There’s been lots of plane crashes in the news over the last little while. I have to fly a lot for my work and I am already a very nervous flyer and these types of stories are only making it worse for me. Can the stuff you teach help with something like that? Is it possible to hire you to show me how to help me overcome these kinds of fears?
Frequently Fearful Flyer
It’s possible to hire me to help you with this. But if you’re willing to put in just a bit of earnestness I can probably fix it for you with this blog post. It’s just a matter of how dedicated you’ll be without the sort of deeper explanation I can give over time, through sessions. But either way I guarantee it can be done.
It’s important for us to remember that ‘fears’ are useful things in life. It’s what keeps all animals from toppling off cliffs, or from getting eaten by predators etc. etc. But as useful as they are, we don’t want a life filled with them. Used properly, fears can often wisely guide us through difficult times. But employed unconsciously, those same useful tools can be used to undermine us, as this fear does, every time you try to get on a plane.
When I write “this fear,” I don’t mean to give it a life of its own. It’s not like the fear is some separate entity, running around attacking us like a ghost. It’s not separate from us, it is us. It’s a collection of thoughts in our head. Natural Fear is instinctual. It happens before language, and it’s quick, often smart and often effective.
Psychological Fear, on the other hand, is manufactured in our consciousness by our own personal thinking. We tell ourselves a story and we feel the result. Tell ourselves something horrifying and we’ll feel horrified. Tell ourselves something funny and we’ll laugh. We’re very obedient to ourselves when you get right down to it.
Whereas Natural Fear reacts holistically, about the present; Psychological Fear is history-based. With Natural Fear, when an animal bares its fangs and lunges at our throat, we don’t need some kind of narrative to play out before we run. We make an instantaneous calculation that is entirely natural and then we act on it without reservation or second thoughts. Our brains are wordless.
In contrast, in the case of Psychological Fear, if a partner broke our heart and robbed us blind, then we would be inclined toward having some level of Psychological Fear towards people who look like our ex. Without some intervening experiences or training, if we got bit by a dog when we ten years old, we’ll likely still be inclined toward being afraid of dogs at 30.
Also, we model ourselves after others. In that way, their fears often become ours. If we watched our favourite aunt worry out loud before getting on a flight, or if you saw a character like us doing that on TV, or if we were somehow exposed to the horrors of an air tragedy early in life, then it makes sense that we would be inclined to be fearful about planes. We would have a validating scary story to tell ourselves.
What saves us is that we can lower our fears and fall in love again. We can learn to love dogs. And you can learn to get on a plane comfortably. Since the Psychological Fear is the issue, and since we know that fear is weaved out of narrative thoughts, you don’t need to stop the fear, you need to stop the thoughts.
Without you being aware of it, at some point prior to your flight you begin a narrative. It probably won’t be hard to find some parts of it. But other parts of the story might be quite subtle and very hard to detect. Which is why it’s important, as much as possible, to maintain a vigilant, conscious awareness of what you’re thinking, starting the night before, or even a week before, your flight.
Even the simple observation of the thought will have a powerfully positive affect. Because if you’re observing your thinking you’re not being your thinking. An ego doesn’t notice itself. It’s running along reading itself a story, unaware there is a reader. But if you’re watching that process, then you have created a separation between the real you, and your shadow, your ego.
You want the real you watching the thought-based you. That act alone will steal much of the power from your ego’s spinning story. As you observe it, that act of observation takes psychological energy, which could otherwise be used to spin your ego’s story.
It’s also important to note, that if we’re not conscious about taming them, these sorts of suffering-based stories will ramp up because—unchecked—they feed into themselves. As you tell yourself a story you release the chemistry for various stresses. Then that chemistry—that you created for yourself—amplifies and self-reinforces the stories you’re telling yourself.
Fortunately, even in the midst of an intense flurry of fearful thinking, we’re all still always only one thought away from being fine. We just have to set our painful story down and not identify with it. That story is not us, telling ourselves any story was just something we’re all innocently taught to do by all of the other suffering souls around us.
If you’ve followed my points, you should see that it makes sense that you would be feeling uncomfortable, because the news stories stir up your internal stories even though you’re not going anywhere. But they’re still just stories and they’re still your stories. So, as much as possible, stop telling yourself those. Focus on something to be grateful for instead.
Start trading the time. Every time you start thinking about plane-related fears, switch to thinking positive things about your kids, or favourably about your spouse. You can use your impulse to trigger a gratitude reaction, so these pre-flight times can easily become productive enjoyable times for you. All it requires is the dedication to keep putting yourself back on track until that track feels more natural than the rut you’re stuck in now.
Believe you can be free of this fear because you can. Others have gone before you and proven it. Change your narrative, change your life. It’s time to take flight. Enjoy.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.