With the holiday season upon us, articles are showing up on the web with tips for fearful fliers, Though intended to be helpful, inadequate advise sets people up for failure.

Properly used, Mindfulness, Yoga, or Breathing Exercises put us more in touch with inner and outer reality. They do the opposite if misused. When misused as a distraction, they become a way to avoid awareness of both our inner and of the outer world. Attempting to be unaware of the flight is a set-up for trouble. When turbulence begins, distraction ends. No matter how relaxed or distracted a passenger may be, when the plane drops, the amygdala releases stress hormones. If unprepared to experience the feelings caused by these stress hormones, fear, panic, or even terror may result.

Intellectual Preparation

When stress hormones cause alarm, the anxious flier needs to reject the idea that these feelings mean danger. When turbulence begins, remember: 

  • turbulence is never a threat to the safety of the plane
  • when plane is shaking, regardless of what you might imagine, shaking means nothing 
  • passengers who wear a seatbelt are never injured by turbulence
  • the plane is held securely by air that, because of the plane's speed, is like Jell-O. See http://www.fearofflying.com/free-video/jello-exercise.shtml

Psychological Preparation

Before the flight, set up an automatic calming response to stress hormone release. 

  • As you go through your day, look for the first sign that stress hormones have been released. Look for a change in heart rate, body tension, or feeling alerted.
  • Immediately bring to mind a friend you feel completely at ease with. Remember their face, voice and body language. Pretend you hear them say something reassuring to you. Pretend they give you a calming touch. By practicing this, your friend's psychological presence will reflexively calm you when arousal occurs.

You can partly desensitize the amygdala to dropping. Go with a friend to some stairs. Step up on the first step together. Turn around and face the floor. On the first step, the floor is seven inches below you. 

Put your arm around your friend's waist. Have them put theirs around your waist. On a count of three, jump together to the floor. You and your friend will be in mid-air for about a tenth of a second. During that time, you are in free-fall, a zero-G condition the amygdala ordinarily reacts to as falling. But, mutually embraced, the amygdala will "rethink" its reaction. Do this a few times the day of, or the day before, your flight so it is fresh. Repeat before your return flight.

Scientific Preparation

Download the free app at http://www.fearofflying.com which has a g-force sensor that will monitor the turbulence and prove it is not in any way a threat to you or to the plane.

If more help is needed, which often is the case if traumatized by a past flight, email me at tom@fearofflying.com

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