resorting tips

fear of flying
  • Fear of Flying: The Adventure Continues

    (originally published on January 16, 2013)


    Photo: Ho-Yeol Ryu

    About a year ago, I shared with you my extreme fear of flying. Since then, I've been on 15 planes. FIF-TEEN. Big planes and little planes. Uneventful flights and wretched landings. 50 mile an hour wind gusts on take off and one daredevil of a pilot who seemed to think our plane was a fighter jet. And each one took me closer to real progress towards fear management. I even fell asleep on three flights. Like snoring asleep.

    I read that, statistically, at least 50% of you also have the same fear I do. I've been there. Sweating, shaking, and in tears. So let me share some real, practical tips that have helped me this year.


    (Boarding one of the 15 planes ...)

    It's all about science. Knowledge is power. And it is the number one tool for fighting that panic that creeps in as you line up to board. I learned how the plane flies. I learned what each noise is, how the plane flaps work, why the engine has to be at full throttle when you taxi down the runway. I learned that every plane is built to withstand hurricane-force winds, not just weather planes.

    I learned it functions best when it is in the air, where it is in it's element. Instead of dreading that wheels up moment, I've started to feel relief when we leave the ground (HUGE change). I've even looked out the window the entire time and watched it happen. Learning the science around flight has helped me to train my brain to expect each step of the way. And as a result, my fight or flight instinct isn't triggered. 

    A little something about landings -- landing is simply a controlled glide. In steps. You descend and then you level, descend, level, descend, level. This knowledge has gotten me through most landings. (I say "most." One was super bad and only praying to the Universe and clawing my husband got me through that one. And swearing. Loudly.)

    Action: Learn everything you can about how the plane works. Download and use the Flying Without Fear and SOAR apps. The JetBlue blog also has good information. 

    Your biology is working against you.  Sight-deprived, hearing becomes your primary sense. And it becomes acutely tuned into every unidentifiable noise. Your brain is wired to quickly assess whether every noise is a threat or not. So while learning what you can about the normal noises on a plane can help you manage most of this, blocking out noise is equally as important.

    You know that feeling of falling you get right after take off? Well apparently, if you were in the cockpit and could see out the front, you would not feel that. Understanding that made a huge difference to me. Every time we'd get to that point in the flight, I'd remind myself that there was a biological explanation. And it wasn't mechanical failure.

    Action: First, learn the noises. Your brain will quickly go through it's inventory of known causes and will not set off your fight or flight response. Wear over-the-ear headphones that allow just enough noise in so that you hear basically nothing but white noise. I have some earphones from Urban Outfitters (in an ocean color of course ... at least I can be cute while I'm freaking out.) And plug into the music on takeoff if you can. Helps to disguise the scary noises.

    Don't ignore underlying psychological aspects. I'm working on some control issues and being in a plane is the ultimate vulnerability exercise there is. Making peace with the fact that I can do nothing but manage my emotions and thoughts has been tough but it has been the key. Talking through your issues with a professional is the best thing you can do. 

    Other tips:

    • Manage your stress before you get on the plane. I'm very spongy and pick up other people's emotions quickly. Remember that half the people waiting with you are freaked out. Stay away from those who are tapping their leg or talking loudly or otherwise acting anxious. And wear your headphones. The Flying Without Fear app has an exercise to help you with the pre-boarding issues.
    • Pay attention during the safety instructions. Seriously. One particularly annoying gentleman sitting next to me on our tiny plane to Palm Springs was joking about who actually listens to it. I looked him in the eye and said, I do and you should too, because I will climb over you if I need to.
    • Close your eyes. I have not quite managed turns. Something about that movement just freaks me out every time. I've learned to close my eyes and pretend we're level. In Boston, because of noise ordinances, planes take off and then immediately bank a sharp left. I've gotten used to it and I try to expect something similar when flying out of unfamiliar airports. 
    • Be selective with your inflight entertainment. I've learned that my brain cannot handle scary or adventurous movies during a flight. It doesn't seem to know the difference between that and real danger. I usually watch the kids movie or something funny. Will & GraceFrasier, or Conan works wonders. I also listen to music. The Downton Abbey soundtrack is perfect --just enough going on there to keep my brain fully occupied and not veering off into oh-my-God-can-the-plane-flip? type panics.
    • Have your safety net ready at all times. I have come to completely rely on my Flying Without Fear app and have it loaded on my iPhone and iPad. I use the 30 minute relaxation exercise a lot. The bird noises help block out plane noise -- and that hammock you are directed to imagine is a real one in the garden section of our favorite resort in Jamaica. It also helps to gauge time passage. And the fear attack button on the app comes in handy for those turns I haven't yet mastered. "This is all perfectly normal ..."
    • Eat. Sorry, emotional eating is allowed on the plane. And those JetBlue snack boxes are tasty.
    • Play this fun game. Guess whether the pilot was in the Air Force or Navy based on how they land the plane. Air Force pilots tend to take longer to put the wheels on the ground and come to a stop. Naval ones are much quicker with shorter stops. I prefer a naval pilot. Put that baby down and pull the brakes hard. Because, honestly, I would like to get off of this plane. Now.
  • Pteromerhanophobia

    (originally published on January 20, 2012)

    Some of you may be surprised to hear that I have been plagued with a horrific fear of flying for some time now. I wasn't always afraid and actually enjoyed air travel for most of my life. Then I developed this awful panic that would hit me in waves while I was waiting to board, as the plane was taking off, during any sort of turn or movement, after any little bounce of turbulence, and during all landings, which is pretty much the whole flight, right? 

    I've tried lots of things to help me. Praying to the universe. Yoga breathing. Closing my eyes. Lifting my feet straight out during takeoff (that actually helps! Thank you, W!). Counting seats to exits. Memorizing the emergency brochure. Telling the flight attendant that the man sitting by the escape hatch wasn't paying attention during her demonstration and asking if he could please be replaced. I've never tried pharmaceuticals and never drink during a flight. I've reasoned that I want to have my wits about me in case I need to count those seats to the exit if we need to get out quickly if something goes wrong. (On the positive side, I've never been so fearful that I haven't gotten on the plane. My interest in going wherever we were going has always been much stronger than the fear.)

    If you've never experienced it, I can only describe it as akin to the response one might have if a lion jumped in front of you and lunged at you with its jaws open and as you turn to run there is a giant T Rex dinosaur behind you. Pure adrenaline shoots through you and every little hair stands on end. You are hyper-aware of everything. It is AWFUL.

    As you may have seen in my previous post, I recently flew to Puerto Rico. And on the way down, I did not have ONE panic moment. Not even when we took off from Logan with intense wind gusts that blew us back and forth the whole way down the runway and bounced us all over the place as we took off. Not ONE. And here is why:


    1. I downloaded 2 apps on my iPhone and iPad -- SOAR and the Flying without Fear app produced by Virgin Atlantic. The first one helped me to understand the mechanics of what was happening -- did you know that the plane takes off at an 18 degree angle and then dips to a 14 degree angle? So helpful to know that is normal! The second app helped me relax. The Mr. thinks the man's voice on it is super creepy. I found it comforting. There is even a "fear attack" button that you can push if panic sets in.
    2. I was tired and actually FELL ASLEEP. I haven't slept on a plane since our honeymoon when I fell asleep before the plane even pushed back.
    3. It was dark and I couldn't see where the ground was. 
    4. I've been in therapy since July. Oh, didn't I tell you? I debated for a long time whether to put this out there or not as it seems there is a stigma attached to therapy. I know this because when I tell people I either get the puppy dog eyes, hand on my arm "you poor thing" look or "I am really UNCOMFORTABLE talking about this!" look. Turns out having that one hour of my week when someone has to listen to me talk about whatever I want to talk about also helps flying phobia issues. So if you have anything in your life you want to work on, I highly suggest getting yourself a good shrink.

    With that said, I'm not sure I'm totally cured. I had short-lived panic moments on the flight home. It was bumpy! But I was able to watch two movies all the way through. Usually I get so jumpy that I can't focus on anything. I think I'm definitely on the right track. Next flight is in March so we'll see if it was a fluke or if I am really on my way to feeling "totally and completely calm," as my Virgin Atlantic friend would say.