Sunset in Railey beach, Thailand

How I (almost) healed my fear of airplanes in 4 steps

Finding the true reason of my fear of flying was a trip by itself. In the path of getting free from my fear, I had to understand why I was afraid, or better said, what for. I tried different techniques and discovered a lot about myself. I was so afraid that for 8 years I stopped taking airplanes. That may sound like a western people’s luxury issue, but it was a problem for me as I couldn’t see my family that leaves overseas.

I’ve been taking airplanes since I was born, as I lived in Switzerland but had to visit my family in the USA and in Lebanon.

Everything was alright until my early twenties, when I started to feel afraid of flying. I started being stressed during flights, then my fear built up each year until I started to feel cramps or strong pain in my stomach at the very idea of getting into an airplane. In the state of being afraid weeks before flying, I would not be able to rely on pills to relax in the plane (which is not my style anyway and I found alternatives that I’ll tell you about here) as I could not take them to relax my mind every day for weeks before the dreadful flight.

So I decided to not fly anymore.

For 8 years I didn’t take any airplane and didn’t go visit my family in the USA, which was sad. At this time I would tell anyone asking me about my fear: “no one can decide how they will die (I meant unintentionally), but I can decide how I will not die!”. I was actually terrified of dying in one of these flying boxes that we call airplanes. A good outcome of that situation it is that it gave me motivation and creativity to plan and travel by land to far destinations such as Morocco and Lebanon. I loved going to Lebanon by train, road and boat and did the round trip three times!

At that time, I wrote an article to share my experience that you can read here (in French): Geneva to Beirut by train. I keep a sweet and happy memory of these trips, they’ve been a wonderful opportunity get more confident in traveling, to feel the distance between destinations and to actually see what is in between: wonderful places, people and cultures. I actually love to travel, you’ll always see me smiling when carrying a backpack and walking in a new place, available to possibilities and to surprises.

As for not taking airplanes, I almost made it an identity (as people usually do with their problems, sicknesses and dependences), or a cause, as there are many good and rational reasons not to fly: ecology, slow travel and adventure,…but eventually, I got stuck and blocked by my fear.

A first step to adress my fear

At the age of 28, I had decided to travel to South East Asia and started planning a way to get to Thailand by land and sea. Crossing East Iran and Afghanistan was not an option. But getting to Dubai through Turkey and South of Iran seemed safe enough (at that time), beautiful and feasible. The problem was that I couldn’t find a passenger boat to India. After all, the land trip turned out to be complicated, long, too much indefinite and potentially unsafe. I needed to heal my fear or flying.

As a first action and first try, I called my super woman friend who works as a psychologist and therapist who uses many interesting techniques. I asked her if she could help me. She suggested to address the problem with EFT, a technique of tapping that is supposed to reprogram the brain or the beliefs. It works by repeating sentences and tapping oneself gently on the hands, head, and other parts of the upper body. After only one hour, my fear had left place to happiness and excitement about my trip. I had a wonderful flight to Bangkok. But this was not the final answer.

During that EFT session I understood many things about the origin of my fear, it was related to a feeling of pressure, guilt or lack of freedom (to do something different from my family and to decide for myself what I want to do with my free time). As I was too shy to express that (or even to feel it and recognize it myself), I subconsciously developed a fear that would give me a “good reason” to say no and to do my own. So the fear was some kind of a freedom giver, but after some years, it had become a limit of my own capacity to do what I wanted to (flying to Asia). That was such a revelation to me. I could feel more in peace and more free just by understanding this internal process I had gone through. Eventually, there was also a fear of loosing control, as sitting in a plane means to let the crew lead all. This is a tougher subject for me, it’s about trusting the others.

After my stay in South East Asia, I had to go back home and the fear had already slightly raised back. Not too bad, but I could sense that the problem was not over. The pressure of going home, back to things that make me feel pressure or a lack of freedom was likely to participate to this fear of flying being back again. But the problem could be deeper.

In that semi bearable state, I spent the last 5 years flying again. I went back to the USA and had the greatest experience I could ever imagine, I started liking the good things about being there and enjoyed very much seeing my family again. That was my first trip to USA that I had decided to do on my own and I guess that meant a lot to me. I must say that I am aware, on the other side, that I was lucky to get to travel so much during all my childhood and that I don’t have a lot of friends who could have complained about having to travel every summer to far destinations. But emotions are as they are and I share my own experience.

Second step to find peace

Let’s jump to my next step for a solution. This summer of 2018, I had decided to fly to the USA again and I felt a big stress about my flight. Bigger than the previous year. So I decided to take action again.

I was lucky to have my (new) boyfriend around that had experience in helping people about dealing with emotions. The training he took is called Wingwave and is a technique that uses EMDR and other tools. We made about three sessions, in which I could see that this fear was connected with more subjects than I thought. The main theme I had to work on was about trusting the others.

There are many reasons why it is hard for me to trust the others and the good things about working on that fear of airplane, is that it will help me feel more confident and relaxed about more things. By not trusting the others, I am being more controlling, more stressed, more tense, more judging, analyzing everything, hard to let go and to just relax. It’s about trusting life too. So all in all, this fear of airplane is a great opportunity to become a more confident, relaxed, tolerant, positive and loving person.

I haven’t totally passed this stage yet.
So I am still affraid of flying, and having a very hard time when I’m there. Until I make it, I have to ways to relax in the plane. A rational one and a metitative one.

Rational calming thoughts

This (finally ex) boyfriend, also gave me some article about airplanes’ resistance to a shaking sky and impression of falling. Basically, airplanes are tested to resist to much more violent turbulences that we are used to experience during a flight.

Thre stages are described taking a glass of water as a reference.

  1. The water in the glass is shaking. That’s nothing.
  2. Glasses drop water. That’s nothing.
  3. Glasses fall. That’s nothing.

The sky is then described as a paved road, and it is normal that we can feel some movements. It can also be described as the sea (sky is full of water afterall), and sometimes there are bigger waves. The airplane is built for that. So turbulences aren’t a sign that we should start worying.

Another fact explained is that our body cannot measure heights so well, and that even if we feel that the airplanes suddendly drops down hundreds of metters, it’s actually only a few metters.

These are nice things to thing about. Plus remembering that millions of flights happen everyear without a problem.

But, these are only rationnal thoughts, and for emotions, this is not always (or never?) enough.

Dealing with anxiety in the airplane

If whatever you think about, you still feel lots of tensions and fear, there are many ways to adress it, so as to have a less stressing flight. I don’t take pills so I just breath and concentrate on this. I may dive in a movie. Or visualize the airplaine flying and being sustained by the air and the power of God or all Gods. Breathing again and not letting my mind fly too far. My imagination can go too easily in fearfull scenarios or conclusion. So flying can be seen as an intesive training for meditation and mind observation or control.

After all. This fear is also sustained by my will to preserve the earth and to find alternative to flying. I use the train as long as I can and I support for a more sustainable world.

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