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!

How to overcome a fear of flying with 'junk' psychology

Yesterday Captain Tom Bunn left a comment on my ‘Easy Turbulence’ video on YouTube referring to My Sunny Mind’s methods as “junk psychology”. Quite naturally I’ve taken issue with this claim because not only have I had a great deal of success both personally and with the many clients I’ve seen over the last 10 years, but of course there’s the millions of people around the world who’ve been positively affected by modern alternative-therapies. And let’s not forget either the virtues of such classic practices as mindfulness meditation which were first introduced into the West during the 18th century yet date back to early Buddhist texts and traditions. 

Now unfortunately, Tom’s YouTube/Google+ account is set up so that no one is able to respond to his comments, so sadly I’ve had to remove his comment from that particular YouTube thread. I love different points of view, open debate and healthy argument - but of course this means people have to be able to respond to each other. And so for those who missed it, here’s Tom’s comment in full. And my reply.

Tom Bunn wrote on 06/25/15: The breathing and relaxation exercises promoted in this video are - according to all the current research - completely useless. Some research finds they are counterproductive. In any case they do not control anxiety, panic, or claustrophobia either on the ground or when flying. Links to the research are at on Psychology Today. To avoid being set up for failure by junk psychology read this blog on Psychology Today.

In response I would firstly like to say that current research has actually shown us that both breathing and relaxation exercises can in fact be most useful for a great number of people in lowering stress levels. The UK Government, Harvard Health Publications and the US Dept. of Health & Human Services all promote the benefits of breathing & relaxation exercises in lowering anxiety. 

In both his excellent articles for Psychology Today, Tom Bunn provides well founded scientific research to prove his point - which in turn supports the point made by eminent academic and NY Times best-selling author Daniel H Pink in his book: “To Sell Is Human”… Pink tells us how it’s now possible for someone to find evidence to prove conclusively whatever they want. In Tom’s case this is evidence to support his SOAR program which has successfully helped over 5,000 nervous flyers since 1982.  

My Sunny Mind’s ‘Easy Turbulence’ (and indeed our whole ‘Relaxed Flying Series’) uses an array of breathing & relaxation exercises AND other powerful tools such as SFBT, Mindfulness, NLP & simple rational thinking. Unlike traditional hypnosis (which for example has one imagine a beach or a lake scene) the ‘Relaxed Flying Series’ visualizations are context-related and actually use what is happening on the aircraft at any given moment to leave the listener in a more confident state of mind. (We’re great fans here at My Sunny Mind of the peaceful moments that mindfulness brings, AND the legendary Milton Erickson’s utilization techniques). What we do know is that everybody’s flying experience is NOT the same - if it were then EVERY passenger would go into fits of panic every time an aircraft travels through turbulence. However, this is quite clearly not the case. It is not turbulence that causes us fear, but our personal thought patterns around turbulence which are converted into anxiety. 

My Sunny Mind’s goal is to put nervous passengers into the same resourceful space as more confident flyers. Breathing & relaxation exercises help in achieving this, and as mentioned above such techniques are only part of a bigger process we use in helping passengers deal with negative thoughts and emotions. We also acknowledge that perhaps our MP3 downloads won’t work for everyone, but 2 years of inflight testing and 10 years of clinical testing has shown us the profound effects that our work has had upon both passengers in the sky and many regular people on the ground.  We at My Sunny Mind are very excited by the positive results and feedback we have gained so far and we whole-heartedly stand by the efficacy of all our products.