I used to be afraid to fly.
It was no fun. I was filled with dread for days before, and terrified for the entire flight. And if there was turbulence – horrific! Strangers would often comfort me.
But the problem was – I loved to go places. I wanted to keep going places, and to quit being afraid. So, with lots of good information and a little determination, I did it.
And so can you.
You don’t even have to do it perfectly. You can move from a fear/anxiety level of 8 or 9 (or even 10, which is really miserable) down to a 4, 5, or 6…and that’s enough to get the process rolling in a new direction. After that, it gets easier every time, until one day you are surprised to realize that you’re actually enjoying yourself.
Warning: You can’t simply read this article and be ready to fly. My words are not magic. It’s what goes on inside your brain and body when you DO the things my words suggest – that’s where you get the magic.
So. Do you want to get past the panic? It’s do-able. Here’s a plan.
1.Get the facts
Facts alone won’t make your fears go away, but knowing the scientific and statistical realities will help your rational brain support you when your deep fear-brain balks. You need to know what’s true. If flying really isn’t safe, then you shouldn’t do it. I don’t fly in small planes piloted by friends or family for exactly that reason. The stats are not good! But if and when flying is safe, then you have a right to do it and to feel good about it.
You will need to sort out information from news. It is true that you’re more likely to die in a car wreck on the way to the airport than you are on the plane. But the media won’t cover the car wreck. Unless it’s a horrible flaming many-car pile-up, it’s just one more car wreck. But if anyone dies in a plane, that’s news. You’ll hear about it, and it will stand out loudly in your mind. Not fair, and not reality based, but that’s the way it goes. It’s your job to know and remember all the truth – even when it’s not reported!
Here is a good website for that info. Read it to give yourself a solid foundation. This knowledge won’t get rid of your fears – knowledge is just the beginning. But it is an important beginning. You need good info to decide whether it’s time to take control from your fear, and to move into a new and safer future. And it helps to remember what’s real during times when the old fears rise up.
So, consider the information. Write down any reasons why you don’t buy it. And then write down the reasons why you do.
2.Know the risks
No, not of the plane crashing. You looked at those already. There may be real risks from changing how you approach your world. What if you get over your fear of flying – and then your partner says they don’t want you to come anyway? Or what if you discover you don’t have the money to go on the trip you always thought you would take? If you can fly, will you have to go visit the relatives you can’t stand? Will you have to take a job you’re afraid of?
Will you even feel like you anymore?
3.Know the rewards
Why should you face this fear anyway? You’ve done all right with it so far. Are there good reasons for you to fly? Are there any rewards for the hard work you will have to do?
Could you visit your sister in California and have a girl’s weekend at the beach? Or fly to Florida instead of driving, so you would have time to take the cruise and not use up all your vacation days? Find some rewards that matter to you. I’ll bet there are lots of adventures you could can up with – if you let yourself go!
Frankly, if there are no rewards for flying – why bother? You could put your psychological energies into something else. Although research suggests it might still be worth doing – overcoming anxiety and fear in one area helps you feel stronger in other areas, too.
Here’s a four-square exercise to help you evaluate risks and rewards.
Grab some plain white paper from the printer, draw a line down the middle from top to bottom, and another line the across the center of the page. Now you have four squares.
Put a heading in each square:
“Reasons why it’s good to be afraid to fly”
“Reasons why it’s bad to be afraid to fly”
“Reasons why it’s good to be free to fly”
“Reasons why it’s bad to be free to fly”
Start with all the reasons why it’s good to be afraid to fly. You know those best. Put down the odd things too, not just the ones you expected. Things like “It’s good to be afraid of flying because I save money.” Or “I get to stand up to people who tell me what to do.” Or “It makes me different.” Those may sound strange to our everyday mind, but they may feel true to our deep self. That’s not bad – just realize it, and then consider building new ways to deal with those issues. Ways that leave you free to fly if you want to!
Write down all the evidence for each square. Give yourself time to think. And then notice what you came up with. Which one feels best? Which one feels true? Which one makes you feel strongest?
4. Prep your brain
As you consider flying, it’s helpful to remind your brain and body how to feel safe. Start with some easy supported breathing while you relax into a brief meditation. Try breathing in for four counts, then hold for four counts, release for four and then rest for four, before starting again. Or just relax and notice how it feels to breathe naturally.
Once your body begins to relax, your deep brain can open to your new story. Tell it to yourself a bit at a time, seeing yourself as you live your new experience.
Your story will be unique, but it might go something like this:
It’s the night before your trip, and you’re packing to leave. You notice some anxious feelings in your body. That’s good. Your body is bringing those feelings forward, so you can help your body calm and relax. You support your body by breathing. You know fear is only uncomfortable – it won’t actually hurt you. As you pay attention, you may begin to notice excitement and anticipation mixed in. You’re getting all your favorite things ready for your trip.
On the way to the airport you again notice feelings in your body, and you take time to breathe. You don’t need for those feelings to go away. They do not control you. These are just old patterns of physical sensations. As you drive toward the airport, they may get stronger for a while. Give the feelings an intensity number, from 1 to 10, notice where in your body you experience them, and where you don’t feel them. Notice what happens when you breathe slowly and intentionally. Those physical sensations are not in charge. You are in charge. You get to choose your new direction.
Checking-in at the airport can be complicated, and the security process is long. But your physical excitement gives you extra energy and helps keep you focused. You see yourself moving through the lines, talking to the agents, laughing with your companions and with other passengers about the different things you encounter. You’ve got this.
You shuffle through the long line to board the plane, and see the attendant standing at the door with a smile of welcome. You smile back, and then move slowly down the aisle, finding your seat. Put your bags where they go and arrange the things you brought for fun and comfort. You make this space your own for the next little while.
As the engines begin to roar and the plane moves and shakes, the old feelings come up again. But you aren’t controlled by those old feelings. You comfort your body with some calm deep breaths and remember to see yourself taking off smoothly, flying through the air, and landing safely at the other end, ready to enjoy your journey.
See that flight, taking off, moving up, the plane wiggling with eagerness. Your plane loves to fly – that’s what it’s made for! Turbulence comes, and the old fears smack you hard. You grab the armrest, gripping hard. No problem – the plane is used to it. You can grip hard you breathe in, and then release your tension with your breath. You know the plane is built for wind and weather. Turbulence is your plane’s favorite thing – a chance to show off how well it moves. You smile, and get involved in the movie you brought, or the book you’re reading. You are safe – now, and now, and now.
You feel the clunk of the landing gear moving into position, and realize its already time to land. You marvel at the skill of the pilots as the big plane touches down, and you roll to your gate. You’re here. Time to stand up, get your things, and begin the rest of your adventure.
Do your breathing, and while you do, let your mind run through this story. Do it every day. And pretty soon your mind and your body will respond with safe feelings. The old feelings won’t all disappear – you will still have some. Scary scenarios may even appear. No problem – just keep breathing as you move through the story, and notice that you are still safe. And let the story continue to unfold. Now you know how to feel safe, and you can enjoy your experience more and more.
Remember – it can’t work unless you actually do it. So do it!
Then go have some fun.