Fear of flying is undoubtedly as old as flight itself. You just know that on December 17, 1903, the day that Orville and Wilbur took that very first jaunt into the air, there were folks standing by shaking their heads and saying, "No way you'd ever get me up in one of those things."
Despite the fact that airplanes are the second-safest mode of travel - the first being elevators - plenty of otherwise perfectly rational people experience some level of angst when they take to the skies.
As a mildly nervous flyer who was once an exceedingly nervous flyer, I can totally relate. Flying is frightening in a formidable, abstract kind of way. Well-meaning lunkheads who start spewing statistics about how you have more chance of dying on the highway or the fact that you'd have to take more than one flight every day for a thousand years before even slightly increasing your chances of being in a crash are totally missing the point.
You've heard it all before. You're not stupid. You know the plane probably won't go down. But what if it does?
Air travel is so safe these days that accidents are pretty much random events, and that is precisely what is so terrifying. There's simply no way to predict. If the plane goes down, it goes down, and there's nothing you can do about it. That's true, too, of terrorism, another thing that probably won't happen but is pretty much out of your hands if it does.
Conquering fear isn't about convincing yourself that nothing is going to happen to you (read being delusional), but accepting the possibility that something could happen and doing it anyway.
What the experts say
"What maintains what we think of as fear is the story - 'Oh my god, we're gonna crash! Oh no, what's that sound?' The palms get sweaty, the heart starts pounding, the breath gets shallow. That's what people talk about as fear, but all of that is quite manageable if you just keep breathing and bring your attention to your breath . If you cannot go into the story, you increase your chances of staying present, and in the present there's no problem. By breathing consciously, you can even count or repeat, 'It's OK' with each exhalation. You stay with what's actually going on instead of going into an imaginary future. Be with yourself the way you would be with a very young child . You can't tell the child nothing is going to happen. If you do, you're a fool. 'But if something does happen, I'll be here with you. It's OK. We'll be together. One day we're going to die, but if we're here and present with ourselves, we'll get through it. '"
CHERI HUBER , teacher, Zen Monastery Practice Center, Murphys, California
"There are no herbs that can help you get on a plane if you're severely debilitated. But someone who is moderately frightened of flying might use the Bach Flower remedies, which work on the emotions. Rescue Remedy is a good one. More specifically, two Bach Flowers are used for fear, often in combination: mimulus and aspen , which help build courage even if you can't put your finger on [what you're afraid of]. Combine these with rock rose for panic. Mild tranquilizing herbs include camomile , the mints , lemon balm and lavender . Catnip is an amazing tranquilizer for humans. You can make all of those into a tea of that you start drinking three times a day a week before you get on a plane. This is not for a severe problem, which would require heavy-duty sedatives. If you're really debilitated, you need counselling or spiritual work . It may not be something you're carrying presently. Perhaps [in childhood], you may have fallen from a height, or it may be a birthing trauma."
MONIKA GHENT , registered herbalist, Toronto
"Fear of flying is not about airplanes. I was afraid to fly for 28 years. One day I was on a plane with my brother and asked myself why he wasn't afraid and I was. Then I connected the dots. When I was six years old, a tree fell on my leg. It was very traumatic for me, and I decided that I'm not safe. From that point on, I only took certain jobs and never went on roller coasters. As soon as I saw that a decision I made as a child was affecting me as an adult, I was free from it. Take responsibility for your fear. Whenever you get on a flight and start feeling fear, choose the fear rather than resisting it . When you choose the fear, it actually disappears. You know it's there, but it doesn't disempower you."
DAN MacASKILL , anti-fear group leader, editor of uRnormal.com, Barrie
Our treatment program mainly involves cognitive restructuring. One major fear is the feelings you might have if something were to go wrong. So we work on letting go of anxious, fearful feelings. The most important stage is known as exposure treatment, which involves putting yourself in the presence of the stimuli that occur during flight and habituating yourself to them so you no longer feel anxious . We show an unedited video of a full flight: a person flies from one city to the next, gets out and walks around the airport for a bit, then gets on another flight and flies back. This video captures the experience of flying: sitting, listening to the flight attendant, looking at the back of the seat in front of you. People watch this over and over until they no longer feel any anxiety."
WILLIAM SCOTT , professor of psychology, specialist in anxiety disorders, College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio
"Each individual has different reasons for their fear, but one commonality might be that there's a fear of the fear. You're frightened that you're going to get frightened of getting on the plane. It could be learned behaviour or something from a past life. One way to treat it is to go back to the first time you felt that fear and change it so you feel safe. For instance, someone might be fine until they put on the seat belt.
We might find out when they first felt that fear of being strapped in. The subconscious could take us all the way back to when they were four years old and in the dentist's chair when they couldn't get out and they had pain."
GEORGINA CANNON , Ontario Hypnosis Centre, Toronto