How to overcome a fear of flying with words and thoughts

A fear of flying can be alleviated in a number of different of ways. Homeopathy, prescription drugs, education (e.g. how a plane flies / for what reason flying is the safest form of travel), meditation / relaxation, and simply being more organized (and so more stress free on the day of travel) are all popular approaches.

Many feel that both meditation (guided visualizations / hypnosis) and relaxation exercises are perhaps the most effective ways of calming nervous passengers. Since hypnosis and positive imagery works at the subconscious level - where fear originates - then it is little wonder that these approaches have a proven track record when it comes to reducing flight anxiety. However, many hypnotic or meditative CDs or MP3 downloads 'only' use simple breathing exercises and scenic imagery - e.g. "Imagine you're sitting in a beautiful garden…"  While these approaches can indeed reduce stress levels, the problem many passengers have is that they are very much aware that they're not in a garden, but 39,000 feet in the air! My Sunny Mind's Relaxed Flying Series takes these approaches a step further with the use of indirect suggestion, utilization and realistic visualizations. The downloads makes use of what is happening on the plane to leave the listener feeling relaxed and calm. Furthermore, such is the power of the words used, that the Relaxed Flying Series can actually be listened to with great effect in the weeks leading up to flying. Here's how it works…


Indirect Suggestion

Unlike direct suggestions (e.g. "You will be very relaxed when you fly"), indirect suggestions are more subtle and address the problem in a less obvious way. They work much more on an unconscious level and the listener has to interpret them in a particular way to make conscious meaning of them. The generic structure of an indirect suggestion could be, “I knew someone who experienced flying in a beautifully relaxed way”. The key here is that I am not telling the listener directly what to do; yet I'm inviting him or her in the creation of the solution. Other examples could be: "Some people put the tip of their tongue behind their upper teeth when they fly because this has a wonderful calming effect… and my Aunt Wendy always used to find airplanes very sleepy places… and some people have to force themselves to yawn if they want their ears to pop and others do not even have to try at all…and so I wonder if you will sleep for 2 or 3 hours on this flight today…" The idea is to re-gain the confidence of the listener in a subtle rather then authoritative way. This is done via the subconscious mind.


The Power Of Distraction

This process is then taken even further by utilizing any elements within the environment to deepen the relaxation. We want to 'normalize' the listener's experience of flying to dissolve away any fears. This is done with both the use of distraction and conversational re-framing. For example, on my Inflight Relaxation download I ask the passenger to notice the air-hostesses: "it's just another boring day at work for them." And I suggest the passenger "relax into the soothing hum of the engines… their vibrating tone is in fact particularly calming you know…" At one point I suggest the listener pays attention to how relaxing the touch of their socks are on the airplane floor (which on a personal note I feel is one of the nicest feelings in the world - like bare feet on warm wet sand!). Whilst obviously the fearful flyer would rather be on the ground, the idea is to re-create the flying experience as an altered reality rather then a particularly scary one. "While some people hate turbulence, many others relax into it as nothing more then a gentle fairground ride. Have you ever thought about doing this?". And so on and on.

Finally, guided visualizations are also a great way of distracting the mind. Rather though then tell a passenger something they now they are not doing -  "You are sitting in a lovely garden" - instead, with a little indirect suggestion and future-pacing they can be directed to imagine the beautiful destination they may be traveling to (or wish they were traveling to!) and how next week "...this journey will have been nothing more then a blinking of the eye as the dreamy white clouds drift on by…"

All these techniques can be very powerful in helping a passenger to have a more enjoyable and relaxing flight. I hope you've found these little insights useful. Until the next time… happy flying!

Charles Whobrey
Charles Whobrey


2 Responses

Charles Whobrey (My Sunny Mind)
Charles Whobrey (My Sunny Mind)

August 04, 2015

Thanks Captain Tom for bringing your thoughts to the debate – much appreciated!

Capt. Tom Bunn runs the “SOAR” program which is another method of helping people overcome a fear of flying. I gather he has gained tremendous results – just as we have here at My Sunny Mind with our ‘Relaxed Flying Series’. I elaborate a great deal more on how the subconscious reacts when we fly on other blogs on this site… and of course on our ‘Subconscious Flying’ MP3! Feel free to explore.

Capt Tom Bunn LCSW
Capt Tom Bunn LCSW

July 23, 2015

No matter how great a degree of relaxation a person achieves, when turbulence begins, relaxation ends. The amygdala has a job to do and it does it without regard to relaxation. When it senses dropping, it releases stress hormones. Again, regardless of the level of relaxation, the brain is designed to be forced to become aware of what the amygdala is reacting to.

Guided visualization is fine up to a point, that point being when turbulence begins. There is a way to inhibit the amygdala, however, but producing oxytocin, as described in “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying.”

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