STOP FEARING AIR TRAVEL
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
It’s that time of the year where I and many of my clients are travelling by air to escape the winter weather.
I’ve never loved air travel, and never really understood why. I would be a nervous wreck checking in at the airport, the cold sweats would start once the plane started moving and every time the plane made an odd noise or hit turbulence I prepared for my early death while grabbing the life out of my partner’s hand.
The discomfort I created from my thoughts was unbearable.
I know I am not alone in this experience and I want to share with you how I and how you too can overcome your unwanted reaction.
The first step is realising your thoughts create your feelings. Anxiety and fear is the response to your thoughts and life experience to date and is not out of your control. Our bodies and minds are wired to keep us safe whether we like it's reaction or don't.
Understand the cause
When did your fear of flying start?
Have you always been fearful?
Is it related to not being in control?
Is it even about flying?
For many of us, the fear of flying seems to appear randomly. I myself was never fearful as a child yet once I hit adulthood my fear showed up as an uninvited guest and escalated with every flight.
As humans we naturally learn from the people around us and our environment.
Do you have a loved one that fears flying?
Quite often in clinic working through my clients fears of all kinds, they will remember a loved one sharing the same fear. Understanding that we can learn a reaction like fear and anxiety from others can really empower anyone to take action and let go of their original idea that it was a genetic fault that caused their issue.
Environment is also a factor. For other people the fear creeps in from knowledge. In our age of technology the information about air disasters are only a click away.
I know this partially influenced my fear and my coping mechanism was to avoid all negative reports of air travel. It may seem like a logical solution but I can tell you it is ineffective. Putting your head in the sand doesn't give you any power at handling your fear or anxiety it simply compounds your reaction.
The solution to stop fearing any environment is to gain perspective.
1 in 4 people are terrified of flying despite the likelihood of dying in a plane crash (or even being in one) according to The Economist, is around one in 5.4 million. While other reports place the odds closer to one in 11 million. You are far more likely to be struck by lightening or attacked by a shark than you are to die in a plane crash. And there are even more common things that kill decidedly more frequently, including the flu and car travel which is 100 times more deadly than hopping on a plane.
When it comes to big feelings, fear and anxiety, they can often just be like huge theatrical stage show curtains that hide a whole room of negative emotions patiently waiting to have their time in the spotlight.
Take a minute now and consider the negative emotions you avoid.
Sadness? Guilt? Anger? Confusion? Rejection? Hate? Worry? Frustration? Jealousy?
What do you do when the feeling of your emotions are uncomfortable?
Air travel in itself requires you to be a passenger. Trusting the pilot, the navigation, the cabin crew, the plane, even the people around you that you don't know. Air travel can really challenge people who struggle at letting go of control. Even though the only thing we truly have control over is ourselves.
Through living our lives we learn to feel more comfortable being the organiser, the driver, the one that doesn't need anyone's help, the one that has the control. The short term gain of creating comfort from controlling the environment sets anyone up for the long term pain of dealing with fear and anxiety when the people or the environment doesn't go to plan. The tip is to start to take incremental steps at letting go of control by focusing on one's self and what thoughts, feelings and actions will minimise their anxiety and fear reaction.
Now the big curtains of fear and anxiety also hide other issues. It can often be about much more than air travel.
Remembering that thoughts create feelings and our mind has over 60,000-80,000 thoughts daily. If you spend the average 2500-3000 thoughts, which is about an hour of the day, dreading the possible disasters that could happen, the disasters that have happened, other people's terrible experiences you can imagine how anxiety can easily start to grow. And these 'what if' worries about air travel are usually the smallest factor as another half of the day's thoughts extend to worrying about what could go wrong while away travelling.... work catastrophes...missing out with family and friends... a disaster to the house... forgetting to organise something...
I suggest you take some time to pull back your curtains of fear and anxiety and consider your pre travel thoughts and whether you are over-estimating negative circumstances and under-estimating your ability to deal with whatever happens. As quite often when we step out of our hind brain and work with our prefrontal cortex we remember that with effort we can work through all circumstances especially the uncomfortable ones.
I always educate my clients to write down any thoughts that are negatively impacting them.
By writing down the problem thoughts you can free up some thinking space to actual look at the likelihood, impact and how it could be solved. This is an activity of the prefrontal cortex.
Rather than thinking 'what if, what if, what if...' It is written in black and white. You see the problem thought, consider the probability, find your feel good perspective and honest solution if it happened.
Understanding the triggers to fear and anxiety allow you to take back control and respond rather than react.
Turbulence was always a real trigger for me until I gained perspective. When the plane starts to bounce around, when the wings dip and bob I used to panic and hold on for dear life.
And then I realised there is no physical law that says an airplane has to fly in a straight line at a constant altitude. For example, if you watch an aerobatic airshow you will realise that airplanes can fly in all sorts of positions—upside down, straight up, straight down, sideways, and, for a short time, even backwards—and still be perfectly safe. So, even though level flight may be preferred, if an airplane enters turbulent air, its erratic flight poses no real safety issue to the airplane itself. Commercial aircraft prefer to fly “straight and level” (at a constant heading and altitude) because it is convenient. It allows air traffic controllers to keep aircraft from flying into each other, as they fly on a predictable path. People tend to get airsick when an airplane moves erratically, so straight and level flight makes things more comfortable for the passengers and crew and the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, making for economy.
So when I say educate yourself, educate yourself so you feel better. I feel at ease now when the plane has a bit of a bounce around and now that i've also realised that a plane can take off weighing 80,000 kg, that's about 13 x 6000kg elephants, the wings I used to think were flimsy are now forces to be reckoned with.
Support yourself when things get uncomfortable
Change doesn't always happen over night. It takes the brain 3000-5000 reps to unlearn a faulty program. It takes a new program roughly 300-500 reps to learn, a few thousand reps to do well and 10,000 to master. Yet it isn't so disheartening when you remember half a days thinking is around 30,000 thoughts which means you could very well make your love for flying your new favourite past time.
As you learn your new way of thinking remember that when those feelings you can’t stand start to creep in allow yourself to stay connected and remember to breath. Don’t try to dismiss, don’t try to run, don’t try to cover it up, don't try to avoid.
The part of your brain that causes you to panic when you feel uncomfortable is a primitive part of the brain that understands behaviour, not language, and that has been conditioned to equate emotional distress with physical danger. When your brain interprets danger it sends out the signal to pump out fight-or-flight chemicals that cause physiological arousal. If you believe that there is a danger, and that you have to do something to fight against it, you only encourage your brain to keep on pumping out more fight-or-flight chemicals. Eventually this process escalates and you fall into a panic. Moreover, you can’t stop the panic by telling yourself to stop panicking. As I said before, the part of your brain responsible for the panic doesn’t understand language. It only understands behaviour. The only way to stop the panic, is to act in a way that tells your brain that there is no danger. So, to stop the panic, stop fighting. And here’s how to do it.
When the uncomfortable feelings start to take hold take long deep breaths. Be seated and if your on the airplane fasten your seatbelt. If you can place earphones on and choose a relaxing, word free music do so. Close your eyes. Relax your body. Unclench your jaw, your arms, your posture. Relax your body into your seat. Remind yourself your ok, your thoughts are creating a feeling and it will pass. To stay with your breath and encourage it to deepen imagine following your breath through the body. Start focusing on the breath moving through your nose. Breathing in calm and breathing out tension, feel the breath expand down your throat, breathing in calm and breathing out tension. Relax your face, breathing in calm and breathing out tension continue down to your chest, your stomach, your back, pelvis, legs, finishing at your feet. The whole time focusing on breathing in calm and breathing out tension. Imagine the relaxing calm breath moving right through the body, letting go of tension.
Remember the only thing in life you can control is you. Managing your fear and anxiety is the permanent solution.
Every flight provides you with the opportunity to make the next one easier.
Your goal is to retrain your brain to become less sensitised to the triggers that set you off.
Acupressure points to stimulate calm
The following diagrams show acupressure points you can easily self activate while air traveling. They will help your body physically and mentally relax. I also suggest you use them when you are finding the new positives in your future air travel experiences. It's a way of strengthening your reprogramming so when you are challenged you can physically guide yourself back as you focus on breathing through the discomfort.
When feeling each point if you notice one feels tender I suggest you gently hold that point until the tenderness goes.
I also like to use essential oils on the acupressure points.
To encourage connectedness, calm, trust and relaxation I use a mix of lavender, peppermint and frankincense essential oils mixed in jojoba oil. Using a 10ml amber roller bottle leads to easy application.
Lastly if your fears are related to a traumatic experience I suggest you seek support in working through it with a trusted Practitioner.
Always feel free to contact me and find out whether I can help you feel better sooner.