At the Emotional Health Centre, Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city we help with fear of flying
Fear of flying
In some situations a certain amount of fear is a natural and adaptive reaction. Fear is healthy when it alerts us to danger, heightens our awareness, and motivates us to be careful. But given the safety of modern commercial air travel, fear of flying is not an adaptive reaction. Planes do crash, but so do cars, buses, trains, and bicycles. Statistics show that one is safer on a plane. Nevertheless, large numbers of people are afraid of flying. Some fly anyway, but suffer. Others don’t fly, and miss out on pleasure trips, visits with friends and relatives, and business opportunities.
Why all this fear of flying? Leaving solid ground scares us. To fly we must accept our lack of control and the necessity to truth the pilot, control-tower personnel, and a strange machine. If a person doesn’t feel emotionally supported or on solid ground in their daily life, they may overreact to the predicament of being suspended in midair in a metal box, helplessly dependent on the sanity and goodwill of others.
The very situations that frighten us, however, can be sources of fun and exhilaration once we master them. Many people have conquered their fear of flying and discovered how easy and delightful flying can be. They have also learned more about themselves in the process.
Gaining the necessary trust and confidence takes repeated positive experiences and concerted effort. Flying fears often have straightforward causes. One is direct experience – that is, having a “bad flight”. People also learn inappropriate fear from other sources, such as a relative who won’t fly, a friend who had a scary experience, or an exaggerated movie.
Extreme fears of phobias consist of three elements: emotions (the way we feel), cognitions (the way we think), and behaviours (the way we act). All three aspects although interrelated, must be understood and dealt with separately.
Overcoming emotional obstacles
“When I get on a plane, I panic; it’s like I’m going to die.” “I’m afraid I’ll just break down and make a fool of myself.” Such reactions can include feelings of rapid heartbeat, stomach cramps, dizziness, headache, and nausea. They have a common cause; increasingly rapid breathing (hyperventilation). In extreme cases, such overbreathing leads to feelings of choking or dying. It is crucial for the phobic to realize that such breathing is under their control. They can accelerate it – leading to feelings of increased fright and eventual panic – or decelerate it – leading to feelings of greater control and calm.
• One of the most effective ways to help the patient overcome emotional obstacles is by systematic desensitization through successive approximation employed within the framework of a hypnotherapy session. Have your patient think of 12 flight related situations, ranging from those with low arousal to those of high arousal. They, or you, should write these down, beginning with the least threatening and going on through to the most threatening. You’ll use these within the session.
Here’s a sample list I’ve found that applies to most fear of flying clients:
1. Planning the trip
2. Packing for the trip
3. Leaving for the airport
4. Arriving at the airport
5. Checking in the luggage
6. Checking in at the gate
7. Boarding the plane
8. Taking their seat
9. Taxiing down the runway
10. Taking off
11. The plane bouncing as it encounters turbulence
In hypnosis, the therapist will program you with an ideomotor response. It might go something like this: “In a moment, I’m going to lead you through the process of a flying experience, beginning with your planning the trip. if at any time you begin to feel anxious or nervous, I’d like you to raise the forefinger of your right (or left) hand.”
Now being to go through the list, starting with the least threatening. Be sure to embellish the imagery of each step. This means, don’t just say “you’re planning the trip”, for instance. Rather, you might say “you’re planning your trip and looking through the travel brochures or thinking about what you’re going to do or who you’re going to see when you reach your destination.”
When you reach an anxiety provoking step and their forefinger lifts, immediately say: “Now, I want you to go through that particular step again but this time imagine yourself taking a few moments to change that negative reaction to a more positive and pleasant one. You’re in that situation or place and you now close your eyes, take a deep, lung-filling breath – go ahead, take a deep breath right now – and exhale. Take a second deep, lung-filling breath…and exhale. Now, you picture and imagine yourself in your favourite place – one you especially enjoy being.” Continue to lead yourself through a relaxation imagery. You then proceed as follows with the following direct suggestion. “You are calm, relaxed, at ease and totally in control of the situation. As a matter of fact, you’re beginning to rather enjoy the experience as you will continue to do to an even greater degree, now and in the future.”
For an appointment please ring Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city on 021-4273757 or email us on