Case Study: Fear of Flying
30 year old female with a fear of flying hasn’t been on a plane in 10 years despite knowing its one of the safest ways to travel.
Victoria* had been flying since she was a child until one day in her early twenties she started having severe anxiety about flying. Victoria had never been in a plane crash, had an emergency landing, and until this point had been unscathed about watching movies and TV shows that had plane crashes in them. When discussing her fear of flying Victoria noted she had been on a flight that had some turbulence, but nothing too severe that she would think it would have caused her to develop a fear of flying. Additionally, the tragedy of 911 aided in Victoria’s fear.
Despite Victoria’s fear of flying, her travels plans were not stifled. Having accepted her fear as something that was insurmountable, Victoria turned to taking the bus to her destinations. What could have been a 3-hour plane ride, was now a significantly longer bus ride. In fact, when her sister got married outside of the States, Victoria arrived at the airport, and was unable to board the plane. Her fear had taken control of her emotions, and without the option of taking the bus over the ocean, Victoria had to forgo being in attendance for her sisters wedding. In fact, her choice to take buses to go place wasn’t swayed when he bus was held up at gunpoint. Even knowing that flying is one of the safest ways to travels, hearing numerous statistics on the benefits and safety of flying, and all the options of where planes can take you, Victoria refused to get on a plane.
Her anticipation of even getting on a plane, buying a ticket, or thinking about the increased security that had resulted after 911 caused he severe distress. For Victoria, it was simply easier to just not fly.
Knowing her fear was something that was only getting strong, she frequented online chat rooms, participated in discussions with people, and even did research on programs that could help her with her fear of flying. Unfortunately, what Victoria gained from these chat rooms, discussions, and programs was a sense that having a fear of flying was a normal phenomenon. It wasn’t until ten years after developing her fear of flying that she came to me to discuss the possibility of using hypnosis to help.
Why it occurred
Since nothing had directly occurred on a plane ride that Victoria had been on, I asked Victoria if she could remember if she had eaten on her last plane ride when she could remember the turbulence occurring. Victoria wasn’t sure, but she remembers not being a consistent eater of breakfast. What may have happened, and is typical for the development of phobias, is Victoria experienced a drop in blood sugar that produced an adverse reaction in her body that included anxiety, stress, and feelings of panic. Victoria’s subconscious mind associated that feeling of pure panic with being on a plane. Thus, resulting in her inability to get on a plane. Furthermore, her anticipation of having the unsavory reaction of panic again further reinforced her decision to not get on a plane again. Her subconscious create a new association of flying meaning fear, panic, and a doom. Despite consciously knowing flying is the safest way of traveling, these facts are simply being presented to the subconscious by the conscious mind, which only accounts for approximately 12% of the mind. The conscious mind deals directly with logic, reasoning, and willpower. The subconscious is much more reactive and accounts for 80% of the mind. When hearing ‘flying is the safest way to travel’ from the conscious mind, your subconscious says ‘NO WAY’ and with 88% of your mind believing this it rejects you conscious thoughts.
Victoria had finally realized that she no longer wanted to allow her subconscious association to rule her life and wanted to realign her conscious and subconscious mind in order to get back on a plane.
Method of Treatment
With Victoria’s new association in her subconscious mind that flying meant fear, panic, and stress, the plan of treatment for her would have to deal with the following areas:
- Finding her motivations for wanting to fly
- Determine how it will feel when she is able to get back on a plane
- Pick a word that describes the feelings she wants to have when on a plane
- Deal directly with the anticipatory anxiety of flying
- Give her a tool that would allow her to induce a feeling of relaxation when she began to feel anxious
Working with Victoria was done over a series of 6 sessions, completed in 2 months. Victoria and her husband were toying with the idea of going to Hawaii. However, her anticipatory fear of even buying the tickets and looking into fun activities in Hawaii cause an adverse reaction.
Victoria’s Goal was: Get on a plane feeling calm and relaxed.
Since Victoria felt comfortable taking buses on long trips, and buses and planes have similar boarding processes and seats, this analogy would be used during her visualizations. Getting on the plane and sitting in the seat is the same as getting on a bus. Thereby, Victoria would feel the comfort of the bus, while on a plane.
An additional tool would be given to Victoria to use when she felt any panic, nervousness, or anxiety. The tool of pressing her two fingers together, taking in a deep breath, and exhaling the word calm would help to counteract her feelings on anxiety giving her a feeling on relaxation. The word calm was used due to its ability when said aloud you can feel the vibration of the “-alm” through the body.
Systematic desensitization would be used while in the hypnotic state to help Victoria visualize, in a calm state of relaxation, what each step of getting on a plane would be. Each step from packing her backs, getting to the airport, going through security, to getting on and being on the plane, dealing with turbulence, and then take off and landing would be visualized. If anxiety was noted during any step in the visualization process she would be asked to release that anxiety in order to return to a state of calm relaxation. This was done by thinking about a relaxing place, utilizing her finger press tool, and taking deep relaxing breathes. Victoria was also given options in the even she continued to feel any residual anxiety. Having the ability to have books, magazines, ability to pray, and knowing that God was with her on the flight would also aid in her knowing that she could divert her attention away from her anxiety and into a distraction. Typically these would not need to be used in the future, but they are given as options. When clients know they have options, they tend to have a greater sense of control and possibility.
It should be noted that Victoria was a client that had a greater sense of being able to physically feel her emotions than building highly detailed visualizations. We call people who have a strong ability to sense things a more kinesthetic learner rather than visual. Thus, each session utilized her strong ability to feel during the visualization as well. Being able to tailor each session to individuals is a key to successfully helping clients. By producing the relaxing state in the body and how it will feel to be calm and relaxed on the plane, it becomes a known association when the client is ready to board. Victoria and I worked each session on being able to put herself into that relaxed state quickly on her own. With practice and repetition, the stronger and stronger her sense of emotional control increase and could be applied in any situation that may cause an anxious reaction.
After six sessions, Victoria and her husband boarded a flight to Hawaii with Victoria feeling a sense of calmness throughout the flight. To date, Victoria no longer has a fear of flying and has since planned multiple trips to visit friends and family.