Don’t Carry On Emotional Baggage:
Being in Control of Being in Control
By Captain Ron Nielsen
fearful flyer Marilyn admits to “carrying a lot of baggage,”
she’s not referring to the usual luggage fearful flyers bring on
board an aircraft. Her
life experiences have left Marilyn feeling powerless.
Despite personal experiences substantiating that control is an
illusion, she still attempts to cope by grabbing all the control she
can. Unfortunately, as
witnessed so often, her fears are displaced onto flying, and she
avoids it as much as possible. Not flying produces a feeling of being
in control. But if she has
to fly, she is unable to trust the stranger flying the plane.
She hates the flip-flop feeling in her stomach at takeoff. She
dreads the uncertain bumps and jolts that turbulence brings. She is
not in control.
over an airplane’s operation to a stranger, even a highly qualified
pilot, is hard for a fearful flyer like Marilyn.
It doesn’t matter that the pilot has countless hours of
experience. An untrusting
fearful flyer doesn’t care that the pilot flies twice yearly checks
in the simulator to be artificially subjected to anything and
everything that might happen during a flight.
Does Fear of Flying Feel? Fear is the body's response to your
mind's interpretation of a threat of death. Fear of flying is a
residual of this ancient response. Other non-life-threatening events
cause the same physical responses.
We can experience adrenaline rushes when we confront a boss.
like fear of flying, results from the body’s normal response to an
irrational or excessive fear. According
to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an abnormally
fearful response to a danger that is imagined or irrationally
flyers react to flying as if it were a real danger—triggering
automatic parasympathetic responses such as sweaty palms, racing
heart, rapid breathing, and the adrenaline rush of the flight or fight
response. Those reactions
are serious enough to ground fearful flyers, but the anticipatory
anxiety they experience when even thinking about flying can be
Fear of Flying: Fear of flying is one of the easiest phobias to
overcome. According to USA
Today, therapists who work with fearful flyers report a 90% success
rate. But the first step
is to decide to do something about that fear, just as Marilyn did.
Then the next step is to admit the fear to someone else.
The typical fearful flyer has a need to be in control, so
involving others is hard to do. Others
may react negatively or derisively—two reactions that the fearful
flyer has no control over.
Like it or
not, many business people have to fly.
What can a fearful flyer do besides passing up promotions,
handing off assignments, or changing a career direction altogether?
Is it possible to be in control of being in control on an
Factor #1: Recognize
that you can’t control every situation, but you can be in control of
your thoughts in response to the situation.
What we believe, we perceive; what we perceive affects our
behavior, and how we behave has consequences.
If we believe that flying is inherently dangerous then we will
develop a negative bias about
flying. Be careful what
you put into your mind!
Factor #2: In
situations over which you have no control, you can
control your stress level by managing your breathing.
Have someone time your breathing before you fly.
This will be your baseline—usually somewhere around 10
breaths per minute. Then
during the flight as your anxiety goes up and your ability to control
your situation goes down, count your breaths per minute again.
If the rate is significantly higher than your baseline, slow
your breathing down. Breathing
through a drinking straw is a way to artificially achieve a slower
rate because the straw restricts the flow of air.
Factor #3: Understand
that you cannot control how others perceive you.
You can offer them a tiny understanding of what you’re going
through by asking them what they’re afraid of.
Many people suffer from common phobias—fear of snakes, dogs,
needles, spiders, or mice. Ask
them to imagine sitting next to a big box overflowing with their
feared object, for instance spiders.
Once they’re able to visualize this, have them imagine
sitting by the box for two hours.
If they can conjure up this mental picture, they may begin to
grasp what you go through on an airplane.
Factor #4: Control
what you put into your body before and during the flight.
Nicotine and caffeine may increase your anxiety.
Alcohol and non-prescription drugs only temporarily mask
anxiety. In addition, the
effects of alcohol double in the air as in the saying, “One on the
ground is like two in the air.”
It’s no fun arriving hung over.
Prescription medications can help some people to better manage
their anxiety and consequently, give them a better chance to use other
non-medication coping strategies.
Consult your doctor for guidance.
Factor #5: If you are
spiritually inclined, try the old “let go and let God” way of
thinking. At least for the
duration of the flight, surrender your control to your Higher Power.
Remember that to worry is to be constantly looking around, but
faith looks up. Fear of
death underlies all phobias.
Factor #6: Realize
that if you’ve tried to get over a fear of flying phobia without
success, it is possible that you have an anxiety disorder rather than
a simple phobia. You may
be carrying around more baggage than you can handle by yourself.
If this is the case, seek professional help from a mental
in Control: Wisdom is controlling what you can and letting go of
what you can’t. If you
have a fear of flying, don’t suffer in silence.
It could mean sacrificing your job if you fail to admit your
fear. Just like
those who suffer from an addiction, you cannot get over a fear that
you cannot acknowledge. Besides, if you continue to keep quiet about
your fear of flying, you may lose your job anyway.
seek help, either from a local therapist or on one of the many fear of
flying websites where you can work on your fear in the privacy of your
home. Then, before you
know it, you’ll be back in control of your future in friendlier
Read other articles and learn more about
Captain Ron Nielsen.
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