Fear of flying?

Dec 30th, 2007, 07:05 AM
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Well, I don't think being afraid of flying is all that irrational. Our bodies were not designed to fly- hurtling across the ocean faster than the speed of sound is not natural for us, so I think it's quite understandable that many of us have this fear. We are programmed for survival- our nervous system doesn't care about statistics, it cares about alerting us to danger and the idea of flying is often enough to set off alarm bells. I don't believe there is any root or underlying cause. It is our physiology, and everyone's brain chemistry is different- some people are seriously terrified, some not affected at all, and most of us are somewhere in the middle.

I think looking into some sort of relaxation/deep breathing exercises might help, both for the flight and pre-flight thoughts/jitters. You could do a couple of sessions with a therapist who specializes in this, either individually or in a group setting. Ask your doctor about a prescription for the flight too, if you feel the need. There is nothing wrong with that.

I personally hate flying. I get very anxious (shaking hands, rapid heartbeat, shallow breath, tense muscles, etc.) and if I allow my thoughts and imagination to run wild, I can work myself into a state. I've learned to more or less cut these thoughts, or distance myself from them, and I've learned to allow myself to feel a bit anxious and be okay with it and tolerate it, instead of getting anxious about being anxious. I still hate flying but I am a much better flyer now than I used to be.
Apres_Londee is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 07:42 AM
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Just wanted to add that my own experience of Xanax was very different to Atltraveler's - it left me feeling just as scared and panicky inside, but woozy and "out of it", all at the same time. A horrible feeling!

But I don't react well to any sort of "calming" medication anyway.

I must say that I'm glad to be rid of my fear of flying, rather than having to treat it with pills every time it rears its head.

But as others have said in this thread, some people find that the medication helps them to eventually overcome the fear. So I guess it's about finding the right solution for you.

One thing is for sure - you have to be absolutely determined to overcome the phobia if you are ever to be rid of it (and from your post it sounds like you are) - which means being strict with yourself and not letting yourself lapse into nightmarish imaginings of what you think might go wrong.
hanl is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 07:54 AM
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Definitely test drive any new medications at home well ahead of a trip. I have *horrible* reaction to OTC meds like Tylenol PM that works so well for other - that same panicy feeling hanl describes above happens.

suze is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 11:13 AM
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I developed a fairly significant fear of flying in middle age, at a time when I was doing loads and loads of flying. I don't take medications, so I didn't go that route, but I did check out that fearofflyinghelp.com website hanl mentions and it worked pretty well for me. If I know what's going on I feel less out of control.

I actually have a worse fear of driving these days than I do of flying. Being a passenger in a fast-moving car literally makes me have trouble breathing sometimes. I don't like driving fast even when I'm the driver, and I get downright panicky on highways if there's bad weather and lots of trucks.

I had a kind of breakthrough on my recent trip to Kenya, though. Our flight out of the Masai Mara Reserve was delayed, and Air Kenya sent three teeny little planes to pick us up instead of one fairly large one. It was rainy and windy and I took one look at those planes and thought no freaking way I can get on one of those. But I had no choice. Fortunately, my traveling companion was a very calm, understanding person, and he got me on that plane and held my hand and talked me through the takeoff until I was ok, and you know, by the time we got up in the air overlooking the savannah I was actually enjoying it. When we landed I actually had this big grin on my face. I really felt as though I'd conquered my problem. I hope it's permanent.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 12:01 PM
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One reason I mentioned trying drugs is that I assume people with a "serious fear of flying" have, indeed, tried other ways to deal with their fears. Only after trying many different, non-medicated ways of handling the fear, and still having terrible physical symptoms (i.e. getting sick for 2-3 days before and during each flight), did I break down and ask for some medical help. I don't take pills lightly and I do agree with poster above who suggests you try this out ahead of time. Indeed, many people suggested OTC meds to help make me tired (Tylenol PM) and they did nothing but make me more jumpy and anxious. The best non-medicated trip I had was when I sat next to a pilot who explained things to me the whole way. It did make the trip much easier but I can't count on that happening all the time!

It's just that I really do love to travel and I know firsthand that some people will allow their fears to win over and start limiting where they go and what they do. If you get to that point I do urge you to consider a medical solution. I'm so glad that the pills helped me to eventually overcome my fear (at least as far as I can tell). Good luck finding a way that will help you!
AtlTravelr is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 12:25 PM
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I don't know if your major airlines in the US do this, but in Germany, Lufthansa offers weekend courses against flight phobia. They got spezialized counselors to evaluate the source of the anxiety, flight personnel and pilots explaining the on board procedures, as well as a flight just for the participants.

By the way.. what most people today call a "horrible flight" would have been almost a smooth ride 50yrs ago, when props were limited to lower altitudes.
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 12:30 PM
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Thanks everyone, I think I'll make an appointment with my doctor and try some xanex or valium before our March trip. Actually, it's helpful to know I'm not the only one with this "discomfort".
Happy New Year all.
fsufan1 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 01:54 PM
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Xanax... I am very afraid of flying but like yourself will not let it "win". Last year a dear friend told me to tell my doctor and let him perscribe something for me. He gave me Xanax and sure enough - it really helped to relax me.
dawnnoelm is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 02:16 PM
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I do like xanax the best of the relaxers I have tried in the past. You are not knocked out at all, just, well, relaxed. I start out taking a piece of one pill and then another piece if I feel like it.

If anyone talks to me or whatever I am alert. But, yes, be sure and try it at home first, about a week before your trip.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Dec 30th, 2007, 02:20 PM
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I, too, have a serious fear of flying. Many years ago, I read a book to try to overcome this fear. One of the author's suggestions was to smile as big as you can when you start to feel anxiety. I thought this was totally ridiculous, until I tried it and actually felt better! For some reason (not sure why), smiling forces you to relax. As crazy as it sounds, I believe it does help. So, the next time you are on the plane sitting next to someone smiling ear to ear on take off and landing, it might be me trying to relax!!
Attnymom is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 11:01 AM
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Cowboy - There's a really interesting book called 'Star Dust Falling' which describes the early days of passanger flight in quite a lot of detail. Many aircraft were ex war bombers reconfigured for commercial travel, and the very first cabin crew or stewardesses were actually nurses, employed to deal with air sickness, frequent nosebleeds and to hand out oxygen cylinders in un-pressurised aircraft flying over high terrain! Yikes! I think you're right about air travel having come a long way since then!
RM67 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 11:35 AM
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The notion that people weren't meant to fly and that this justifies a fear of flying doesn't hold water. People are no less meant to fly than they are to drive, ride a bicycle, or even roller skate, but people are a lot more afraid of flying than of these other "unnatural" activities.

In any case, it isn't the people who fly … it's the airplane. And while people are perhaps not designed to fly, airplanes are, and they do it extremely well. Airplanes like to fly. All people have to do is relax and enjoy the ride.

And there are people who love flying. They usually become pilots. For people who fear flying, taking off is often the scariest part, but for people who love flying, it's the best part. The former get misty-eyed with fear, and the latter get misty-eyed with awe.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 12:36 PM
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>>>The former get misty-eyed with fear, and the latter get misty-eyed with awe<<<

Exactly- it's all brain chemistry. Some people are high stim; their brains are wired that way. Many other people are wired to feel afraid, at varying degrees, at high speeds (driving included-I know it scares me when I'm a passenger in a car that is going extremely fast), or of heights, or insects, or large animals, or rodents, etc.

I think that when people are afraid of something like flying, they shouldn't be made to feel as though something is wrong with them. I know that for me, when I get anxious before or during a flight, it is helpful to remind myself that it is just my brain's way of trying to tell that something is wrong, but that it doesn't mean anything really is in fact wrong. I still can't "relax and enjoy the ride", but I can get through a flight feeling relatively normal and collected, and that's good enough for me.
Apres_Londee is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 04:08 PM
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Roaring down the runway and takeoff are so exilerating! I am so glad I have come full circle and I am not afraid any longer. I have been through phases of my life when I was so terrified of flying that I got off of one plane when it landed as a stop for a few minutes. I exited and rented a car to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles. I just let my luggage land where it may and I didn't care. (the days before 9/11 when luggage could fly alone).

Then after years of this, on one takeoff I kept waiting to be afraid and I just wasn't and I haven't been since. I just take the xanax to relax to get some rest because I am flying coach and it is uncomfortable. Odd but true.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 04:30 PM
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I'm not afraid of flying, but am somewhat claustrophobic... that's what gets me entering an airplane (not afraid of a crash or whatever but panic at the smallness of the space I'll be in for the next however many hours). That's where the xanax comes in handy.

suze is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 08:10 PM
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While I don't have a full blown phobia regarding flying, I do, on occasion, feel anxious ... especially if I perceive there is something out of the ordinary happening (turbulence, funny noises, change of speed, etc.)

What has helped me immeasurably is to see if the flight attendents are reacting in any way to what I deem unusual.

They are the true flight veterans, so when I see them going about their business, I know everything is okay, and my anxiety recedes.

I realize that my situation is nowhere near a "serious fear" of flying, but I believe any self-calming tricks we know and can share may help others.

Best wishes to you - I hope you have a wonderful trip!
scdreamer is online now  
Dec 31st, 2007, 08:51 PM
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I sat down next to a little old lady once, and it was obvious that she was suffering some flight anxiety, so I thought I'd break the ice...

Me: going far today, or just to St. Louis?
Lol: I'm going on to Chicago to see my son.
Me: Oh, do you do that often?
Lol: no, this is the first time I've flown
Me: [to self: aha] Well, I'm a private pilot and I know how this stuff works, so if you want to know anything about the airplane or what it's doing, I'll be glad to fill you in.
Lol: why, thank you. I will.
Me: like, if you hear a noise you don't recognize, just yell WHAT WAS THAT? and I'll tell you.
Lol: oh, you!
Robespierre is offline  
Dec 31st, 2007, 09:26 PM
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Some great ideas here. A few more thoughts -- (I'm a psychologist and have treated folks with anxiety/phobias); the evidence-based treatment is generally considered to be exposure with response prevention, which is another way of saying facing your fears.

That's the potential long term treatment, though I see the value in limited use of anti-anxiety agents Rx'd by your physician (which range from Xanax--short acting; Ativan, intermediate; and Klonopin, longer acting (longer half-life)).

Though I've seen few with specific flying phobia (except that I did treat one FA with it after 9/11) I was seated next to a young man on a trans-Atlantic flight who went into an extreme panic attack, and worked with him a bit with his breathing, with imagining his family waiting for him, etc.

After being stranded on 9/11 I developed a more intense flying phobia myself, and I particularly hate flying long stretches over water. So, I took my own medicine and made myself fly to New Zealand from San Francisco nonstop and back, and yes, over water almost the whole way. I don't particularly like to fly, but now going to Hawaii seems a piece of cake and I actually just bought a small property there so now I will have to keep flying!

The other thing I hate is small planes, commuter type, and I took about 5 of those flights within New Zealand, catching a look at one woman pilot who looked about 12 (and was, of course, actually extremely competent). So, I am over that now too.

I think it's like that poster above who gutted out the spooky flight in Africa and seems to have gotten over it pretty well.
annw is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 12:02 AM
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About ten years ago, I have developped a fear of flying after an awful flight through a snow storm over the Rockies.

What has helped me is to see my close relatives passing away from cancer. After seeing each suffer in pain for several months and pass away in their emaciated bodies with morphine being their only friend, I realized that statistically I would more likely experience those kind of prolonged painful end rather than a quick one in an airplane accident.
nickn is offline  
Jan 1st, 2008, 12:53 AM
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I experienced some flight fear in 96, before my first transatlantic flight.
I happened to arrive at the airport early, and found myself watching the busy runway at Atlanta's very busy airport.

Watching 2 planes take off, and 2 planes land every few minutes, and realizing that this goes on ALL day in thousands of cities around the world,and only very very rarely do we hear of any mishaps, I found myself more at ease with the thought of flying.
ekellyga is offline  

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