How to overcome the fear of flying

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Overcoming the fear of flying

The first flight is often a beautiful experience – the take-off, drag, gravity, and visuals through the window. But things may take a sudden turn and everything turns into periods of anxiety, panic attacks, and wishes of being home. The fear of flying becomes too real too soon!

I realized I was phobic to heights a few years ago while standing at the edge of my balcony. A chill ran down my spine, my muscles started to twitch and I felt nauseous. I almost fainted! The fear was real for the first time in my life. I could never expect this acrophobia would accentuate a fear of flying in me!

We traveled to Katra, a shrine in Jammu and Kashmir, once I was little. It was a great experience to the top until we had to go through a narrow cave in the mountain. A tiny dent in the flow led to a severe aerophobia.

It was frightening. I felt the walls closing in, and hyperventilating for air. It took me all the courage to put up a regular face and breathe my way out of this uneasiness. It was new but not exciting at all. The 12-year-old me was having the worst time adjusting to this new profound flow of feelings. However, I could keep it a secret since I had the privilege of spending my childhood and teenage at spacious and open neighborhoods.

The perks of living in a small town.

I moved cities after college and had the first experience of living the “apartment life”. Lifts were a nightmare! I would avoid lifts as much as I could and would rather take stairs. All the time!

It was getting worse by the day. The fear was real, the emotions sublime. Your senses escalate to superhuman levels, you turn fragile, and everything turns into a threat. Lines blur out!

I was traveling to Bangalore and had booked a flight. Earlier flying experiences have mostly been pleasant. But things had to change. Everything was perfect and I was excited about moving to a bigger city, a new place and the plethora of experiences that come along. It was at the time of the take-off when all the fears cornered me into the little seat while the claustrophobic and acrophobic demons catered me to a shallow lump of anxiety. The sudden urge to inhale more air than required brought back terrible memories. The fear of flying was becoming way too real way too soon!

It was getting worse. I had a panic attack.

At a height of 35,000 feet cramped into a tiny cavity with excruciatingly little legroom. No vacancy to neither space nor ground. Both of my phobias hit me – a living nightmare!

reading on flight
Photo by Max Delsid

One or two flights in a couple of months are alright, still manageable. But at times my career demands frequent travel. Changing multiple cities in a matter of weeks, lots of flights and trains and cabs. This is what I have to do.

Flying is exhausting for me. I can neither sleep nor chill. The longer the flight, the worse my state of mind. I need time to relax, calm down, a good night’s sleep on a firm, safe and steady ground to assure myself that it is alright. But most of the time, time is the liberty you cannot afford. You have to keep flowing.

I had to take 6 flights once for a tour in a matter of a week. All this traveling and lodging started to take a toll on me. I would arrive tired, dehydrated and mentally exhausted, and with lesser time to rejuvenate, it started taking a toll on my mental health. The excitement about playing a show would cease to exist within this chaos, and I would just want to finish the set and retire to my lodging. The fear of flying was real!

It is alright to have issues once in a while but when things start affecting your day-to-day life and you feel yourself changing, amendments should be made. At least, the acknowledgment that something is wrong and needs immediate attention.

I started my research about my phobias and potential remedies. I read academic papers, infinite blogs, youtube videos, I was willing to give it my all. This was affecting my mental health which is highly critical to function in this ever-exhausting social setup.

I needed a remedy. My fear of flying needed immediate attention.

On a flight one time, the crew demonstrated a special routine of Yoga to help us release stress and anxiety. I practiced the suggested breathing exercise for about 10-15 minutes and gradually I noticed a drop in my anxiety. My legs felt less twitched, my head clearer and my tremors were lessened. Yoga led me in the right direction. The stress levels dropped. The change wasn’t phenomenal but I could notice a drop which was more than what I could’ve asked for.

The other experience came disguised under the hood of religion.

Brought up in a Sikh family, religion is the core of our existence. As I grew older, the line between religion and spirituality broadened and my religious obscurities took a spiritual turn. I rediscovered my old forgotten chest of Gurbani scriptures and when I heard it after so many years, it felt a different experience altogether. The simplicity, the poetic feel, the silence, the warm sonic atmosphere, the ambient drones and stable, steady rhythm juxtaposing my world of rock and roll came like a wrecking ball and destroyed the walls of sound and conventions. It was the music I could meditate to. I could have control over my fear of flying to a certain extent.

And now that it was more spiritual, it made the effects more personal.

This is where music stepped it.

My hero put down the final cap to the dictation – enter Damien Rice.

One flight to Guwahati was very turbulent, and I was at the edge of my seat the entire time. I tried the breathing exercise and meditating for a while but the turbulence made it frail to even try.

Earphones in and I started listening to music. My Favourite Faded Fantasy started playing. I experienced a sudden calm. It is unbelievable to this day. The drop in my anxiety levels felt surreal, I had never felt this relaxed a flight before. The entire time it was turbulent but Damien Rice never loosened his grip over my conscience. He had me with him all the time, fixed to his voice, narration, story and the music. It was exhilarating. I could meditate on his art. Flying turned into a pleasant experience.

We are the most vulnerable when we are the most anxious.

I am still not fully comfortable. Once I frantically turned back before taxing when the crew had to intrude in and calm me down. Airport security detained me recently because I couldn’t stop shaking and they had their doubts, but I was just too anxious to fly. It is still in works, but I have found things that help ease the process. And to a certain extent, I am getting there.

I found two solutions to my indiscriminating fear of flying.

Meditation and Music.

I write art that may help people struggling with similar issues.

It took me a long time to find my voice. Certain events like not having a band, and playing on an electric guitar did shape my sound but most of it came from my personal feelings as an individual. Life has always put me at the receiving end of things. If anything comforts my misery is the fact that I could help people struggling with similar issues.

Paths may be different but in the end, the feelings are the same. Heartbreaks triggered by the loss of a loved one or getting cheated on, are essentially a similar feeling.

So, the what’s and when’s don’t matter; sometimes all you need is just a single person to assure you that ‘it is okay‘ and ‘you’re not alone‘.

And that is my goal as a songwriter.

Here is a song to help you ease into life.

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