I keep telling myself that six weeks today we'll have already landed and will probably be at the villa by now, but thinking about the flight is starting to play on my mind when I'm not busy and I'm concerned that starting to get preoccupied at this stage isn't good. I think the problem is that I haven't flown for three years and so some of the coping strategies I'd put into place have gone by the wayside. The Air France issue raising its head has shaken me up a bit. I keep thinking about them knowing for 3 minutes that the plane was going down and find myself again and again returning to what it would be like to be in that position. I'm scared of being that scared: far more scared of this than the actual experience of flying which I - rather bizarrely - enjoy and would probably love if I could just get these fatalistic ideas out of my head. I tell myself that I watched my Dad waste away with cancer for 9 months and that was a far worse way to go, but I can't stay that rational and can feel my anxiety level raise now so I'm worried what I'll feel like the morning before. My cousin's a fearful flyer and he once refused to get on a plane and I'm worried that I'll get so worked up that I'll do the same and because there are 7 of us going I'll spoil it all for everyone. Up to my last flight I felt I'd made so much progress but I'm really worried I'll be back at square one. I can't really talk to anyone here as my husband - who is not a nervous flyer - says I just make him anxious when I start and the last thing I need is two of us worked up. I guess I could just do with some idea of where to start again to start building my confidence and to be reminded other people are out there who also feel like me and are getting there and back safely. I try and tell myself that the experience of flying will be the same for everyone on that plane with me and that the only difference is that I'll make it 9.5 hours of torture and they won't, so why can't  my subconcious accept that?

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Hi Julie,

You are not alone in having these types of thoughts before a flight. You have six weeks to do something and I'd suggest you glean everything you can from this site on relaxation techniques - breathing techniques and muscle relaxation exercises etc. etc. Also read up or check the Web for information on anxiety conditions and relaxation techniques. There's lots of stuff available.

To answer you question about acceptance at the subconscious level is (according to my research) our very complex subconscious does a number of things - it evokes the "fight/flight" syndrome which was a real necessity way back when we lived in caves and needed a fast reaction capability to avoid all sorts of predatory large animals and suchlike. The basic idea behind it is that we used the fight/flight aspect and when the threat was over so was the need for any feelings of panic. And the ideas got stored for use the next time. All very well with that then. But.....

The problem (for us fearful flyers) is our evolutionary progress has given us this enormous capability to think rationally and imagine solutions for all sorts of complex problems. But it also brings with it the capability to "think ourselves into" a fight/flight response both physiologically and psychologically - and all of this before any actual threat is present. Hence the linkage between the conscious and the subconscious.  The late Dr. Clair Weekes (who was a pioneer in developing the medical understanding of anxiety and panic attack syndromes) put it this way: we get a first "flash of fear" from a perceived threat and then we add the second part - i.e. the "second flash" - which consists of the "what if..." thoughts. In essence, Dr. Weekes prescription is to accept the "first flash" of fear but try not to keep adding the second ones. Easier said than done and Dr. Weekes knew and accepted that too. But the physiology of it all is that the nervous system will recover perfectly well in time if we can allow it to. Thus the emphasis on breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. The trick is not to battle with it by trying to push the thoughts aside because they'll sneak in by another door. Rather the thing to do is try to accept them but not allow them to dominate by adding the second round of "what if...". Be assured, those feelings will pass, they're uncomfortable but not dangerous. If all comes to all, when the feelings and thoughts seem to be racing around at light speed - then just consciously allow every muscle in your body to literally slump. After a short while you'll feel the physical benefit and that'll help the psychology too. The tensing of muscles is something we fearful flyers do almost automatically and it adds to the general sense of stress and strain. So be aware of that and anytime between now and your flight try this "slump" exercise - its pretty effective. None of us can know how we'll cope with a situation if it doesn't arise but uniquely in the animal world we have the ability to think our way into all sorts of anxiety conditions in the absence of any actual difficulty arising. So, we're kind of stuck with our physical and mental makeup as it were. But we have the capability of changing those things albeit with a good deal of practice. We can, with practice, alter the relationship between our conscious and sub-conscious to such a degree that the panic and anxiety that we once felt can be relegated to the "completely unimportant bin". The key word is "practice" - there's no magic bullet cure for this (unfortunately).

Another important thing is: have a plan for things to do en-route. Books, crosswords, DVD/Film, music on MP3 or IPOD etc. You can even download relaxation stuff onto the MP3/IPOD and listen to that for a while too. Go for a slow calm walk in the aisle/s. Observe the cabin crew dispensing meals and drinks etc. etc. and attending to passenger needs (I always find this a bit of distraction as well as being very reassuring as they go about their duties in a calm and happy manner and think of it as like observing the goings on in a restaurant). Don't hesitate to let the cabion crew know that you are feeling anxious about the flight. They'll check with you from time to time and that in itself is very reassuring. If you can get chatting with someone who is sympathetic to your plight then do so and talk about whatever feels comfortable - it can be about your fear or anything else. In my experience this works very well with a perfect stranger (probably moreso than with a loved one) and it can be a revelation as to how other folks have coped with and/or overcome the same kinds of fears. Amazing how time goes by when we engage in a bit of banter with another person. If you don't stick to the plan precisely then don't get hung up about it - do the best you can with it but at least have it - thats the important thing. 

One final thought (and I'm a bit reluctant to mention this but please understand I mean no offence in any way) but you spoke about you Dad's passing and its not clear how recently that happened. Again, based on my own personal experience, such an event can be very significant and stressful in one's life. I just mention it as a matter which may be adding to how your feeling overall. Again, my sincere apologies if I've overstepped the mark on that point but I had a similar experience many years ago and being an anxious type it certainly affected me as I had to take quite a long (9hr) flight home after my own Dad died suddenly and I've never forgotten the experience.

Anyhow, I do hope this is of some help and encouragement and I wish you the very best on your trip. Frank Edwards.

Thanks so much for your reply: it really helps to know that there are people out there to share the fear with. I've accepted the irrationality and that this is really a problem in my head and not with flying per se, but there's a superstitious throwback somewhere in my head that keeps telling me that - if I let go of my fear - I'll somehow be punished by this being the time that something terrible happens. Crazy, isn't it? I do think the loss of my Dad and - since them - my Mum has affected me to a degree. I have no brothers or sisters and only an elderly aunt and cousins I don't tend to see so - apart from my husband's family - I feel quite detached. Though we have no children, we have four dogs whom I adore (substitute children, I suppose) so I worry about what would happen to them, especially as many of our immediate family are on the flight. My husband doesn't want to make arrangements for them if something should happen, as he thinks it's morbid, but I think feeling insecure about there welfare makes the fear worse.

 

Oh my goodness Julie  what pressures you put on yourself. However non PC this sounds the reality of life is that we are not responsible for each others happiness and if people make you feel bad about your behaviour then they should take a quick glance at their own.

However, do they say that you will spoil their holiday or are you thinking that you would because you feel a bit guilty?  Like I said years ago...your fear is not a weakness..it's the way you are, some people don't like spiders or EastEnders...we have that right...and whether it's choice or inflicted upon us other people need to get used to that fact.

 

But another fact is that you can do something about your fear, because you have done it before, it's a question of ditching the 'nonsense' and replacing it with facts...like you did before. Wondering what the nature of dying is has been an attribute of human life since we became concious beings. Some guy 400 years ago pondered death, and said of it  " To be or not to be." We're not going to solve that problem here ...but there's plenty of evidence to show that when facing death many people are calm and accept it.

Your subconcious won't accept it because your concious mind is feeding it. It's all to easy to blame the unconcious and lots of therapy digs away at that idea... time to face the fear again.

You can ring me on 01420 588 628, next week is better than this.

 

I think we have a long chat ahead of us...but a worthwhile one...because we'll get you flying  that's a promise.

 

Captain Keith....and of course this comes with the usual apology of... sounds like I'm hard and uncaring ...maybe hard but never uncaring

Hi Julie,

Good to see your reply. I know exactly what you mean when you speak of the "superstitious throwback......." if you managed to let go of your fear. That is something that frequently seems to go with the territory in anxiety conditions. My own view is that we become so used to having an "anxiety response" to certain situations that, over time, it becomes our "normal" way of dealing with those situations. Oddly enough, there's a sort of comfort zone in our anxiety states as these are what we become familiar with. As strange as it may sound, we eventually become afraid of being relaxed when faced with situations that previously caused our anxiety. It seems to follow then, that any other response - such as feeling cool, calm and happy would be somehow the "wrong" thing. This can seem very strange to a person who doesn't suffer with anxiety but it is very real to those of us who do. What I offer by way of advice is to view it as being a by-product of anxious thinking over time - and that its amazing how our minds can play such tricks on us. But that is exactly what it is - a trick of the mind. With practice (as mentioned in my previous contribution) these thoughts will disappear. Hope this is of some help. Frank Edwards.

 

Hi Here's how the superstitions get a grip...and thoughts can be superstitions.

 

You think something like ' if I don't worry...I'll be safe'. 'I've always been safe therefore worrying works' FACT IS YOU'D BE SAFE ANYWAY.

 

It's like walking under a ladder no-one does it  ...just in case, but I always walk  under ladders and nothing's ever happened to me. Maybe walking under them is keeping me safe...should I start avoiding them now? Wow I don't know what to do now!!!!!

In Hampshire there's a guy who throws white powder on the pavements to keep elephants away...I mentioned at there are no elephants in Hampshire....great powder  he replied.

So easy to say...but so much harder to believe I know. That's why we're here maintaining the pressure /help/support/

Captain Keith


I think it is very true that in this anxiety, one of the last and hardest steps is believing that it is ok not to worry.  This is something I am working very hard on at the moment and hopefully getting somewhere.  I spent years being afraid, and via learning techniques, that being afraid became associated with being safe on a plane.  I.e. I was afraid but we got there eventually, so maybe if I am always afraid it will usually be ok. 

 

of course, as Keith rightly points out, I would have been safe whether I was afraid or not. Those are the facts.  It is all just about changing the way we have programmed/taught ourselves to think.  Zsuzsanna and myself were talking on another post about this same thing - being afraid, and not being afriad.  We are both kind of at the stage where we both now realise that no matter what, we are going to fly.  Once you have made that decision you then have to make, for now, the conscious decision that I can either sit here and be afraid or I can sit here and try and enjoy it and trust the facts.  The first few flights it is tough, but eventually I believe we start getting to the point where that decision becomes less and less conscious, and more automatic.  Replacing the current automatic thought of being scared.

 

So the things I try to use to attack this fear of worrying/superstition, is that a) I have learnt the facts about safety in aviation and know that it is the safest form of travel; b) nothing, and I really mean nothing, is truly 100% - yet I dont spend my life avoiding things because of this; c) I am going to fly, and d) my anxiety on that plane has no bearing at all whatsoever on the outcome of that flight, so i can either sit there and worry, or sit there and go with it.  And for me the key to all this is control my breathing when I forget parts of this.

 

I am sure with the information and the support of others on this forum, like Frank and Keith, you will get to Orlando no problem at all.  Whether you love your next flight or hate it or have slightly less anxiety than the last time, the main thing is that you, yourself, are attacking it head on.  Being scared of being scared, or being scared of not being scared are flipsides of the same coin.  I dont think that coin is much use though, and as Keith is always saying, if we change our wording then we start to change our feelings about flights.  So in the same practice as not being dramatic in our wording, what if you started saying that you were scared of being happy on your next flight; or scared of not being happy. I think when I started to contemplate it on that level, that was when the whole scared of being scared, not being scared, started to crumble a little.

 

hope some of this helps

phil

 

Hi Julie, Capt. Keith and Phil,

Thanks to Capt. Keith for that wonderful story on the guy who throws white powder on the pavements. From now on I'm adopting it as my mantra for anxiety/panic feelings and thoughts. Folks on the site who read these contributions will understand what it means. But I can just visualise the funny side of it - a person walking through, for example, Heathrow, towards the departure gate and boarding the plane, while occasionally muttering under his/her breath  "There are no elephants in Hampshire".

Imagine the looks you'd get from other passengers and staff!!!  But its the thought that counts and thanks Capt. Keith for that one - amazing how a short one-liner can pack so much punch - I'll remember that one for the rest of my life. Best wishes to everyone. Frank Edwards.

(P.S. To Capt. Keith, I think this would be a great title for your next book, DVD etc. on fear of flying and dealing with panic and anxious thoughts!! )

Thanks so much to everyone for the replies. I'm feeling a bit more rational at the moment. We seem to be on the flight path I assume to and from Manchester and - when I've been taking the dogs out - I've been watching the planes fly over. The more I see, the better I feel. I've not been able to get onto post for a week - I feel strangely awkward posting about this when my husband's in as I know it gets to him, particularly because he hates to see me get upset and distressed, so I wait for a time when I'm on my own so I can be really open (weird, I know!) It strikes me as really strange that I feel this fear should be a secret thing, almost underground. Even the way it manifests itself is quite reserved. Unless I told you I was scared, you probably wouldn't guess unless you knew me as I rarely (though sometimes) get really obviously distressed though you want to see me if we hit turbulence! People must think I'm crackers, because I sit there with my little glass of water to get a measure of how bumpy it actually is talking to myself and to the water in the glass. It's worse for me waiting to get on, though. That last hour before boarding is hellish. I tend to check everything a million times, keep going to the toilet, get physically restless and have to walk round. My husband calls this a danger time because he says I spend far too much time in the duty free shops! I remember doing laps round Sanford airport last time as I almost have to purge this physical anxiety. My head can be seemingly calm but it feels like every atom in my body is vibrating. I don't know if anyone else feels like this. It's weird, because it's definitely not just an emotional response.  My husband always echoes the point Phil makes - he has total faith that I'll always go through with the flight however I feel because I won't give in to the fear. I'm even toying with trying to manage without the valium this time now, which shows you how much I've picked up over the last week or so.

Captain Keith - I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to ring and chat with you about the fear. Just entering into a dialogue on the forum helps enormously and knowing I've got that lifeline is a huge help. Would it still be OK to ring if I get into another panic?

Many thanks again.

Of course...I've been sitting by the phone waiting for a call.

 

Keith

So I'm now just a handful of days away and I've managed to keep myself pretty calm and fairly rationale and I'm pretty proud that I haven't had that panic moment yet. Been incrediby busy at work doing a school show, so I haven't had the time to think. Even had a dream where the flight was delayed and I was actualy upset! I've managed not to run to the doctor for valium and am still hoping to try and do the flight without the help of medication. This makes me a bit nervous as I'm scared of reacting quite dramatically at the airport if I'm not medicated, but I'm concerned that if I don't try I'll be reliant on the valium in the future. At the moment I'm having a few fluttery moments anticipating the flight, but I'm trying to deal with these. Just confronting the fear now I can feel that adrenaline in the centre of my chest. I feel a bit blank about it all at the moment, like I'm trying to bring the thoughts to the fore to deal with them but my brain won't let me. I'm trying to work out why I'm so scared and I don't have a real answer. The moment I'm anticipating is that end of the runway feeling - that sort of point of no return - but it feels a bit unreal at the moment. I feel like I want to talk about the fear but don't know what to ask or say which is strange for me because I teach English and am rarely lost for words! I don't have pressing questions or concerns I haven't already found the answers to - just this generic fear. Weirdly, when I think of being afraid, it's all about the time in the airport and going through the initial climb, but not the bulk of the flight when we're cruising.  Over the next few days, I'm hoping to get time to post regularly. Don't have questions - just nice to know you're out there and understand.

This is a great discussion - lots of helpful comments here that really resonate with me. I'm in the same position as Julie and others - there's no question mark over me flying, it's just a question of how anxious I will be about it...

 

Anyway, I don't think I have anything useful to add at the moment - just here cheering you on Julie :-)

I'm here to cheering you too.

Keith

01420 588 628

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