Sitting in an airport waiting to board a flight to Philadelphia I wonder how everyone around me seems to be calm and centered. I am not a happy flier. Seasoned? Yes. World traveler? Yes. I’ve received gift baskets and Thank You letters for being “nurse on the scene ” on three flights, two domestic, one overseas. Do I enjoy flying? No way.
I’ve read the statistics. Air travel is light years ahead of other modes of transportation for safety ,including trains. Doesn’t matter. I still know it’s my job to stay awake on every flight because it helps keep the plane in the air. Irrational, you say? II’m sure the pilots would say the two aren’t related but I also know no plane I’ve been on has crashed – coincidence? Or is it because I didn’t sleep on the plane?
I also know I have to be at the airport at least two hours before my plane starts to board, even though I have TSA Pre-check that gets me to my gate in a very short time. Doesn’t matter 2 hours gives me time to visit Starbucks and the bathroom at least 4 times before my flight,, and pick up at least one magazine I won’t read.
Things that go bump in the night
So what is this blog really about? It’s about our irrational fears and how we can confront them It’s about things that go bump in the night and the monster under the bed when we are over 40. Come on now…..admit it. We all have them.
Where do they come from? Why isn’t everyone afraid of flying, or the dark, or strangers, germs, clowns, and other popular boogiemen?
Why do I have a fear of flying but my sister is only afraid of spiders???
A phobia is a persistant irrational fear of certain situations (such as flying) or object (clowns) that actually possess little or no actual danger. Most of these phobias or fears are rooted in a childhood experience/experiences. The experience was a negative event that felt very stressful to the child. It could also be from a family member who acted fearful or overly anxious in a situation or around an object. An anxious parent may see the same anxiety in their child and later adult “child”. Other theories indicate that our fears/phobias are genetic, brain chemistry or if they do not develop prior to adulthood, a tramatic life experience.
For me two things happened in close succession to cause my fear of flying. Prior to 9/11 I enjoyed flying and honestly, never worried about “flying the friendly skies”. Then, I like many others, watched the Twin Towers fall. The world and flying became a much scarier place. My husband and I had a trip planned to Puerto Rico. I wanted to cancel. I didn’t think I could get on a plane. Nothing he said made a difference. I was terrified. But it was a lot of money to lose by cancelling. We made the trip but I spent the entire vacation worrying about the flight home.
But the worst was yet to come
Six months later we flew to Reno, Nevada for a vacation in Lake Tahoe. While still really worried about flying I convinced myself that it would be ok. How many flights took off and landed safely everyday? Weeks and months went by without any airplanes falling out of the sky. My new found calm was short lived.
On our approach to Reno we hit clear air turbulence – the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced. Their was not a cloud in the sky but the plane seemed to suddenly be completely out of control and the mountain on the approach to the runway seemed to be getting closer and closer. Overhead compartment doors were flying open. People were screaming. My first husband had been an Air Force pilot and I knew just enough about the damage clear air turbulance can cause to be extremely frightened.
Obviously we made it safely onto the ground but I spent the next 10 days trying to convince my husband that we needed to rent a car and drive back to Ohio. Again – no such luck. We flew home. I’m sure the armrests of my seat on that flight had to be reupholstered after that flight.
Two episodes in very close proximity caused my irrational fear. It’s getting better but I’d like it much better if we had a train system like the one that exists in Europe. So, for me two life experiences made such an impression on me that this phobia has been with me for over 15 years. I’m working on it.
If the symptoms are all in my head why is my heart beating so fast…..
You may hear people say “It’s all in your head.” While in someways this is true, it is also true that the symptoms are very real physical reactions – sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, feeling faint, crying.
The good news is most phobias are curable. Some people use self help techniques to get past these fears, such as changes in lifestyle, meditation, relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, to name a few. Exercise, getting enough sleep, avoiding caffeine are all do-able lifestyle changes that can help. For others talking to a counselor and/or medication may help. Some counselors work at helping eliminate the phobia by using exposure therapy. By using relaxation techniquest, exposing the person to the situation or object for short intervals, gradually increasing exposure, the fears diminish. Others use visualization. There are also self help groups for specific fears as well.
And the winner is…..
Don’t let fear run your life. Without some diminution of my fear of flying I would have missed several wonderful trips to Italy, England, Germany. These are experiences I will cherish the rest of my life.The special trips I ‘ve shared with my kids would not have occured after 9/11 had I not boarded another airplane. Do what it takes to, at the very least, diminish your fears.Work with a counselor, Ask your doctor about medication before you undertake a situation that gives you palpitations. Learn to meditate. Learn the tricks that make it easier for you to confront your boogieman.
For me, a fully loaded and charged i-Pod and earbuds with my favorite music, a good book, a couple of crossword puzzles will get me through just about any flight. And every time I safely complete another plane trip I congratulate myself for winning the battle one more time. Getting to the airport two hours early, a cup of Starbucks coffee and a magazine I’ll never read – a small price to pay to see all the wonderful places that exist in our world.