Yesterday, I took a short nap on a flight.
That may not sound like a post-worthy accomplishment, but for someone who, 24 months ago, couldn't even think about getting on a plane without breaking out in a cold sweat from anxiety - it's a big deal.
By no means have I eradicated my fear of flying, but I can say with confidence that I have stopped letting my fear of flying control me. In the process, I have gotten comfortable enough on planes that I have taken my last 14 flights without any anxiety medication!
I wasn't always afraid of flying. Growing up, I flew regularly enough, and never had any problem. It wasn't until the flight home from our honeymoon - a completely normal, uneventful flight- that I first started to have trouble.
Later on, when I learned more about fear of flying I found that it's very common for people to not suffer from a fear until they get older, often with marriage and children increasing the fear.
I landed from our honeymoon and had to get up the next morning and immediately fly to Denver for work. Each flight over the next year got progressively worse.
I would spend the entire flight gripping the armrests, sweating, constantly in a panicked state of mind. When I did arrive to my destination I would be completely exhausted.
Eventually, the anxiety got so severe that I started avoiding flying altogether. And I did successfully for several years.
Then, I had an opportunity. Several actually. Opportunities too good to pass up. But it meant I had to fly.
Here's what helped me start flying again, and continue flying today.
1. I talked to my doctor and got medication.
I know I titled the post "flying without Xanax". But in order to get comfortable flying, first, I had to ACTUALLY fly.
That meant I had to take a huge step. I had to admit I had a problem and ask my doctor for help.
She prescribed a classic anxiety medication and assured me it would help to take the edge off.
I was worried about using it. I needed to be able to fully function on the other end of my flights, but at the same time, I needed to be able to get to the meetings in the first place.
My first medicated flight was a significant improvement. I wasn't able to sleep, and was still uneasy, but I was able to relax - slightly.
I realized pretty quickly that I wasn't going to be able to just pop a pill and pass out - I was still going to have to come up with a strategy and I didn't want to be dependent on medicine to fly.
2. I talked about my fear - a lot.
This is no surprise to anyone who has been around me. If you've met me, you probably know I'm afraid of flying. But I read somewhere that openly talking about your fears helps in dealing with them.
I started telling my co-workers before I left for a trip. I told the lady I bought coffee from at the airport. I sat down and told the people next to me, in front of me, behind me, "Hey. I'm Kate. And I'm terrified of flying. Can I have your window seat?" (That doesn't work by the way. People are very protective of the window seat.)
When I tell people, I don't feel so alone, and I don't feel like I have to hide my hear. I've also found that if things get bumpy in flight, people actually check on me!
On a flight to North Carolina, the Captain came on and instructed us all to tighten our seat belts and raise our tray tables because we were entering some serious turbulence. This was one of the first flights I hadn't taken my medicine and I must have started to look scared.
The gentleman next to me remembered I was afraid and asked if I was OK. I told him I was nervous and it would be really great if he could keep talking.
He took the cue and proceeded to tell me his life story - a fairly interesting one too including wives, girlfriends, neighbors - all the while keeping my mind off the storm we were descending through.
3. I learned about flying and planes.
Turns out, planes don't just fall out of the sky. And turbulence won't actually send a plane crashing to ground.
This sounds obvious to most everyone, and especially anyone who knows anything about planes. But it was one of my greatest fears.
I found a free course online, that takes about an hour, and learned about planes and flying. The instructor walks through the flight process from takeoff to landing. He covers everything from the noises you hear in a plane to the science of flying.
This course was a lifesaver for me. Once I learned the basics of planes and flying, I felt much more in control.
4. I learned what works for me.
I fly in the mornings when possible. I skip coffee when possible. I get a window seat. If I don't get a window seat I sit in the middle, and lean over enough that the person next to me might consider giving me the window seat. I always sit as close to the front as possible because it's less bumpy.
I fly Southwest. They are funny and the jokes help me relax. I listen to Dave Ramsey podcasts. Dave yells at people and it hides the noise of the plane. If I get nervous I watch the flight attendants - they are always calm.
All of these things help me relax, but are unique to me. Although, there is actually scientific evidence to support we are less likely to get anxious in the mornings and obviously limiting caffeine is good for staying calm.
5. I started traveling with Jesus.
Around the same time my fear of flying got severe, I felt myself being called back to God as well. Of course, looking back now it's clear that God was using my fear as a way to get me to understand a few things.
1. I am not in control.
2. I need him.
3. He's got this.
God was using multiple things in my life to pull me back, but my fear of flying - and the opportunities that were available should I overcome that fear - were definitely one of the more clear messages from him.
Prescription anxiety medication helped me get back in the saddle. But I knew if I was going to continue grabbing opportunities that took me half way around the county I would need to teach myself to fly without it.
And talking about my fear, learning about planes, figuring out what helps me relax and remembering that I am NOT in control and God is, helped me accomplish that.
As I finish writing this, I am boarding a plane headed home. My second flight for the day, fourth for the weekend - all without medication, and all without anxiety!
If you're struggling with your own fear of flying, remember it can get better!