What do the Dalai Llama and Kate Winslet have in common? They’re both afraid of flying. Variously described as aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia or pteromechanophobia.
An estimated 500 million people worldwide have a fear of flying with 2.5 million of those in the UK. As many as 20-30 per cent of population are apprehensive about flying and between 2 and 10 per cent have a phobia. It’s more common in women and often starts in childhood or early adulthood.
So, on a Boeing 737 carrying 200 passengers, between four and 20 passengers will be really scared and more than a fifth will be quite worried.
Fear of Flying – Plane Crazy
Most people have that terrible day etched in their memories alongside the emotional ‘what ifs’ that we apply to any catastrophic event. September 11 is a day when all of us held the people we love a little closer and let anxiety about their future and our safety fill our thoughts.
Imagination is a powerful thing when triggered into ‘catastrophising’ about what it might be like to be a casualty, a survivor or one of the bereaved. So you are not alone. I have seen many flying phobia sufferers in the intervening years who feel exactly as you do and some of them go on to develop the symptoms of a panic attack that you describe. The good news is that the imagination which creates nightmare scenarios about 9 11 is just as capable of deconstructing them.
Our creative subconscious mind creates drama out of experience or observation just like the director of a Hollywood blockbuster does. And it has more bells and whistles than any special FX technology without any of the limitations of physical reality. So a short flight to a European destination can suddenly become fraught with danger with every other passenger a terror suspect and every slight bit of turbulence a warning of imminent collision. Airport security reminds us of the continuing vigilance against attack.
As many as 20-30 per cent of population are apprehensive about flying and between 2 and 10 per cent have a phobia. So, on a Boeing 737 carrying 200 passengers, between four and 20 passengers will be really scared and more than a fifth will be quite worried.
This is despite the fact that, as we all know, there’s more chance of being hit by lightning or run over by a car. Remember, there’s nothing logical about any phobia. They’re all about our emotional response to a perceived threat. What’s fascinating is that, because our emotions don’t differentiate between the imagined and real, it’s possible to mentally rehearse booking a flight, arriving at the airport, getting on a plane and remaining calm, confident and in control throughout.
Positive associations can help. When you play a piece of music you love, think of a really happy memory, focus on a place where you feel safe and relaxed, you experience some of the positive emotions they remind you of. Humour helps too. Before boarding the flight allow yourself to fantasise about the female flight attendants all being topless (or whatever rocks your boat). Of course, they won’t be topless when they welcome you on board but you will undoubtedly be wondering what their nipples are like! Every time they pass down the aisle with the drinks trolley, you’ll have a smile on your face. And it’s hard to be anxious when you’re smiling.
So once you’ve created a movie in your mind of topless flight attendants sashaying down the aisle to your favourite love song, complimenting you on how good-looking, successful and plain lucky you are you can start to expand and embellish on the basic story-line. In doing so, you find that your intense fear and embarrassment begin to seem, well, black and white, blurry and silent. It’s as if they’re being swished out of your awareness by all these new and different thoughts and distractions. Time passes quickly when you’re lost in thought and you find yourself focusing more on your destination and other things to look forward to. At this point you’ll never look back on the old feelings of claustrophobia and being out of control. It’s as if they’re something that used to happen to someone else a long time ago. This is self hypnosis and if you need a helping hand to get it right, my ‘Cure Phobias’ and Overcome Panic Attacks’ sessions can help.