They Really Are Friendly Skies:
Overcoming the Fear of Flying
By Captain Ron Nielsen
can’t avoid all business air travel, even with teleconferencing.
If you are a fearful flier, nausea and panic attacks can turn
an ordinary business trip into disaster. Or, perhaps you do not
consider yourself a fearful flyer but one who isn’t particularly
enthused about flying. That
same trip can cause uncomfortable feelings that zap the confidence you
need when you land. Many
bright, successful people lose promotions and career opportunities
because they would rather not fly.
The good news is that becoming a more comfortable flier can be
accomplished in a few steps.
Role of Trauma in Phobias: Some people fear flying because of a
traumatic event unrelated to flying that instills a fear of being out
of control. The brain
copes with trauma by disassociating itself from and trying to forget
the trauma. But a “bad” flying experience, something like
unexpected and intense turbulence, can trigger the sense of being out
of control and lead to a fear of flying response.
Regardless of how the fear began, flying phobia is one of the
easiest to overcome.
Flight Tip #1: Change Your
Mind, Change Your Flight. Your beliefs and resulting perceptions
drive your fear. For example, fearful fliers believe that flying is
inherently dangerous and interpret every unfamiliar sight, sound, and
sensation as a sign of impending doom.
Fearless fliers, on the other hand, ignore or accept those same
sights, sounds, and sensations as part of a routine flight.
Fearful fliers react negatively
based upon their faulty beliefs; fearless fliers respond
matter-of-factly based on the real truth about flying
Change your mind about the way you view flying, and you’ve
become a fearless flier.
Fearless Flying Tip #2: Learn All You Can About the Basics of Flight.
We all tend to fear anything that we don’t understand, so learning
about the way airplanes work and why flying is so safe can help a
fearful flier immediately. Learn about the three most feared aspects
of flying—takeoffs, turbulence, and landings.
fact: the more you know about what’s happening on an airplane, the
less fear you will have. First, consider which parts of flying scare
you the most. Terrified of turbulence? Consider this analogy: the
plane traveling through the wind’s currents is like a ping-pong ball
moving along in a stream. While following the course of the stream,
the ball may bounce around a bit but remain unharmed by the flow.
Likewise, an airplane in turbulent air will not be harmed
either, but will “go with the flow” in the stream of air through
which it is flying. Both
the ping-pong ball and the airplane are designed to withstand the
forces that Mother Nature can deliver—and a whole lot more.
Fearless Flying Tip #3: Use Distraction To Your Advantage. The main
difference between fearless fliers and fearful fliers is what goes on
in their heads. A fearless flier thinks everyday thoughts such as the
upcoming business deal, the latest sales figures, increasing customer
satisfaction. A fearful
flier thinks catastrophic thoughts:
feeling out of control, crashing, and dying.
and relaxation strategies are great if you can focus—something
easily accomplished in the comfort of one’s living room but
ineffective on an airplane with all the sensory inputs.
An alternative is to find something that bypasses conscious
thoughts and directly accesses the unconscious.
Distraction accomplishes this by momentarily diverting one’s
mechanical forms of distraction such as sucking on a tart candy or
snapping one’s wrist with a rubber band can briefly divert fearful
thoughts. More subtle and
potentially long lasting is using audio stimulation such as a portable
listening device (CD or MP3 player or even the airline’s headphones)
for listening to music or audio books.
It works best to turn the volume up as loud as you can tolerate
and allow the sound to occupy your mind.
Choose audio programs and music that are unfamiliar to you so
that your brain will not recognize the sound and return to those
thoughts that trigger your fear.
Fearless Flying Tip #4: Breathe! You may be surprised to learn that
the single most important tool for overcoming your anxiety is managing
your breathing. To achieve
the desired outcome, however, breathing rate is the focus rather than
the quality (as is the case during visualization and relaxation).
anxious moments, breathing rate naturally increases.
During a non-stressful time away from flying, count the number
of breaths (inhale plus exhale equals one breath) that occur in a
minute to establish a base for comparison.
Then, monitor your breathing during times of stress to compare
rates. If your rate is
above normal, take action and focus physically and mentally to slow
your breathing rate to a normal one.
Monitoring your breathing rate slows you down physiologically
and becomes an additional form of distraction from your fear.
Fearless Flying Tip #5: Acknowledge Your Fear. Believe it or not,
many fearful fliers pretend not to be afraid or attempt to hide their
fear. This tendency can be
the result of a coping strategy for dealing with negative emotions
learned in childhood. Often
times well-meaning adults attempt to talk children out of their pain
and fear. As a result,
adults repress rather than manage those feelings.
Instead of diminishing them, repression tends to amplify the
focus—much the same as trying not to think of a pink elephant
brings into mind the very image of one.
Fearless Flying Tip #6: Know That You Are Not Alone.
In our culture, we tend to feel shame about our fears, so we keep
them secret and isolate ourselves from others, thinking that we suffer
alone. In reality, a recent Gallup poll indicated that 18% of those surveyed admitted to being
afraid to fly, and another 26% reported that they are somewhat
afraid. That means that nearly half of the people on any given flight
are experiencing some fear. So as you look around the plane, know that
many of those people who look as if they have their act together, in
fact are not that calm on the inside.
Flying Is Possible: Taking action and trying something different
is the key to fearless flying. Challenging irrational beliefs can lead
to changes in your behavior and change in your life. While there’s no pill or magic
potion that will heal you, by repeatedly working on these steps,
almost everyone can alleviate some or all of their fears and even
recover fully from a flying phobia. Soon, you may find yourself
volunteering for business trips instead of avoiding them!
Read other articles and learn more about
Captain Ron Nielsen.
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