independent

Friday 20 September 2019

The fear of flying

WE ARE heading into the time of year when families are planning to go abroad for annual holidays. For most people this is something to really look forward to. For others this can be a time of increasing dread and apprehension. The reason of course is that to get to their destination in most cases will involve flying!

For this group the thought of being enclosed in a metal shell without any possibility of getting off triggers major feelings of fear and anxiety. Usually the typical symptoms of the latter begin the week before the flight and increase steadily as the dreaded day gets closer. How will they cope? Will they be able to go at all? Will they spoil the holiday for everybody else? The more excited those close to them get – the more distressed they become! Some will find it increasingly harder to eat and sleep and their minds will become progressively preoccupied. Many will present to their family doctors looking for the 'magic tablet' to numb these symptoms of anxiety. If you can relate to all of the above you are suffering from one of the commonest phobias – fear of flying.

There are two types of plane phobia and the simplest way to find out which type affects you personally is to ask the key question: 'what bothers you the most when you visualise the plane doors close?' Many when asked this question have to think hard before answering it as they have never actually examined what is actually going on in their head in relation to flying? Rather they are being overwhelmed by the emotional thoughts of fear and anxiety and all the physical symptoms they produce in the body.

When most people tease out what is their underlying fear they will usually fall into one of the following: 'I will run amok!' ' The plane will crash!' The first group have the following visualisation. I will get into my seat on the plane, put on my safety belt and then feel completely trapped. The doors will close and then when the plane is the air – something terrible is going to happen. They are going to get incredibly anxious, lose complete control of themselves, and make a total show of themselves and their families, run amok on the plane, desperately try to open the doors to get out or have to be restrained. And that is only for starters!

For in their emotional minds the dreadful possibilities of what might happen are so awful that they can't really visualize just how bad it might get! As a result of all this they will find that just before they get on the plane their anxiety levels are at screaming levels and they may be downing alcohol in larger amounts to try and dampen them down.

The second group are more straightforward in their visualization. It is really quite simple – the plane in which ' they' are travelling is definitely going to crash! There is actually no doubt in their emotional minds that their time is up and death is approaching in the form of this metal shell plummeting out of the skies to kill all on board!

Simple cognitive behavioural therapy methods can be extremely effective in challenging both. In the first case we are anxious that we will get incredibly anxious and run amok. Here we teach the person to understand and embrace the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety and challenge the validity of their emotional visualisation! In the second case we teach the person to challenge their whole concept of control lying at the heart of their visualisations.

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