Someone with a fear of flying perceives many threat stages

It might seem an obvious thing to say and could be applicable to any phobia. However, hear me out when I say that there are many elements to this phobia that need consideration by hypnotherapists so that it can shape their cognitive behavioural work, relaxation, ego building or exposure and response prevention work.

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Fear of flying

As a specialist who works on anxiety conditions and on the fear of flying, there are a train of fears that are interlinked by those with a fear of flying. Like any significant phobia issue, the ‘anxiety build-up’ phase towards the day or evening of the flight is the initial stage of the anxiety process that individuals with a fear of flying have. Core fears about not having the resilience to ‘cope’ with the flight and the associated catastrophic thoughts create a stressful and anxiety ridden period where avoidance becomes a recurring thought process in order to alleviate any stress and tension.

Then there is the process of going through what is a naturally stressful experience - traversing through busy airports where people are stressed and rushing to catch their flights. For those with a fear of flying and whose limbic system and ‘fight or fight’ response may be on alert as they look to fly, their ability to pick up on the stress of others will be well honed. Much of this may be down to the pack thinking that was so much a part of our development as a human species, where safety was based on picking up on the fears of the pack as a means of survival.

Therapists working with such clients therefore need to express the fact that many who travel also feel the stress and anxiety of the travel experience and this ‘airport’ experience affects many and not just people with a fear of flying. Normalising some of the fears around traversing through airports is a key fact that should be stated to clients. 

Then there is the phase of getting onto the plane and thoughts in some clients that they are ‘leaving their place of safety’ or ‘comfort zone’’, and that this is a journey that will take them to another country and place.

This phase of their cognitive fears should not be under-estimated and this is where previous exposure and response prevention work, ego building support work, as well as relaxation and CBT techniques really create the groundwork where someone can carry on past their fears and have new experiences which demonstrate to them that they can cope. This is the most sensitive of the potential ‘make or break’ points, which can either lead to behavioural and cognitive change, or a possible re-enforcement of existing fears around flying.

We know that with phobias, the longer individuals expose themselves to their fears and see that they can get through it, the stronger the neuronal connections and pathways develop that allow the individual to feel that they are able to get past the fear. This neuroplasticity needs consolidating and repeated exposure is the glue for the long term change. 

The fourth fear point is thoughts based on coping with the stay ‘away from home’ or their ‘place of safety’. In other words, people with this fear also exhibit a fear of change and being in a ‘new environment’ that is automatically associated with threat and risk. Whilst we know that the new experiences will counter mental rigidity that starts to develop around fears which remain unchallenged, for a client undertaking this work towards healing, it feels like an never ending series of fearful actions and activities that can drain their resilience.  That is how it may be perceived in many such individuals.

Depending on the length that individuals have had a fear of flying, these four stages will show up somewhere in the initial assessment or therapeutic work and it is worth hypnotherapists acknowledging and bringing up these stages so that they can be worked on separately. At the very least, it is also likely to create an empathic connecting point between therapist and client.

We should not underestimate how constrictive a fear of flying is for many people. It makes them feel ‘different’, ‘not like anyone else’, unable to enjoy new experiences and unable to fulfil their desires. It also adds something else to those with anxiety and a fear of flying. It limits the scope of their life and further restricts their mental flexibility. It also subtly confirms to the person who has this fear, that their world is getting smaller and smaller and their fears larger.

Ultimately, if such fears are not checked and overcome, they will morph into others creating an intricate web that can bind someone into it like a spider’s web. We all want to ensure that our client’s never reach this point and therefore it is important that we redouble our efforts in this area, so that our clients can see a new dawn in a new country.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, United Kingdom, SW7
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Written by Fiyaz Mughal, OBE
London, Greater London, United Kingdom, SW7

Fiyaz Mughal OBE MBACP MNCIP is a qualified and practising counsellor and a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist. He specialises in phobias and a range of anxiety conditions and more about his work can be found on www.counselling4anxiety.com.

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