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If You Have Fear of Flying, Read This!

If You Have Fear of Flying, Read This!

We’ve all heard it said. Statistically, “they” say, flying is the safest form of travel. Sure. OK. But when you’re flying up into the air in a huge piece of heavy metal, it certainly doesn’t seem likely. I actually love to fly. I get excited by the idea of going anywhere on an airplane. But that doesn’t mean my imagination doesn’t go wild during takeoff.

According to Lucas van Gerwen, an aviation psychologist and director of the VALK Foundation, which studies how to treat flying fears, more than 26 million Americans suffer from a fear of flying.

For many people, a fear of flying stems from the fact that they don’t really understand just how airplanes work. For others, a lack of being in control of their vehicle can be the cause of the fear. In other cases, experiencing a bad flight—bumpy or one with some sort of mechanical failure—can contribute to the fear. While in other cases, simply hearing about a plane crash can cause the fear to surface.

Whatever is causing your fear, you can certainly overcome it. Try these tips and learn how to fly comfortably next time.

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1. You should learn how a plane works.

Go to the library and find a book on flight. There are many (I should know—I have son who is obsessed with flying). Or go online and read about aerodynamics. While some of the information might make you turn glassy-eyed and make you feel like you’re in high school physics again, some of the information will be very useful. For example, according to National Geographic Online: “Essentially, to keep in the air, a plane relies on two forces—the thrust of the engine and the uplift of the wings. Just like a bird’s wings, when a plane’s wings move through the air, air flowing over the curved top surface of the wing moves faster than the air flowing on the bottom surface, decreasing the pressure on top, thereby creating uplift and keeping a plane in the air. The engine of a plane works to create high pressure and forward momentum to propel the plane forward: modern jet engines mean that planes can fly higher, faster and more efficiently than at any time before.”

2. You should produce oxytocin.

“I should do what?” you ask. Yes. You can, according to SOAR founder Tom Bunn, encourage your body to produce oxytocin which, in turn suppresses your amygdala. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that stores memories of fear and responses to it.

“The trick to this whole approach of fighting flight anxieties,” he says, “is finding ways to shut down the amygdala …The best way,” he says, “is to encourage your body to produce the hormone oxytocin, which banishes fearful thoughts. Women produce this chemical particularly well by thinking of nursing a child, men by contemplating sex. Not that I should act on such thoughts aboard a plane,” he adds.

“This isn’t about you telling someone, ‘I’m having a panic attack. Let’s sneak into the bathroom together,’ ” Bunn says with a laugh. “Instead,” he says, “imagine your dog looking at you. Your dog looking at you like you’re the only person in the world also produces oxytocin in you,” he says. “And, unlike with people, you can always depend on your dog to look at you like this.”

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3. You should find the app for that.

An app? Of course there’s an app—isn’t there always? The VALK foundation developed an app that can walk you through your flight. It works in airplane mode, of course, and there is even a panic button during the flight to help calm you down. There is a mini-aviation course, recommended exercises and relaxtion techniques as well as other helpful information.

You can download the app here.

4. You should check the weather.

Go online and find out what the weather will be like between your take off and landing points. Knowing that there might be a thunderstorm over the Midwest or wherever will prepare you for any turbulence you might encounter along the way.

According to National Geographic: “Turbulence—that bouncy, dipping sensation experienced often when we fly—can be the biggest cause of panic among nervous fliers when they are in the air, but turbulence is nothing really to worry about. Turbulence is caused when a plane flies into different types of air pressure or air currents, notably thunderstorms, by air flow over mountains or weather frontal boundariess. These waves are spontaneously generated and associated with jet streams at high altitudes, near the cruising levels for airplanes. When a plane flies through turbulence, the sensation is like being in a small boat on a stormy sea. Although the shakiness can cause panic, induce travel sickness and cause minor injuries, it’s important to know that the plane itself is in no real danger.”

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5. You should eat.

Really? You’re thinking. I don’t think I should I eat. No, really. You should. According to an article in National Geographic, “A report conducted by the Alpha Airports Group (AAG) found that around three-quarters of the 1,122 members of the general public surveyed admitted to being scared of flying—with eight per cent stating that they refused to get on a plane at all.

The study also claims that in-flight meals can help passengers overcome their fears, by breaking up the monotony of flying and providing passengers with an activity.

Enjoying an in-flight meal can help distract you from fears of flying. But what you eat on the flight can be equally as important too as the nutritional content of food can naturally help you to relax. Dishes containing carbohydrates and fats in the form of pasta, biscuits or cheese create lipids in the bloodstream, which help you to relax.”

So eat up! It might help after all!

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6. You should go slow.

If your fear of flying starts when you go to the airport, then go to the airport before you ever take a flight. Call ahead and ask if you can have a tour (this is easier if you have kids—or friends with kids). Visit the terminal. Hang out for a bit. Get comfortable in the airport. If you were trying to overcome a fear of horses, you wouldn’t go jump on a horse and gallop away, right? No. You’d go meet a horse and maybe stand next to him for a while. Or pet him. You’d build up your exposure. So, go to an airshow or an aviation museum. Get comfortable with the idea of planes. Then, take a flight. Maybe take a discovery flight in a small plane. Small planes are actually great exposure to flying because you are practically in the cockpit and you can see everything that’s going on. You can talk to the pilot. Then start flying. And try to fly often so you don’t lose the progress you’ve made. Use different breathing and meditation techniques to keep yourself on the airplane and get comfortable being there. Then, do it again.

Have you overcome a fear of flying? How did you do it? Let us know!

Featured photo credit: ABC via fogsmoviereviews.files.wordpress.com

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Michelle Kennedy Hogan

Michelle is an explorer, editor, author of 15 books, and mom of eight.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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