By Published On: March 13, 2024Categories: Fear of Flying

If you are afraid of flying, then you likely have experienced the all-consuming anticipatory anxiety that can arise anytime you’re approaching a flight. Or, you may avoid traveling altogether because the fear of sitting trapped in a plane for hours is so overwhelming. While some people’s worry focuses on the idea of the ultimate catastrophe, many people who fear flying actually can be even more paralyzed by the idea of the fear itself.

aircraft cabin

Many approaches to flying anxiety don’t work well

There are a number of reasons that people come to me to help them overcome their fear of flying. One of these reasons is that I approach flying anxiety in a different way than other therapists do, and differently than the numerous videos or other gimmicks advertised online (which are mostly not produced by mental health professionals). If you have tried some of these approaches, you’ll find that many don’t work well for this complicated phobia. A large number of people tend to come to me after trying those other options, at a point when they feel almost hopeless.

It’s worth noting that many of the gimmicks you’ll see advertised tend to be a one-size-fits-all, where it is implied that everyone’s fear of flying is the same, and just needs the same one approach to conquer it. They may have a video to watch, or exercises to learn, or otherwise. If you come across courses and videos sold by pilots online — and there are quite a few of these out there — remember that pilots are very knowledgeable and skilled at flying planes and knowing aviation, which is their specialty. However, they aren’t experts in deep emotional processes or what is really driving someone’s flying anxiety. While courses or videos that explain flying can be mildly helpful for some people on a rational level, rational-based approaches are generally not greatly helpful for flying phobia, because fear of flying is embedded in deeper emotional processes.


aerial over waterFear of Flying is Emotional

Fear of flying has varying underlying causes for it, and the actual experiences of the anxiety and fear tend to manifest or present differently from one person to the next. Therefore, a flexible approach and the ability to understand you and your experience on a deeper level is necessary in order to help you overcome it. One major difference between how I approach this issue and how it seems most others approach, is that I enter this fear through the emotional process. When people try to do a one-size-fits-all, or teach you a class, they’re coming at it from the front of the brain, so to speak — the more consciously rational process, which is only available to a person when they are emotionally grounded.

However, when not emotionally grounded, or heavily emotionally activated (in anxiety, panic, or similar), the rational may as well not exist. The deeper emotional processes in the back of the brain are what have developed, sustained, and strengthened your fear of flying. This is the space where it lives, and what takes over when the fears show up. These deeper emotional processes from person to person are entirely unique, based on their own lives, histories, experiences, emotional patterns, etc.

People often want fear of flying to be simple. They wish for someone to give them a couple of tips or techniques and hope that somehow they’ll suddenly be flying comfortably. However, finding comfort in an environment that calls for people to have to patiently sit in some of their deepest vulnerabilities and fears is much more complicated than this.

man walking in airport

Anticipatory Anxiety and Fear of the Fear

Many people who fear flying struggle deeply with anticipatory anxiety — the intense dread and anxiety that can show up in the days, weeks, or months leading up to a flight. When it comes to anticipatory anxiety, for some this can be the one of the most uncomfortable places to sit. The fear of the flight and the unknown of how it will go or, more so, how they will actually feel during it. For some, the fear of how terrifying and all-consuming the emotional discomfort will be is what they actually fear the most. The worry that they won’t be able to calm themselves (and no one will be able to calm them), and feel like they are losing control, and even worse, that they have no choice but to just sit with it for hours until the plane lands.

In these moments, knowledge and the rational tends to slip away. The front of the brain loses its ability to have control and the back of the brain takes over almost completely. It can be such a powerful takeover that even learned exercises can be forgotten or impossible to access in the moment. This surge in anxiety can be so uncomfortable, and feel so terrifying that, often, this can become the anticipated fear. The fear of having to experience this out-of-control discomfort and fear at all. Even if someone knows in their mind that the flight itself will be okay, when the body can’t hear or access this, then it feels on every level like they won’t be okay.

It is possible to overcome fear of flying

Overall, flying anxiety is an emotional process. It needs to be treated by getting to understand you and your process personally, and knowing how to respond in needed ways to this. Purchasing a pre-recorded, blanket-approach video or program doesn’t do this. It doesn’t get to know your process, or help you in a way you are needing. Flying anxiety runs deep, and people are often surprised to find that depth of the fear isn’t always as much about flying itself than they realize at first (which is part of the reason that the over-focus on how flying works doesn’t tend to work so well, even if it can create a temporary sense of control).

While there is more to the complexity of the process than can be articulated in one article, it is important to know that you can overcome fear of flying. Whether you’ve had it as long as you can remember, or if it’s a recent development, there is hope. It just has to be the right approach that is attuned to you and what you need.

To learn more about fear of flying and how I can help you, contact me to discuss your situation. 

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