I have never liked flying much, but after an especially bumpy journey last year my usual discomfort developed into a full blown phobia. Although my rational mind knew I was completely safe, the anxiety I felt as I sat on the aircraft was a feeling I never wanted to experience again. As such, even the shortest flight became a deeply unpleasant experience for me as I anticipated that terror hitting me, a feeling I am certain many others who feel uncomfortable flying are very familiar with. As such, ahead of a 12-hour flight, I booked myself to have a two-hour session with celebrated fear coach Christopher Paul Jones, the Breakthrough Expert, in the hope that he could help me out. This is what I learned, and how it can also help you learn to control your fear on flights ahead of the holidays….
"If you disrupt the memory from the past, it can change how you feel"
Have a think - have you always been nervous of flying, or did it slowly grow on you as you got older? Was there one event in particular that triggered your fear? Is it linked to claustrophobia, or are you worried about something specific you once read in the news or saw in a film that you can't quite get out of your head? Either way, finding exactly what triggered your fear and resolving it is a big part of getting past it. Instead of ignoring the problem, or pretending it doesn't bother you, you can then accept that you feel the fear, but move past it.
What is it about flying that you don't like?
Chris said: "Flying can be a fear of heights. It can be a fear of turbulence. It can be a fear of being confined… It can be a fear of loss of control… so there's lots of things that make up to it, so there's lots of issues that make it up… a good question is, 'What else am I afraid of?' and is there a core thought or fear in all of them." Chris used a combination of methods, including a form of meditation, to get down to the subconscious and work out the root of the problem. Speaking about the technique, he said: "The point is when you can connect with that part of you that stores your memories and not logic, you can become in control of that emotional part. People try to analyse themselves into resolving their fears, but that doesn't work on emotion."
Look at the situations that scared you with your emotions removed
One method that Chris showed me was to look at moments that scared you, but with the fear removed. When you're remembering a particularly worrisome incident, it's easy to feel the same emotions you did then just at the memory – fear and anxiety to name a couple. In our session, Chris told me to imagine myself watching certain incidents that frightened me from a bird's eye perspective. From imagining it in this way, you can re-examine frightening incidents in your past (like my difficult flight), but without the stress. For me, this meant I could see that my flight was perfectly safe, the turbulence was totally normal, and that nothing bad was going to happen to me. It was comforting to say the least.
Find the root of your fear
As Chris said: "The first advice is – this whole British idea of you fight you fear, you grin and bear it, is not actually helpful because while there is a point where you face your fears, you can make it a lot worse… It's more, 'How do I do fear, what do I do with my thoughts, my feelings, what are my thoughts about it?' Once you isolate, it's about finding that and taking away the emotional charge, then going to the next step."
As nice as it would be to talk about some scary childhood anecdotes then be cured of every fear, it isn't always as simple as that! A big problem with people who are afraid of flying is that they are focused on every little noise and bump instead of letting themselves sit back and relax. Fortunately, Chris showed me some ways to refocus and distract yourself, without even really knowing you're doing it. One thing to try is tapping your thumb against each finger, then trying to tap fingers on each hand the opposite way from one another.
Even trying this technique has you distracted, and I found it invaluable when I finally took my 12-hour flight. Another thing to try is to turn fear into amusement. Chris taught me that you could do that by thinking of memories that bring you joy and squeezing your fist, then later squeezing your fist while on the flight. Since you've trained your mind to feel joy as you squeeze your fist, it will instantly bring those emotions – and it's tricky to feel fear and joy at the same time!
Just four days after my session with Christopher, I boarded a 12-hour flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The flight would include two hours gliding over the Atlantic Ocean, before flying over Canada and the whole east coast of the US before eventually landing at my destination for my week-long trip. In the days leading up to the flight, I will admit I let my head get the better of me. What if it didn't work? What if I totally fell to pieces on the flight? The next morning at the airport though, I felt an unusual sense of calm going through customs, took my seat quite happily and chatted away with my friends as the flight took off (which I didn't give a second thought about).
View of the Mississippi river on the way to Mexico
During the journey, I watched films without pausing them (something I usually do so I can listen intently to anything going wrong), didn't freeze while turbulence bumped us as I usually did, and didn't have to try not to think about what could go wrong as I usually did, because I simply wasn't thinking about it at all. In fact, I met the whole journey with a state of calm that I wouldn't have been able to manage on a one-hour flight three months ago. There was one bit of a bumpy ride when a slight dash of panic washed over me – but it was tame, so tame compared to what I used to be like that I couldn't recommend reaching out for help with your fears more!
I also picked up a copy of Allen Carr's No More Fear of Flying, which basically lists every irrational thought you've ever had about a plane and telling you why it's silly. Although I knew these irrational fears were silly anyway, it was so comforting having something there confirming that most of the things that freak me out about flying almost absolutely could never happen!