The first thing to understand is that fear or anxiety is always of a future event. In other words, it’s a part of your imagination so is not « real. » But it sure feels real and affects you as real with your heart pounding and your adrenalin pumping. So you treat the fear of flying by treating the imagination.
You have a vivid imagination and can easily picture crashing into a mountain, an engine exploding, a terrorist takeover, a wing falling off, a fire in the cabin, a strike by a shower of asteroids; the pilot might be drunk or have a heart attack, etc. Any number of things can go wrong!
Then your rational mind steps in to remind you that the odds of such things happening are much higher than hitting the zillion-dollar lottery. And you’ve heard many times how flying is safer than driving a car. Then your imagination returns: Well, people do hit the lottery and accidents do happen, and people do get struck by lighting – and I am 30,000 feet in the air without a parachute!
Einstein said that the imagination is the most powerful thing in the universe. You have the free-will choice of using it for good or ill, negative or positive. If you want to use yours on negative things, then you could become a horror novelist like Stephen King and make lots of money. Or if you want to, you can use it on positive things like – not only relaxing and enjoying every plane ride, but to look forward to it with the gleeful anticipation of a child going to Disneyland. It’s all in your mind and all controllable. So how do you control it?
You control it the way a stage performer controls her performance, or the way a military maneuver is controlled – you plan it, practice it, train for it. You rehearse it again and again till it’s memorized by the muscles and you can do it without the intervention of thought. This is a definition of mindfulness – action without the interference of thought. So, you don’t really have a fear-of-flying problem; you have a fear-of-the-unknown problem. Correctly rehearsing your trip makes it fully known.
Correct rehearsal requires being deeply relaxed. Deep physical and mental relaxation allows your visualization to be more effectively internalized and assimilated into your subconscious mind so you can then operate on auto-pilot – no pun intended. Otherwise your training won’t stick, but will just go in one ear and out the other.
Here is a basic self-hypnosis method: Sitting in a comfortable straight-back chair or lying in bed, take three very deep breaths. Now scan your body from head to toes to relieve all tension. Simply focus on each muscle group in turn, and tell it to be heavy and relaxed. Tell your face muscles, eye lids and jaw to be heavy and relaxed. Tell your neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, fingers, chest, abdomen, hips, buttocks, legs and feet to be heavy and relaxed.
Now relax the mind by very closely following your breathing as it goes in and out. When distracting thoughts intrude, gently return attention to your breathing again and again – until your mind is fairly quiet and still.
Now imagine watching yourself on a large movie screen on the day of your flight. See yourself at home getting ready to go to the airport – as relaxed then as you are now. Detachedly observe yourself packing a carry-on bag and a check-in bag. See yourself taking the two bags to the car and placing them neatly in the trunk. You get in the car and start driving to the airport noticing how relaxed and calm you feel. You are satisfied that all the details of the trip have been taken care of up to this point.
Now you pull up to the departure gate of your airline, get out of your car and open the trunk. An attendant takes your bags and you proceed to the parking area and find a fairly convenient space. You calmly walk back to the terminal and wait in the short line at the ticket counter. You notice how perfectly relaxed and patient you are. The smiling agent hands you your tickets and you head for the boarding gate. You see and stop at a newsstand and peruse the rack of novels. A civil war romance jumps out at you and you buy it for the flight.
Your mind is perfectly calm and clear as you enter and complete the security check. You hand your ticket to the attendant, who stamps it and gives you your seat number. You sit in the waiting area and thumb through the book. Your flight is called and you stand in line with the other passengers – still feeling deeply relaxed and without a thought in your mind except how enjoyable this novel and this flight is going to be. You observe yourself enter the plane and make your way to your seat feeling perfectly calm and relaxed. You sit, fasten your seat belt and get back into the novel – hardly noticing the smooth, powerful takeoff.
The heroine is risking her life hiding and caring for a wounded enemy soldier in the family’s wine cellar. You close your eyes for a moment to wonder if you would have the courage to do such a risky thing. When a bit of turbulence distracts you, you simply take a deep breath and return attention to your reading. You stop reading again to taste a nice chicken Parmesan meal with a glass of Chianti.
You see yourself rooted in the present moment now feeling more peaceful and relaxed than you’ve ever known yourself to be. You look out the window to notice how wonderfully beautiful the view from this height. Before you realize it the plane has landed in Paris and is taxiing up to the ramp – and you’re feeling almost sorry the flight is ending so soon.
The flight is over and you can gently return attention to normal. If you want, you can replay your trip again and again until you’re perfectly clear how everything will transpire. You’re learning to live in reality instead of mentality – living in the security of the present rather than the anxiety of the future.