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Conquering Fear of Flying

Uncategorized Sep 30, 2017

We are flying to Hawaii!!  WHAT??!!  WAIT A MINUTE!!  Stop the truck... flying to Hawaii. Wait for it, wait for it... and there it is: the heavy feeling on my chest, the shortness of breath, the sweaty palms, the fuzzy feeling behind my eyes, and the images in my head. These images depict every possible disaster that could happen while I am 36,000 feet in the air.  My husband notices my panic. “Hey”, he says, knowing my mind has taken a sudden detour from Hawaii to its own disastrous flying conclusion, “at least we’ll all be together”; because THAT comment comforts and calms me?!!?

Justifying my fears does not help me feel better about flying.  I have postponed trips and family gatherings, feigning a busy schedule.  I have even opted to drive, to ensure I do not have to fly. While I am glad to have seen so much of Canada and parts of America, I just know that driving to Hawaii will be out of the question!

Well meaning friends all have wonderful suggestions for me.  One of my running mates pulls an Ativan from her purse.  “This will calm you in a jiffy.”  I learn later that for someone who has never taken any form of meds that this sedative would really knock me out.  The idea of being that out of control REALLY frightens me. 

Another caring friend gives me a tiny bag of dolls.  “Worry dolls”, she states.  “Sleep with them under your pillow the night before and all of your fears will vanish.”  Great now voodoo charms are being offered to me.  If only I had a chicken’s foot and maybe some bat wings.

My cousin reminds me that my mother also had a fear of flying, but managed to travel.  “How did she do it?” I’m asked.  “A bottle of Drambuie and 2 sleeping pills”, I reply.  “Oh”, my cousin smirks, “that’s not going to work for you.”

As I’m sharing these stories with my dear friend, Susan Cockle, she says, “I have a relaxation – visualization podcast I’m going to burn for you.”  I start thinking - great, now some mumble jumble psycho babble that is going to tell me that “in order to gain trust in yourself and your environment you must learn to let go and give up all control.”  However, I know this has everything to do with why I don’t like flying: I don’t like giving up control. 

“It’s best if you listen to the recording at least 3 times before you leave. Will you use the CD?” she asks. “Yes, of course,” I reply.  Argh, I forgot to cross my fingers behind my back while I said “Yes.”  Now I’ve made a promise.  Now I’ll have to listen to this.  When am I going to find the time to bore myself listening to 3 – 20 minute sleeper sessions?  I should have taken the Ativan.

I plug in the CD.  Yeah, stuff about breathing, deep breath in, exhale out slowly... expected that.  Now stuff about relaxing my muscles... I start zoning out.  The kids start talking to me, even with ear buds in my ears, I find this amusing.  I start talking with them.  My daughter asks me what I’m listening to.  I look at her a little confused.  She points to the ear buds. Oh, right!  “A relaxation CD,” I reply.  All three of my children start laughing, “You relax mom? You’ll need more than a CD!”  I should have bought a bottle of Drambuie.  Maybe I will sleep with those voodoo dolls under my pillow tonight after all.

Later that night, when everyone is in bed, I restart the podcast.  Okay, I start thinking, let’s give it a try.  I get through breathing, I can’t focus on the muscle relaxing, but as I’m listening to examples of what it is one hears on a plane, I’m suddenly propelled right inside of one.  I can hear the plane’s engine, the chatter of the people around me, the baby screaming at the back, the ding of the seatbelt light being turned on, and the movement of the food cart up the aisle.  I feel the small confined space of the cabin and the extreme close proximity of a perfect stranger right beside me (determined to close the cabin window making the space suddenly crush in tighter). 

I feel my chest grow so heavy it is hard to breathe.  I start to take shallow breaths and at the same time my neck and jaw clench up, my fists are balled tightly shut, the palms of my hands sweat, and my heart starts beating wildly.  Okay, what was that part about breathing, big breaths in, focus on exhaling, and big breath in and... could this stuff really work?  I start unlocking each finger from the palm of my hand slowly.  Then I hear words to the effect of  “you can control yourself in your environment. You might not be able to control where you are right now, but you can control how you react in this environment.”  I abruptly stop the recording.  What?  I can keep control??  I had a preconceived notion that I was going to have to give up control.  I can control myself in this environment?  Was I just left with the message that I was in control?  I know that I was left with a strong message that I can do this.  I was left with the confidence that because I am determined this drives me to success.  I can experience success within my environment where I am in control.

This mental shift was my security blanket.

I employed the strategies from the podcast and I actually enjoyed the flight to Hawaii.  I listened to the CD 3 times going there.  The flight home was filled with turbulence and sudden drops making dishes rattle, children cry, and passengers cry out.  I listened to the CD about 6 times.  At one point the young woman sitting beside me said, “I hope everything is okay with the plane.”  “As long as we’re in control of our situation, everything is fine,”  I stated with a dopey smile on my face.  As she raised her eyebrows and inched a little farther away from me.  I thought, “Okay, a bit sappy on my part.”  But I couldn’t help but think this control stuff was really working for me. 

I can control my fear.  I can remember my successes.  “Reminding yourself that; not only CAN you do it, but you ARE doing it. You do it with courage, conviction, and determination because you can.”

I still hate flying. But I wasn’t learning to like it, I was learning to tolerate it.  I was learning to control my responses to it.  I am determined, courageous, and have conviction.  This formula will continue to lead me to my successes... even with a little turbulence.

Many thanks to C4Success guest writer, Rhonda Webster, and all the best in tolerating your next flying adventure!