Have a Fear of Flying? Try this Easy Exercise

The Fear of Flying is more common than many realize.

When you step aboard a plane do you usually feel your stomach churn or experience profuse sweating?  You might be experiencing stress from your fear of flying. You are not alone- statistics prove that one of three people have some degree of flying fear. What may surprise you is that 35 percent of all airline crews, including flight attendants and pilots, also have either a fear of flying or heights.

People’s fear of flying stems from many different reasons. Some reasons may stem from experiencing bad turbulence on a prior flight, having a family or friend tell a story about a bad flying experience, and from watching the media closely on horrific and missing plane crashes. Who wouldn’t be scared of flying after watching the media?

The fear of flying is also known as aerophobia or aviophobia.

To better understand why you may be experiencing aerophobia symptoms and to be aware of a few things you can do to help overcome your fear, we interviewed Tom Bunn, an airline captain and licensed therapist. Captain Bunn is the President and founder of SOAR, an incorporation created in order to offer programs for those wanted to conquer their fear of flying.

Fear of flying Q&A with Captain Tom Bunn

Will getting on a plane help conquer one’s fear of flying? 

No – do not make the mistake of just getting on a plane to conquer your fear. It may do nothing other than make you more scared of flying than you were.

What is a common misconception that people with aerophobia have?

Many of those who fear flying tend to be unaware of the backup systems that exist on a plane just in case there is a malfunction. For an example, every plane has a backup flap and flight spoilers. Also, it is important to understand that humans are beyond knowledgeable in the science behind flying planes.

What causes one to have typical symptoms of those who have a fear of flying?

The symptoms that one feels, when they have a fear of flying, largely stems from a psychological change in their body. This change is due to their body producing extra stress hormones.

Scientifically speaking, when one’s amygdala, the part of the brain which produces stress hormones, senses a potential problem, it produces stress hormones. When one’s body can not properly regulate these hormones, one acquires a heightened feeling. This feeling can be controlled, to an extent. But, for those who do not have good regulation, that arousal does not weaken. This makes it very difficult for one to accurately assess the situation and to not react. That is, when you feel overwhelmed, even though there is no fearful situation occurring, and you still feel like something awful is occurring and you start reacting by screaming, yelling, hyperventilating, et cetera.

What can one do to conquer their fear of flying?

There are two things that can be done:

  • Option 1: Establish a program that prevents the release of your stress hormones. By releasing oxytocin every few minutes, your stress hormones will be inhibited.
  • Option 2: Establish a program to link a memory of being with a profoundly calming person to arousal, so that attenuation takes place.

Is there something one can do to calming those pre-boarding nerves?

Yes, there is something that you can do to distract your pre-boarding nerves. It is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT gives you some time to burn off some of your pre-departure stress. It is important to note that it is not very effective while in air, although it is quite effective while on the ground. The CBT that you should perform is called the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise.

How to do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise to calm your Fear of Flying

The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise is simple. You will use three senses (seeing, hearing and feeling) to complete a series of statements. The first time you will name five things you see, hear, and feel. The second time, you will name four things you see, hear, and feel. You will repeat this for three things, two things, and then one thing. You will have completed this exercise when you have reached one statement for see, hear, and touch. You can find a video explaining this exercise here.

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  1. Name 5 things you see. “I see a suitcase. I see a book…”
  2. Name 5 things you hear.
  3. Name 5 things you feel.
  4. Name 4 things you see. “I see a suitcase. I see a book…”
  5. Name 4 things you hear.
  6. Name 4 things you feel.
  7. Repeat for 3 things, then 2 things, then 1 thing.

Do you have any tips for calming your fear of flying? Please comment below.

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Business Travel Life

Business Travel Life is an online resource supporting the road warrior lifestyle. We give business travelers the tools they need to maintain their wellness and productivity when traveling. The topics we cover include business travel tips, travel workouts, healthy travel hacks, travel products, general travel tips, and industry trends. Our goal is to make business travel a healthier experience – and to make healthy travel practices more accessible to all road warriors.

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Kelly Brickman

Kelly is a senior currently attending Ohio State University. She is pursuing a major in Marketing and a minor in Communications. Kelly grew up near Cleveland, Ohio. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, playing soccer, and traveling. Her favorite way to travel is by taking cruises.

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