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Fear of Flying

With the holiday season approaching and flights booked many months ago, those with a fear of flying are now beginning to contemplate their upcoming flight and possibly regret booking it. There is always the excitement and anticipation of a holiday but this can be ruined for individuals with a fear of flying and often the whole family as they try to support their loved one.

The words fear and phobia are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. Those with a phobia of flying will not be booking a flight anywhere. Holidays for these individuals will either be a staycation, or nonexistent. Many will wave their family off on holiday and return home to spend the week or two alone.  People with a fear of flying will book a flight, often way in advance when the feelings are not quite as strong. As the flight day approaches the feelings of anxiety begin to creep in and the excitement of a holiday is exchanged for worry of how they will get through the flight. Some people get medication from the doctor to help them through the flight, others have their own coping techniques. Those with a fear of flying will manage the flight but it will not be pleasant and it prevents the entire holiday experience being as nice as it could be for them and the people they are travelling with.

As a hypnotherapist I can help you to overcome your fear so that you can look forward to your holiday with eager anticipation, or for those with a phobia perhaps book your first family holiday abroad. This is obviously not only a problem during the holiday season and I have worked with many individuals that are unable to take a new job for example because of having to travel for work.

Initially, before being able to help with any fear it is important to first realise what causes the uncomfortable feelings of fear (for the purpose of this blog post I am going to use the word fear to mean fear and phobia) and anxiety.

When a fear is present it is highly likely that the body is in the fight or flight mode. The fight or flight response is a natural instinct that we (and all other animals) are born with. It is a response designed to keep us alive. If our brain senses a threat it triggers the response creating a reaction in the body that helps us to fight or flee so we can stay alive;

“catecholamines  (adrenaline  and noradrenaline) facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action and increased strength and speed  in  anticipation  of  fighting  or  running.  These  physiological changes include: increased blood flow to the muscles, raised blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats, increased muscle tension, dilation  of  pupil,  enhanced  perspiration  and  increase  the  blood clotting function of the body” (Pagano, 2014)

Many situations are recognised as threats because our limbic brain – the responsible part – still functions as if we are living a primitive life. In the early days of life a baby will enter the fight or flight response regularly. Beginning with something as simple as being put down; the baby’s limbic brain senses the danger of predators when away from its mother so will enter the fight or flight response and will cry to alert the caregiver. Hopefully there will be a gentle, loving reassuring reaction from the caregiver, such as picking the baby up, putting it to the breast, cuddling etc which sends a message to the brain of the baby that it is safe and the baby will calm. Almost everything is in line with the way our body is designed to function in order to stay alive. I would like to emphasise the point here that the brain’s purpose is to keep us alive and the fight or flight response is part of that. Every reaction like this is unconscious and instinctual.

As we get older things start to change and this is what happens with irrational fears and phobias. Firstly other perceived threats are added to those that are instinctual, fears of others are passed on to us and our ability to understand our feelings is increased, so we may be able to control our outward reaction by withholding tears or screams but still have the heart pounding, shaky, sweaty etc feelings. A child learns from its caregivers what is safe and what isn’t. If we saw or felt a caregiver in fear our brain would take on the belief that it is a threatening thing or situation, similarly if we weren’t helped to feel safe by a caregiver in certain situations our brain would maintain the belief that those situations are unsafe. Certain life experiences become perceived dangers or threatening situations to our limbic system and remain in the unconscious. The brain remains on high alert ready to react to these situations quickly and efficiently whenever we encounter them. Cue the super efficient fight or flight response ready to help us stay alive! Even though it is not necessary in our society the limbic system can only react to perceived threats as if they are a threat to our physical survival, it wants us to run or fight and gives us the tools to do so, when in reality our survival is not at all threatened. To add to this, the brain cannot differentiate between real and imaginary (Pascual-Leone, 1995) therefore when we are deeply engrossed in something imaginary, such as a film or book, and there is a threatening (emotional or physical) situation the brain may believe it is happening to us and react accordingly. In the same way if we are feeling fear about something else in life during an unrelated experience our brain may link the feelings of fear to the experience despite the original fear being nothing to do with the experience.

So breaking that down, if we have had a bad experience on a flight or whilst thinking about a flight or if our brain in any way links something threatening to flying it may trigger the fight or flight response whenever we think about taking a flight. This can range from something as potentially extreme and related to flying such as being on a flight that has to make an emergency landing to something completely unrelated such as watching a frightening film that triggered the fight and flight response whilst on an aeroplane, or feeling fear about something else in life whist unconsciously watching a plane fly through the sky on a summers day because the brain cannot tell the difference between real and imaginary.

Within my practice I combine trans personal psychology, talking therapy  and hypnotherapy to make a movement toward well-being and self-realisation. Understanding the fight or flight response is the first step to recognising when one enters that state. The second step is to then try and work out why the brain is entering the fight or flight response. Is it something to do with a previous experience or is it something we have learnt from someone else perhaps? If there is time (which there isn’t always as a flight may be booked fairly soon) we can dissect that belief and help the brain to recognise it as safe. Reminding the brain that it does not need to protect you from that specific situation. If there is not time we can use simple hypnotherapy techniques to ease the fear. In both cases I also teach many different techniques that use the mind body connection to take back control of your mind and body so that you can control the body’s reaction to the fear. Enabling flights and excitement.

 

Pagano, G., Corbi, G., & Ferrara, N. (2014). Adrenergic Nervous System and Hemostasis. Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases.

Pascual-Leone, A., Nguyet, D., Cohen, L. G., Brasil-Neto, J. P., Cammarota, A., & Hallett, M. (1995). Modulation of muscle responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation during the acquisition of new fine motor skills. Journal of neurophysiology, 74(3), 1037-1045.

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