For some of us, however, a looming vacation or even a business trip is not a happy prospect. It means an airplane flight, and some people inwardly quake at the very thought of getting on an airplane. They may fear losing control and panicking during the flight, or suffocating, or dying when the plane unexpectedly takes a nose dive.
A fear of one specific place or thing such as heights, spiders, or plane flights, is called a phobia, a word that comes from the Greek word phobos, or fear. A phobia, which is classified as an anxiety disorder, arises when a person has a bad experience involving the feared thing or place. With the fear of flying, perhaps the person was on an airplane flight where there was an equipment failure and the plane had to turn back. This scared all the passengers. Perhaps the person lost a loved one in an airplane accident. Or perhaps they were on a plane when another passenger had a heart attack. This one scary experience becomes generalized in their mind and feelings, with the result that for them any plane trip is associated with fear.
For me, as a therapist, upcoming vacations bring clients who want help overcoming their fear of flying. Of all the strategies in my therapy toolbox, I have found one particular strategy most helpful to combat the fear of flying. This strategy is paradoxical, because I prescribe to the client the very symptom for which she is seeking help. I ask the client to devote fifteen minutes a day to conquering her fear. She has to be alone, in a comfortable place such as her bedroom. She then sets her cell phone or other timer for fifteen minutes. Then she conjures up the most fearful airplane journey she can imagine and starts having the worst fears possible. After fifteen minutes, she can stop having the fear and go about her usual activities.