The Fear of Flying…Explained

Yes, you’ve heard all of the statistics and information regarding the safety of flying. You know that travel in a commercial airplane is nineteen times safer than traveling in a car. You have studied the flight-critical systems on commercial aircraft, such as electronic engines and flight controls, which are protected against lightning strikes and extreme pressure. You are aware of the planes back up systems that are in place if one system fails. Yet with all of this information, you are still horrified of flying.

For those of you who can identify with the extreme fear and worry of flying, I would like to reach out to you and share some information that I hope helps you deal with such a challenge.

First and foremost, you need to understand what is happening to you emotionally.  This extreme fear has a medical definition:

           Aerophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of flying.

The reason that I suggest this is of utmost importance that you understand the fear of flying from a medical perspective, is to help you identify and place the fear into the proper category in your mind. There is a medical/psychological reason that is in play for making it so difficult for you to fly. This understanding can help you eliminate harmful labels that we might place on ourselves such as being weak, or not brave enough, etc. 

I feel strongly that Aerophobia is one of the most challenging phobias to deal with due to the following reason: Air travel consists of flights that last for hours. This places a person dealing with this extreme fear INSIDE their phobia in an inescapable environment, left to suffer for an extended period. This phobia or fear is not just for a moment of time, it involves hours and hours of exposure.

This might sound a bit odd, but to those who have this challenge, it is not necessarily about the plane crashing, it is about the emotional discomfort during the flight that makes air travel difficult for them. Only those with this phobia will understand what I just said.

So with this understanding, what can be done to get you back on a plane? How do we treat this condition?

Phobias, as well as anxiety in general, are often brought on or enhanced when a person feels the loss of control, especially to certain personality types.

Subconsciously, the way that we control a situation that we have “no control” of, is to try to take back some of that control. We do this by worrying and be thoughtfully involved in everything that is happening on the plane. 

All of the sounds we hear, evaluating passengers to ensure that they are not terrorists, turbulence, change in the plane’s speed, the seatbelt warning sign coming on, flight attendants asked to take their seats, intoxicated passengers, babies crying, and so on. 

During this worry period, we “self-talk” in our mind regarding these worries, thinking things like, “What was that noise? It sounds like a door came open outside the plane. Can a plane fly with an open door? Why did the pilot turn on the fasten your seatbelt sign? Is there a problem coming? Why would he fly us into dangerous air? Is he a qualified pilot? Maybe he has been drinking? …You get the picture.

The first tool in managing this fear is the elimination of negative self-talk regarding flying. EVERY thought that you have of something that makes you anxious to fly needs to be dismissed as soon as you recognize it. Before you fly, while you are at the airport, and while you are on the plane, recognize your negative self-talk about flying, and stop the conversation in your mind. 

A second tool for you to use that helps in dealing with the elimination of this self-talk is DISTRACTION. It seems impossible to turn self-talk off at times, our minds are so powerful. We have been genetically programmed to stay alive. But a distraction can be very effective in turning this off.

Wearing a set of noise-canceling headphones while listening to music is a very productive distraction. It eliminates some of the audio triggers (noises) that enhance your anxiety, while providing a distraction involving something that we can listen to that brings us pleasure.

Another tool to give you control is to understand your mind-body connection. It is very simple to understand and contributes to successfully dealing with fear.

You will observe that when your mind is in a state of excessive fear, your body will soon follow along. Your heart begins to race, your skin damp, and your breathing accelerates. You’ve heard the expression, “Fight of Flight”. Your mind is telling your body to prepare for battle, and it responds by amping up to prepare for the fight.  Use this new understanding to manage your emotions while you fly.

Calm your body down and your mind will soon follow. You can do this by closing your eyes, and breathing slow – deep – breaths. While you breathe out, think of a word that gives you comfort, like family, peace, love, happiness, team, freedom, accomplishment, etc. By managing your body, your mind will be disengaged with its fight-or-flight stage of readiness, reducing your anxiety. Use this tool when you experience anxiety triggers such as turbulence during your flight.

The next tool that I would like to suggest has to do with taking your minds to a different location when you fly. You have learned the power that your mind has in a negative sense by experiencing this phobia. But, there is peace in knowing that you can positively use this same power in managing Aerophobia. 

While using all of the tools that I have suggested above, you are now prepared to mentally remove yourself from the flight. You do this through self-hypnosis. Don’t let the words discourage you, or make you feel that this is some weird, pretend concept. It is such a powerful tool and something that I suggest you spend a great deal of time mastering. This is your solution to getting back to and ENJOYING flying.

Steps to Enable Self-Hypnosis

Before you attempt self-hypnosis for the first time it is useful to have told somebody else in the nearby vicinity what you are doing. Reaching a hypnotic state is a little like sleeping and you may be more comfortable telling somebody else that you are going for a nap. By telling somebody else, you are not likely to be disturbed or worried that you may be disturbed. Part of the point of self-hypnosis is that you will become less aware of your immediate surroundings – like when you sleep – so if there was an emergency then somebody nearby will be able to ‘wake’ you.

 To start the process you need to feel physically relaxed and comfortable. 

  1. Get physically relaxed and comfortable. In the early stages of developing this technique, find a quite place, away from distractions or responsibilities. Get in a position that is comfortable to you. Touch the thumb on one hand to the middle finger on the same hand, (This will be your physical trigger that you will apply each time that you self hypnosis. Over time this physical trigger can be so effective in bringing you to a hypnotic state quite quickly. I caution you not to do this trigger when you driving… and yes… I’m serious).
  2. Find an object nearby that you can focus your vision and attention on – ideally, this object will involve you looking slightly upwards on the wall or ceiling in front of you.
  3. Clear your mind of all thoughts and just focus on your object. This is quite hard to achieve but take your time to let thoughts leave you. Keep looking at the object, and let each thought go. Turn that thought into a balloon and let it go as you watch it fly away.
  4. Become aware of your eyes, think about your eyelids becoming heavy and slowly closing. Focus on your breathing as your eyes close, breathe deeply and evenly. Your eyes are heavy.. breathe in… so heavy… breathe out… heavy.
  5. Tell yourself that you will relax more every time you breathe out. Slow your breathing and let yourself relax deeper and deeper with every breath. Breathe out… slowly. You are so comfortable…Relaxed, and comfortable.. your eyes are so heavy.
  6. Use your mind’s eye to visualize a gentle up and down or sideways movement of an object. Perhaps the hand of a metronome or a pendulum – anything that has a regular, slow, and steady swing. In your mind, watch the item sway backward and forwards or up and down. The clock is swinging …. to one side…. to the other, back and forth… I’m so comfortable, and safe…. so comfortable, and safe…
  7. Softly, slowly, and monotonously count down from ten in your head, saying,” so relaxed” after each number. 10 so relaxed… 9 so relaxed … 8 so relaxed, … 7 so relaxed… 6 so relaxed… 5 so relaxed… 4 so relaxed… 3 so relaxed… 2 so relaxed… 1 so relaxed…. and now FULLY ASLEEP.
  8. Believe and remind yourself that when you finish counting down you will have reached your hypnotic state. ..I am fully asleep…fully asleep… fully asleep
  9. When you have reached your hypnotic state it is time to focus on the reason that you are there for. “I have reached my place of peace… and safety… far away… where shall I go? On a beach… relaxing in the warmth of the sun… surrounded by those you Iove.. I am here for peace. I have returned to my zone of peace and happiness. I’m just here to relax and enjoy this moment.” Stay relaxed and focused. Each peaceful destination can be different, and entirely up to you where you choose to go.

When YOU are ready to come out of this hypnotic state of mind, you will always have the ability to do so. You will never get “stuck” there if you want to return. Understand that you have this ability to come out of it, as this understanding will eliminate any worry that might make it difficult for you enter this hypnotic state in the first place.

  1. Relax and clear your mind once more before bringing yourself out of your hypnotic state. I am ready to return..
  2. Slowly but increasingly energetically count up to 10. Reverse the process you used before when you counted down into your hypnotic state. Use some positive message between each number, as you count. ‘1, starting to wake up, 2 starting to wake up,… to ….10 fully awake and feeling like I have had a full night’s sleep’
  3. When you reach 10 you will feel fully awake and revived!  Slowly let your conscious mind catch up with the events of the day and continue feeling refreshed. You will still be quite relaxed… enjoy the feeling of this relaxation.

To overcome your fear of flying, or any other phobia, self hypnosis has a therapeutic component that is not mentioned above. You can use this tool to OVERCOME your phobia as well. While you are in your hypnotic state, rather than going to a relaxing place, go to a place of healing and the reprograming of your mind. While there, think thoughts such as, “I am in a place of healing, I have the ability and power to overcome any challenge. I am a strong, and a very capable person. I am not afraid of flying… I am not afraid because I am in control of my emotions. I have chosen to take this new power of relaxing that I have, to overcome this anxiety. I will no longer fear being on a plane.” etc.

Using these tools described above, you can once again take control over this disabling fear. They are the answers to managing and overcoming the fear of flying. I invite you to practice self-hypnosis every day until you become good at it. Once you obtain that level, I suggest that you move on to the theraputic level of self hypnosis to work towards the elimination of the fear of flying. In addition to dealing with your phobia, I recommend that you use this method daily as a way to destress and relax.

Initially, you might need some help from a therapist to teach you how and to get you started. However, with your personality, it is again about control. Once you are taught how, YOU can do these things by yourself. YOU can apply them when needed. The therapist is a teacher, but…once taught… YOU have got this.

I am confident that you will indeed recover from this disabling fear.

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