For people who are afraid of flying, the pandemic has possibly provided a bit of a reprieve from travel. Now, with vaccinations steadily making their way into arms, it’s looking promising that travel will be back in the cards soon. Obviously, on one hand, this is a positive step as some form of normalcy is starting to return. However, for many, it also means a return to flying with the discomfort of paralyzing anxiety or, for others, avoiding flying at all.
In my therapy practice in NYC, I have helped people overcome fear of flying with a comprehensive, personalized method I’ve been using for over a decade now. Many of you reading this have likely seen my articles around the internet for fear of flying, as well as articles for other specialties I work with. I have coached people all over the world to help overcome this issue, and one of the reasons my approach has been successful is because it takes your particular situation and personalizes it to you — rather than taking a one-size-fits-all method and forcing you into it, whether or not you fit into it.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to fear of flying (which won’t all be covered here). An airplane can be one of the most vulnerable places for a person to sit. As a passenger in a plane, you’re essentially surrendering all control and having to trust that the people in control know what they’re doing and will guide you safely. While that may sound easy for some, for a lot of people this is incredibly difficult. And this is especially challenging when you may feel as if your life is on the line. It can be terrifying to feel that you’re in danger while at the same time not being able to do anything to escape the perceived danger or to in some way take action to ensure your safety. People who aren’t afraid of flying, or who never have been afraid to fly, can’t possibly understand how scary this feeling is.
So, how do people overcome fear of flying?
It would be nice if the answer was an easy one. But the reality is, fear of flying is a very complex individual experience. It comes into your life for different underlying reasons (and at different times) than someone else who experiences this phobia. And, what needs to be addressed for each person in order to overcome it is different as well.
The therapy-based method I created for working on this phobia contains four overall components: normalization, passenger flying education, emotional regulation, and underlying causes. For each person, it varies which components may need more focus, and these components all support each other and are woven together. However, it’s important to note that this goes in both directions.
Therefore, if one component is significantly lacking in attention, it starts to drag the other components down into the fear. This why much of what’s available out there for fear of flying doesn’t work for most people, as many approaches only addresses one piece of the fear. On the other hand, if you support each component as a whole, together they start to become empowered to leave the fear behind. This is why it’s important that overcoming fear of flying is comprehensive and personalized.
As an example, normalizing the brain to the flying experience is a very important part of overcoming this issue (this is done as part of our sessions and with some homework). However, if you just work on the normalization part without addressing the underlying issues, the process of normalization can actually be blocked by the underlying issues that haven’t been addressed yet. This is one reason that people can fly repeatedly and still not get used to flying as safe — the underlying component is not addressed and therefore drags the normalization with it.
This is also part of the reason that no matter how safe you “know” flying to be that simply knowing this still isn’t enough to make you feel better about flying. Statistics and education are good to know, but they don’t address the deeper underlying emotional causes of fear of flying.
As a bonus, most people end up finding that the way we approach fear of flying here actually helps you work through other general anxieties, issues with relationships, as well as other emotional life issues since we approach our work not just through the plane, but through your emotional process.
Everybody has the potential to overcome their fear of flying. The key is figuring out your fear, as we do the work together.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy for fear of flying.