Fear of Flying, Part II

Fear of Flying, Part II: Finding a solution for high anxiety takes a big leap of faith and a final approach

Fear of Flying, Part II: Finding a solution takes a big leap of faith

Fear of flying
This ad from a New York company that offers hypnosis is aimed at those who are scared to fly. New York Hypnosis institute

Recently I came clean about my fear of flying.  Over the years I have explored many “cures” and treatments with varying degrees of success.  For me, there has been no cure and the least effective remedy is the one most recommended by flight attendants: “You just need to fly more.” I wonder when I exceed four million miles if my fear will be lifted.  

Nevertheless, join me on my land journey to find an airborne fix. 

Communicate your fear

In my early days of weekly travel I made a point to tell my seatmate, “I’m a nervous flier. I hope you don’t mind if I grab your arm if it gets bumpy.” Most people were quite gracious until the first wave of turbulence hit and I took their arm in a vise like grip.

The worst times were when my seatmate was as fearful as I was. Fear is contagious. Believe me, I never passed out business cards on those flights. 

The Psychiatrist

After one particularly bad flight in the 1990s I wangled an appointment with one of the top psychiatrists in town. He explained that the underpinnings of fear of flying (like everything else) relate back to childhood experiences of not being supported or learning trust. That made sense to me, because my younger sister’s fragile health while growing up meant my parents were not as present during my formative years. 

 The worst times were when my seat mate was as fearful as I was.  Fear is contagious.  Believe me, I never passed out business cards on those flights. 

 Dr. Y suggested that hypnosis might be helpful and proceeded to hypnotize me with thoughts of how much I enjoyed the flight and how beautiful the scenery was, how experienced the pilots were and every other positive thing imaginable.  And guess what?  It worked!  I took a flight to San Antonio immediately after the appointment and felt a calm and dominion I had never before experienced flying. 

But the next week, despite listening to the tape of the session, it no longer worked. 

Hypnosis

Once I sensed that hypnosis could work I bought a hypnosis tape to listen to during the flight. That led to one of my most embarrassing flying experiences. The tape, narrated by Bernie the hypnotist, contained one side with soothing affirmations by Bernie while the other side combined music with crashing waves while the suggestions were made subliminally, which meant that all I could hear were the crashing waves and music.

I put the tape to test on a flight from San Antonio. There were thunder storms brewing and the pilot announced before we took off, “This is going to be a bumpy flight.  I’m asking the flight attendants not to get up the entire flight.”  

Sure enough, lightening surrounded the plane and a deathly silence prevailed as we all counted the minutes until we landed. I put on my earphones, turned on the tape and closed my eyes, hoping for some relief from my sweating palms and pounding heart. Unfortunately, I had unintentionally turned up the volume of my tape player to as loud as it would go.  The crashing waves in my ears sounded like an explosion and I involuntarily screamed. 

 Before I fly I look at the weather and choose the best time of day to fly. I have apps that predict storms. I have the weather channel running continually on my office TV. 

And you know panic is contagious and we are all lemmings at heart.  With my scream, others started screaming “what’s going on?”  It was a long flight to Houston for more reasons than the storm. 

Fear of flying material (no, not Erica Jong)

There are some really good materials and courses that attempt to deal with fear of flying. For some they work, although it seems like they work for the people who don’t fly a lot and don’t know how the landing gear sounds when being retracted. For me it didn’t work, in part because 99 percent of the time I fly despite the fear and when I’m not on a plane, I compartmentalize my fear. 

To anyone reading along I recommend SOAR, run by counselor and former pilot Tom Bunn, a very approachable guy with many flying-without-fear clients. 

Final Approach

As I have aged, I have decided I don’t care about finding the answer to “why” and instead I candidly want a quick fix. So what that looks like at the front end is preparation. 

Before I fly I look at the weather and choose the best time of day to fly. I have apps that predict storms, and provide pilot reports of turbulence and airport delays. I have the weather channel running continually on my office TV.

I have also discovered that a drink (never more than one) or an anti-anxiety pill (never both) does wonders. If you take a drug, you have to take it long before you actually board the plane.  For a drink you should drink it once you get airborne because “liquor is quicker,” and it is also more potent at altitude. 

And if I am going to work I do neither and put on the headphones, work Sudoku and say a prayer of protection.