work on it. I am aware that the chances are low of crashing are but it just horrifies me being up there and I let my mind wander to0 much. thanks again.


#17

So sorry you are experiencing this. Phobias are really awful. They aren’t rational, so I don’t think statistics are much of a help.

The mind can get stuck on imagining the most frightening part. Sometimes we can counteract this kind of “permanence” by thinking about what comes next. In this situation, when the mind starts to feel anxious about the upcoming flight, think about that “BING!” sound when the captain turns off the seat belt light and everyone jumps up to get their luggage and get out. Imagine standing up, walking off the plane, down the gang plank, to the luggage area, meeting the people picking you up, etc, etc.

Sometimes the fear itself becomes a source of fear. Like, what if I have a panic attack on the plane? Then the fear compounds. I think if someone does have a panic attack on the plane because of fear of flying, that may actually be the best place to be since the staff is trained to deal with situations like that. Eventhough in a panic attack we feel like we are about to die, we aren’t. And they do usually go away after just a few minutes. Even if you have a history of blacking out during panic attacks (which is rare) you will be seated so passing out isn’t a danger.

I realize it may not be a popular answer, but out of compassion, if this is a seriously debilitating situation for someone, I have to float the idea of talking to a trusted doctor to see if they recommend a one-time anti-anxiety pill. Sometimes even just knowing one has this option is enough—in combination with all of the other advice given here—to overcome the difficulty or at least push through it. If one don’t end up needing to take it then Yay! If one does, then while taking it one reflects on the proof that the mental states are impermanent. [edit: To clarify, I don’t think using medication is a good strategy in the lead up to flying, but that would be between you and your doctor.]

The thing is, if someone really is at a risk for a full blown panic attack on the plane, having one (no matter how temporary) may mean that flights in the future are even more difficult to deal with. It really depends on severity. If this is a situation of “I hate flying because of my fear, and I’d like to not be afraid” that’s one thing. But if it’s more of “I may not go to some important event if I have to fly, and the time leading up to trying is already debilitating,” that’s something else and may need more drastic measures.