Don’t let it cripple you!
Airplane disasters tend to bring out every fear and anxiety we’ve ever had about flying. We can’t escape the days of hyped up media coverage– so much overload that we can’t look away. The scale is also significant: hundreds of deaths. If we’ve ever flown, it’s only natural to put ourselves in the shoes of doomed passengers and feel our own terror.
“That could have been me, ” we think.
Those who are afraid to fly are reinforced in their belief that flying is dangerous.
“That’s why I don’t fly,” they say.
Oh, they might pretend it’s about flight delays, crowded airports, tiresome security techniques. But more likely than not, it’s about fear of flying.
I’ve been traveling by air since I was 16 years old, millions of miles now. I’m a million-mile flyer on one airline alone. And despite that, I had my own experience with fear of flying.
My mother was always a fearful flyer and there came a time when she refused to fly at all. When she died, she left her fear to me. It began just after she died, almost like a bequest.
Today, I know that what I was feeling was my own mortality–something that’s not uncommon when we face the death of someone close to us— but at the time, it felt like a crippling fear of flying.
Would I never again visit far-off lands? Take business trips? Would I use all my vacation time driving to visit friends across country? None of those options–natural outcomes of a refusal to fly–appealed to me. I had to get rid of the fear, that was all there was to it.
So I took a fear of flying course online, one based on providing facts, a rational approach to handling fear, as well as techniques for handling my anxiety and shortly, I could fly comfortably again.*
But it made me think: What’s at the root of fear of flying?
Control. It’s about control.
Because we are not in control of the plane, we can’t be “sure” of its safety.
When we drive, we ARE in control, or so we think.
But is that really true?
It’s not. We aren’t in control of all the factors affecting our safety when we drive. The reality is that we are only in control of our own vehicle, and sometimes not even that. Another driver could easily kill us–someone drunk, tired, careless, ill–we have absolutely no control over that. One mistake made by someone else could take our life–and without even thinking about it, we take that risk every time we get in the car, multiple times a day.
Have you ever heard of “fear of driving?” Probably not. I’m sure it exists, but it’s pretty rare.
So when we hear about airplane crashes and think “That could’ve been me,” I have to ask?
Could it, really? Because here are the facts:
Source: The week, 2013
So here’s what worked for me:
- The facts. I’m a rational person, so the facts speak to me. When I think of the number of flights that take off and land every single day all over the world without a single crash, it’s clear to me that air travel is as safe as any travel can be. The numbers in the graphic above illustrate that clearly. They also show how we are fooling ourselves when we think that automobile travel is safer. It isn’t.
- Learning how airplanes work. The most impactful thing I learned in SOAR, the course I took, was that airplanes are built to handle turbulence. Air becomes very thick at high speeds–and we were told to imagine a small airplane sitting in a dish of Jello. Imagine skewers pushing the plane forward. Tilt the plane’s nose up and the plane will go up. Tilt it down and the plane will move downwards. To approximate turbulence, imagine tapping on top of the Jello. You’ll see the plane bounce up and down, but barely, and it can not fall. While we might be fearful, the plane is handling bumps just fine.In my first flights after the course, I forced myself to consciously think about that and even say it to myself. This analogy, plus having a better understanding of how airplanes work, helped alleviate some of my fear.
- Techniques to relieve anxiety. The course I took provided some effective techniques that worked really well. As time went on, I learned that simply burying my head in a book or watching a movie– ignoring turbulence–made my anxiety fade.
- Reasonable expectations.Now, I’m not going to say I don’t ever get scared. When the pilot of our jumbo jet from Munich aborted our landing in San Francisco last month at the very last minute and I felt that jumbo jet power up and pull up, fast and unexpectedly, I did get more than a frisson of anxiety. I got even more uneasy when the Lufthansa pilot failed to say anything about the 20 minutes we spent going around and around the Bay area. My imaginings were probably way worse than what was really going on. Nonetheless, I took deep breaths and used other techniques to relieve my anxiety.
Will that experience keep me from flying? Hell, no! In hundreds of flights over more than 45 years that’s happened to me twice. And what really happened? A safe landing.
So, I’ll continue to fly. How else would I see the big, beautiful world that has so much to offer?
*CLICK HERE FOR information about the comprehensive fear of flying course I took all those years ago. It’s still relevant and there are free online videos to help. If you buy the full program it’s got a guarantee. There’s also individual one-on-one counseling available. All I can say is that it worked for me.
And if you’ve got some tips to combat fear of flying, I hope you’ll share them in the Comments section below. Thank you.