Fear of Flying

Les Posen is a Clinical Psychologist with twenty years experience helping people deal with excessive fears and anxieties, especially fear of flying. He has the following tips to help us through our fears;

Les Posen

Many parents who come to me for assistance often speak of not wanting to "pass on" their anxieties to their children, a perfectly understandable desire. Often, these patients have had good flying practices in the past, but after the birth of their children, new responsibilities and new fears pre-occupy their attention, and they fear putting their children in harm's way by flying.

My usual advice, given on the phone, before our first face to face session, is to suggest that if they are truly worried about their child's safety, they ought to keep their children up in the air at 35000 feet as long as possible rather than in their cars, kitchens or bathrooms which are statistically more dangerous than flying. That of course is an appeal to the most recently developed part of our brains, the pre-frontal cortex where rational and planned thinking takes place. But evolution has also rendered us with another part in the middle of our brains, called the limbic system, which is the seat of our emotions, most predominantly, fear.

It acts in a "quick and dirty" fashion on minimal information in order to cause us to rapidly take flight from danger, or to "freeze" while we work out what to do next. Freezing also helps us try and be inconspicuous to a predator who is excited by movement. Unfortunately, this quick and dirty system often gets things wrong, as well as disabling the "thinking" part of our brains where all those wonderful statistics about flying safety reside.

In order to allow that part to kick in, and minimise the older part from running the show;

There are at least four things parents need to do to help themselves, and also to teach their children in an age-appropriate manner.

1. Goal setting: break down the task into small chunks and focus on getting though each of them one at a time before moving to the next one. Anxiety thrives on thinking about the future in catastrophic ways. It needs to be starved of oxygen by focussing on here and now actions.

2. Rehearsal: See and hear yourself doing what you wish to do in your mind's eye first where you can rehearse you actions to achieving here and now goals. Where possible try and simulate the actions in other places like elevators, even visit the airport a few times and practising standing at checkin and at the gate seeing yourself successfully boarding.

3. Self-talk: The old brain thrives on negative talk. It is biased that way for self-preservation. But if you focus exclusively on only thinking the worst will happen, you will stay hyped up and hypervigilant and see threats in even safe flying events, like engines changing power settings, or seat belt signs going on. A concerned look on the cabin crew faces might be interpreted as "we're in deep trouble" rather than "we've run out of coffee and the passenger in 2B is getting really stroppy".

4. Emotional regulation via arousal modulation: When we are hyped up, our breathing changes. We tend to breathe from our chests, rather than bellies and disturb the rhythm associated with calmness. We need to focus on belly breathing, with slightly longer exhales than inhales. Deep is not required, it's rhythm and location that count. Try a count of 3 in, pause for 2, then out for 4 or 5, then pause for 2. This tricks the brain into thinking all is safe. Also carry with you some lemon scented Wet Ones to dab your cheeks to also remind your brain that it's safe to fly, so you don't overheat.

And take with you your favourite music and bop in your seat in turbulence if this is a problem for you. DON'T grip the armrests like a backseat pilot, but hands in lap palms up, and bounce and boogy to your own rhythm.

Reminder: Turbulence might be uncomfortable but it's not unsafe. It represents Mother Nature moving moisture from one place on the Earth to another.

Les Posen, FAPS Les Posen can be contacted on 0413 040 747 his practice is located at 311 Balaclava Road Caulfield North VIC.

For more info visit Les online at www.flightwise.com.au

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