Professional help for Fear of Flying
Many of us find flying an uncomfortable, but necessary part of a holiday or business trip. However, some people have come to dread flying and as a consequence avoid overseas holidays, often to the disappointment of their family, and any jobs that might involve travelling overseas.
Fortunately effective help is at hand for people who fear flying. Over the years I have helped many people overcome their fear and go on to be frequent happy flyers.
For many fears and phobias Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be the most reliable and effective form of therapy. However, if a client is open minded to the approach, I often use Clinical Hypnosis when helping people who are afraid of flying. Not only is this very effective for most people but, where the client’s psychological difficulties are restricted to just a fear of flying, treatment can usually be completed within three sessions.
Whilst people usually report just being afraid of flying I have normally found that their fears actually fall into one of two distinct categories. The first group of people are preoccupied with fears that their plane might literally ‘crash and burn, whilst the second group are more concerned that their fear/panic will build into an uncontrollable crescendo whilst they are on a flight and they will not be able to escape from this fear by getting off the plane. Often people in the second group also struggle with feeling of confinement on bus or train journeys.
Simon* contacted me because he and his family were planning the ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Australia and he had been struggling with a fear of flying for many years. His family were not really aware of how difficult he found flying and he was terrified at the prospect of the forthcoming family trip. Like many people who have this fear he’d managed to avoid all but the most necessary flights, for example, choosing to take the ferry or Eurostar when taking his family on holiday to France & Spain. And when he had to take the relatively short flight to Sweden where his employer is headquartered for business he was taking prescription valium to calm his nerves.
How a Fear of Flying began
Simon’s difficulties started with what he described as a “bad trip home from a stag do”. On this trip he became panicky, covered in sweat and started to struggle to catch his breath. After landing his symptoms quickly disappeared and since then he has been fearful of flying, scared that he might experience the same symptoms again. This type of situation is not uncommon in people who develop a fear of flying.
During the first session we discussed this experience and the sequence of events leading up to it in some detail. It emerged that Simon and his friends had spent a boozy weekend in Prague and by the time he boarded the aircraft on a Monday morning he had been without much sleep in the previous 48 hours. We noted that the initial symptoms he experienced, i.e. feeling sweaty and anxious, are similar to those that he has experienced at other times on a Monday after he has been partying hard over the weekend. At such times, which Simon assured me rarely occur now that he is in his thirties, he has attributed his symptoms to the ‘day after’ effect and noted that they had quickly cleared up. We also noted that whilst these symptoms were quite unpleasant he had never been unduly concerned by them. We began to wonder whether something similar might have happened on his ‘bad trip home’.
Hypnotherapy for a fear of flying
In addition to exploring the events surrounding the onset of his difficulties we undertook a brief hypnosis session during the first appointment. Whilst in hypnosis we worked to reduce the distress associated with memories of the trip on which Simon first became anxious.
I also taught him some helpful relaxation techniques, to use at times that he felt that he was becoming stressed. For homework I asked Simon to practice the relaxation techniques, so that they would become ‘second nature’ at times when he needed them.
During our second session we reviewed his experience of the relaxation techniques. We also used visualisation techniques to identify positive experiences in his life. During Hypnosis we worked to attach all the positive aspects of these experiences to the feared situation of flying. By the end of the session Simon was able to fully imagine himself sat on a flight, feeling confident and relaxed. Previously such thoughts would bring him out in a cold sweat.
Understandably he was concerned whether this imagined experience would translate to real life but was feeling sufficiently confident to test this out. He explained that he had to travel to Stockholm the following week and intended to see how he would get on during the flight without valium or alcohol.
No longer afraid of flying
On our third and final session Simon reported that after a little apprehension he had settled into his flight to Stockholm without any difficult symptoms and was able to put the return journey to the back of his mind and as a consequence sleep well the night before he returned home. Simon was very pleased with his progress and was already planning further trips for his family after they returned from Australia. We had a further hypnosis session where we reinforced the work that had already been undertaken. We also spent some time discussing practical measures to ensure that Simon and his family could plan to minimize the physical stresses associated with their long flights to Australia, e.g. ensuring that they are adequately hydrated before and during the flight, as we had observed that it may have been physical stressors that underpinned his first anxiety attack.
If you would like Help
Do you dread flying and avoid holidays or jobs that might involve travelling overseas like Simon? You can get professional help to overcome Fear of Flying with Hypnosis and or CBT in a safe professional environment at Windsor Psychology.
*Simon’s story is not based upon a single client but is a compilation of details from several clients. Any identifying information has been changed to protect anonymity. But, the issues described and the course of therapy described is reasonably typical.