Find the words to help conquer fear of flying

Q: I am afraid of flying. I have always been afraid of flying but until recently it was not an issue.

Of late our children have moved out of the home and are settled almost everywhere about this great country of ours.

That is great, but it means if I want to spend time with my grandchildren, I often have to get on an airplane to get to wherever it is that they are. Of course I do it, but I am first doped up with medication from my doctor before I get near the airport and then I spend an hour and a half clinging on to my husband and doing so until the plane has safely landed.

This is ridiculous, I know that it is, but I don’t know what to do about it. I thought that I could start here and get some ideas from you. What do you think?

A: If you are really serious about getting through your fear of flying (it is called aerophobia in the literature) you, along with the other 6.5 percent of the population who are struggling with it, are going to be best of friends with your family doctor and your psychologist.

The family doctor will give you medication to get that anxiety level down, while your psychologist is going to explore with you some of the root causes behind your fear of flying and hopefully resolve it.

There is, by the way, lots of room for optimism. Most of the literature I have read said that aerophobia is completely treatable. You should be able to get over it.

Until such time as you are able to put together an effective team with a doctor and psychologist, you might try playing a few mind games with yourself, exploring the power of the word.

Words are more powerful than sometimes we realize. If, for example, you are feeling angry, you will be angrier if you tell yourself you are angry. The same is true for fear. If you are afraid, that fear becomes more intense when you tell yourself you are afraid. What I am proposing to you is that you explore the reverse. If words can intensify your feelings, making you more angry or more afraid, then perhaps some words can deflate intensities, making you less angry or less afraid. Why don’t you try that with your fear of flying?

As you and your husband are driving to the airport, don’t tell yourself that you are afraid of flying. Tell yourself that you are not as comfortable as you would like to be on an airplane. When you are on the plane, clinging to your husband, don’t tell yourself that you are tense. Tell yourself that you are not as relaxed as you might like yourself to be.

There are two cautions here. The first is that you cannot lie to yourself. If you are afraid, you are afraid. I am just suggesting that you use more comforting words to describe the feeling to yourself, not to deny it. The second caution is that this is not a miracle formula. You are not going to suddenly overcome your aerophobia. But if you keep working at it, using words to yourself that are more soothing, you will one day realize that those panic attacks you had on your way to your airplane have dissipated. Then you can be as excited as you want while you think about how soon you will be with your grandchildren.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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