Saturday, April 12, 2014

Scared of Flying

I lived near Los Angeles in the late '80s when we had a serial killer called the "Nightstalker" prowling the streets. This guy found open windows and crept in and murdered people while they slept.

To anyone who didn't have air conditioning this made for fretful nights. I found a way to keep my windows slightly ajar and yet still safe from a break in. Then I did a reality check.

Out of 11 million people in the Los Angeles basin, how likely was it that this guy would find and kill me? Not very. Plus I didn't live in the area he committed these crimes. Though he was moving around a bit.

I reasoned out, it was not very likely and I started to relax myself. Then the news put a shrink on to say the same thing I had worked out on my own.

Fear exists as a great legitimate tool to prevent us from doing something totally stupid. It keeps us from poking bears and kicking sleeping tigers. Sometimes those instincts get in the way of modern life.

Getting on an airplane I feel a sense of apprehension. I ignore it because I know that I am safer in the aircraft than I was riding in the car to the airport. This knowledge doesn't prevent the fretting, it just lets me keep going with confidence. Most people think nothing of getting in a car.

I'm not asking you to feel stress on the roads. Though some attentive care may save you from crashing into that motorcycle that cuts you off.

I've seen several desensitizing techniques for overcoming fear that I feel are worthy of sharing. First, don't deny that you have dark thoughts. Let them be real, write them down so you can see what you're really thinking. You might be surprised what your subconscious thinks.

Judging your fear at this point may just push them deeper. Let them be okay so long as they are not directly creating problems for you right now. In that case, think of ways that you can do what you need, the minimum amount, with the least amount of fear. For instance, if you fear flying and have to take a trip for business, is it close enough to drive or take other transportation? Can you telecommute or ask someone else to go instead?

If you have no alternative but to do what you fear, start by treating yourself with the most kindness. Tell the people involved that you are fearful of what is about to happen. You may hear things like "Don't be afraid, " but most likely you'll hear someone else say that they understand and have a similar fear. Let the fear deniers know that you expect them to be kind, even if they do not share your concerns.

Desensitize yourself with information. For me, I feel percentages help. If I know that there's a bigger chance to get hurt in a car, I feel less afraid of airplanes. Then, expose yourself to some of the item that gives you trepidation. Have a friend place a photo of an airplane on a wall as far from you as possible. Then every few minutes, look that direction. Get used to the idea of seeing what you most fear. this can take as little as a few minutes to calm yourself.

Remember to breath and be kind. Concentrate on breathing in on the count of four, holding for a count of two, then out on four. Once you're calmer start moving closer to the picture of the plane.

Move on to a video of planes. Nothing scary, just average plane sights and sounds. Notice that most people smile when they ride in airplanes. Notice that they get on and get off  calmly and some even relax enough to sleep.

Remember, it's perfectly okay to still say that you are afraid. Be kind to yourself.

Now go near the airport and watch some planes from a distance. Remember to breath. It's not always possible to find airplane seats, but you could put a couple chairs close together and get some airplane sounds and pretend.

Finally, if easing up to the fearful activity doesn't work strong enough for you, consider asking your doctor about a sedative. There are lots of calming things that are over the counter, they might suggest one of them or they might write you a prescription. Some people use alcohol to alleviate fears, but I find that makes me more stressed. Find the least action that gives you the best handle on the fear.

As I said, I'm still afraid when flying. All I need is the breathing and the awareness of the safety. When I had my day surgery, I cried until the nurse reminded me to breath. The crying lessened but didn't stop completely. I am proud that I had a way to handle the fear.

I'd like to hear if you have your own fear reducing activities. Kind comments always welcome!

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