Iran plane crash could cause fear of flying ⁠— here’s how to tackle anxiety

Should we have safety concerns about flying in and out of the Middle East?
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s plane crash, as there are still many unanswered questions, some are concerned about the safety of flights in and out of the Middle East. Jamie Mauracher is at Pearson Airport with that story.

As Canadians and the world grapple with the news of a plane crash that claimed so many lives, some are also beginning to worry about flying.

On Wednesday, a Boeing 737-800 from Tehran to Kyiv caught fire and crashed six minutes after taking off. All 176 passengers and crew on board were killed and 138 of these passengers were heading to Canada.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the crash was believed to have been caused by an Iranian missile.

READ MORE: Iran plane crash leaves Canadians anxious and devastated. Here’s how to cope

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence, that indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said. “This may well have been unintentional.”

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Ryerson University tourism expert Frederic Dimanche tells Global News he’s not surprised countries are putting up travel advisories after this tragic crash, and says tourists and visitors will be avoiding the region for a while.

Global Affairs Canada urged Canadians to avoid any non-essential travel to Iran in a statement on Wednesday.

But flying in general for some can be nerve-wracking, especially after a crash like this one.

Fears of planes crashing

Christine Korol, previously told Global News there are two things that scare people about flying: those who worry about having a panic attack and being trapped; and those who worry the plane is going to go down.

Travellers nervous following Tehran plane crash
Travellers nervous following Tehran plane crash

Korol, a psychologist at the Vancouver Anxiety Centre, says educating yourself about what turbulence is and how planes work can help, but it’s not the solution for everyone.

“You can understand something intellectually but still be afraid of it,” Korol said.

READ MORE: Iran plane crash: Here’s what we know about the victims who lived in Canada

She says the first step is visualizing yourself coping with the anxiety. “I typically have them write down the narrative they’re afraid of, and I look for the ‘hot spots’ in their writing,” she said.

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“Hot spots” are the more catastrophic outcomes, including plane crashes.

She also suggests writing yourself notes of comfort.

“Flying is about building your confidence,” Korol said. “Get a little cue card and write down some things for [you] to remember as a nice little distraction.”

Trip coming up soon? Here are some expert tips

Renee Raymond, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, says there are several things Canadians can do to cope with fears of flying, especially if they have an upcoming trip.

Be mindful of your over-exposure to information.

“Balancing being informed about flight disasters and over-exposure is important,” she said.

“Knowing key details can be helpful to understand a tragedy, but it’s also important to limit repeated exposure to media coverage and graphic scenes.”

READ MORE: Many victims of Tehran plane crash part of growing Iranian diaspora in Canada

Anxiety and fear also live in the body.

“As much as we can have distressing thoughts about flying, our bodies often react to the stress as well,” she said.

“See if you can identify where you feel distress in your body, create some tension, and gently release it. Taking slow, even breaths as you do this can help your body to relax when you’re holding onto tension.”

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Former Iranian TV host, daughter, living in Toronto among Iran plane crash victims
Former Iranian TV host, daughter, living in Toronto among Iran plane crash victims

And like any stressful situations, it is important to ground yourself.

“Grounding techniques, such as trying to notice five things you can see and five things you can feel, can help you to bring your mind back into the present,” she said.

READ MORE: Iran plane crash — Why so many Canada-bound passengers were on the flight

“If you notice that unhelpful thoughts about flying repeatedly come to mind, acknowledge rather than fight them, and then try to bring your mind back into the present.”

And lastly, be kind to yourself.

“It’s more than understandable that after a tragedy that we become more fearful of particular activities and places,” she said.

“Try to engage in activities which are energy-building and enjoyable to give yourself a break. It may be a good time to speak to a confidante about how you’re feeling, or a mental health care professional, if your symptoms continue to persist.”

— with files from Meghan Collie