Solo travel can be challenging enough without adding a fear of flying into the mix. The more flights I take, the more anxious I seem to get about flying. That's why I've brought in an expert for this article. With flying being a huge part of travelling, it's essential to squash our fears of doing it and understand the reasons behind it.
Christopher Paul Jones, AKA The Breakthrough Expert, specialises in helping people let go of their fears, anxieties and even their phobias. In this article, Christopher explains how to overcome your fear of flying.
Most articles will tell you that flying is the safest way to travel and crashes are incredibly rare. However, with planes going missing or being shot down and with the constant threat of terrorism, fear of flying is on the increase.
Studies attest to the fact that more people are hurt falling out of bed each year than from flying, so why is it people are still afraid?
Because most phobias are not conscious or logical.
Most advice offered by ‘experts’ is based on the theory of distracting yourself via deep breathing, learning about plane safety, etc. Generally, while this is good advice, it’s not enough to help someone with a full blown phobia, as it doesn’t address the root cause of the fear; how the phobia got created in the first place and how to change those triggers.
When I work with clients, dealing with the root cause is where I find it makes the biggest difference in reducing a phobia, rather than having the client constantly fight it themselves.
A fear of flying can actually be several different phobias running alongside one other, for example a fear of heights coupled with a loss of control, turbulence with claustrophobia or a fear of crowds and so on.
Fear of flying can also manifest itself in different ways depending on the person. This is why what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. The ‘one size fits all’ approach generally fails for this reason.
Here are my top 10 (quick and effective) tips to help you overcome a fear of flying:
(1) Find the Cause of Your Fear
Most phobias have a trigger point when the mind first linked danger to flying. Say you’re a young child and you experience a turbulent flight; in that moment your mind links flying to danger. Or it could be that you watched a TV programme which showed a plane crash and in that moment, you decide you need to avoid flying.
Even watching how your parents reacted if they were scared of flying could have taught you the way you think you should react. Very often people are not aware of the triggers, but they are still affecting your beliefs and choices. These triggers are known as the ‘stimulus response' as established by researcher Ivan Pavlov.
The best place to start therefore is to explore its origins. What are some of the events from the past that made your mind link fear to flying?
Watch the video on how a phobia gets created.
(2) Challenge Your Beliefs
It’s worth asking yourself what do I need to believe in order to feel afraid of flying?
Then ask yourself how true is that belief?
What do you choose to focus on when you have the fear?
What do you focus on when you don’t have fear?
It’s also worth finding someone you respect, who has a different belief to you about flying and asking them what they believe and focus on.
(3) Creating a New Stimulus Response (Anchoring)
There is an old saying that love and hate cannot exist in the same place. This is also true for feelings like fear and calm.
By creating a new trigger linked to positive feelings and emotions, and using this trigger whenever your phobia appears, you can dramatically reduce the impact your fear of flying is having on you.
How do you do this? The key is to think of, or imagine a time when you felt completely calm and relaxed i.e. sitting on a beach or being around people you love.
Now imagine going back to that time and notice all the images, feelings and sounds that go with this event. When you have fully connected to this positive event, squeeze your fist to create a link between the emotion and the gesture, and as the emotion fades release your fist.
Keep repeating this as many times as you like and then test it by squeezing your fist. Notice what you feel. If it’s strong enough, just the act of squeezing your fist will bring back that calm feeling.
(4) Change the Image of Flying
The part of the brain that deals with visual memory is highly active when you see something for the first time. With everyday events this will fade over time, but this is different for a phobia.
Neurological imaging has shown that visual memory is just as active when you think about your phobia, as when you felt it for the first time. One of the ways to change the impact of your mental images is to scramble them. What would it be like if you made that image small? What would it be like if you drain the colour from it?
Imagine running the whole event backwards like you’re rewinding a DVD. Imagine the picture was a tiny dot or had Mickey Mouse ears. Notice what happens to the fear when you play with these images.
Watch the video on how to remove your flying phobia in 10 easy steps.
(5) Change the Feelings
The thing that often gets over looked when people try to tackle a phobia, is the emotions that go with it. If you get scared, locate the feelings in your body, how heavy or light are they? What colour do you associate with them? What happens if you put more focus on the feelings? Do the feelings feel like they have a direction? See what would happen if you made the feelings move in the opposite direction. Speed them up, change the colour to white or gold and notice how that may change the level of fear.
(6) Change the Meaning of Flying
When the fear of flying starts, what do you say to yourself? i.e. the plane might crash, I cannot do this or something similar. Notice the internal voice. Who does it sound like? How deep and how loud is it?
Once you have become aware of that voice, change the tonality with the Mickey Mouse voice or akin to someone really boring and slow. Does it feel different?
What would happen if you added a comedy soundtrack or a circus tune? How does that affect its impact?
Watch the video on how to transform your phobia.
(7) Change the Perspective of Flying
Another tip is to imagine watching yourself on a plane ride.
Imagine floating above the event and watching yourself on the flight. As you look down at yourself notice how you are acting. How are you breathing and moving? How do you feel in that moment? From your perch high above, free from the emotions? What could you learn that would help change the flight for the better? What could you teach yourself that would help you relax and make the journey more enjoyable?
(8) Tap Away the Fear
A popular method to stay relaxed in the moment is known as tapping; TFT, EFT, or Meridian tapping. By tapping on a number of acupuncture points whilst thinking about your fear you can drastically reduce it.
Tap each of these places in order for about five seconds each while thinking about flying.
Hand – Take two fingers and tap on the part of your hand that you would use to do a karate style chop.
Fingers – Tap each finger either side of the nail.
Eyebrow – Tap just above and to one side of the nose, at the beginning of the eyebrow.
Side of the Eye – Tap the bone bordering the outside corner of the eye.
Under the Eye – Tap the bone under an eye about one inch below your pupil.
Under the Nose – Tap the indent between the bottom of your nose and the top of your upper lip.
Chin – Tap midway between the point of your chin and the bottom of your lower lip.
Collar Bone – Tap the junction where the sternum (breastbone), collarbone and the first rib meet.
Under the Arm – Tap the side of the body, about four inches below the armpit.
Top of the Head – Tap with your fingers back-to-back down the centre of the skull.
Keep repeating this until the feelings have gone.
Some people also like to repeat an affirmation like, “even though I have a fear of flying, I totally and completely accept myself.” Use it if it works for you, although it is not compulsory.
(9) Get in Touch with Both Parts of the Brain
Did you know that one side of the brain deals with logic and the other side deals with emotion? If you access both at the same time whilst focusing on your fear you will find the emotions reduce.
The way to do this is look straight ahead while thinking about your fear of flying, then allow your eyes to move slowly from left to right passing between the bridge of your nose. Keep repeating this left to right process and you’ll notice your phobia reduces in intensity.
Watch the video for a quick tip on reducing your fear.
(10) Take Control of your Emotions
I always find it useful to remind my clients that in order to feel afraid, they have to believe something. They have to say something to themselves, make a picture in their mind and have feelings that go with it. They even have to breathe and move in a certain way.
In order to reverse these feelings and feel good, they also have to be doing something with their internal thoughts, feelings and images.
Remember a phobia is not something you catch like a cold. It’s something you have to do, even if up until this point it has been unconscious.
If you change your thoughts, feelings or images, you will feel different. If you change more than one thing, you should feel even better. Practise these tips and see how you get on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Paul Jones, aka The Breakthrough Expert, is a therapist based in Harley Street who specialises in helping people let go of their fears, anxieties and even their phobias; from a fear of public speaking to anxieties around work, Christopher has helped 100s of people ‘let go’ and get their lives back. He even cured his own morbid fear flying, to the extent he was able to take a sightseeing flight through the Pyrennees – strapped to the OUTSIDE of a helicopter! Find out more about Christopher.