Overcoming my fear of flying

True story. If you get nervous flying from the airport (or know someone who is) you might be interested to read this...or you might just be curious about how as a therapist, I cured myself of my fear of flying.


My fear of flying

It all started when I missed my flight back to the UK when I was 18. I lived in the airport for two days sleeping on the floor and all our luggage had gone back to Manchester without us (as it did back then). A kind airport policeman took pity on my friend and I, and bought us a meal while we grappled with the difficulties of finding another charter flight in peak holiday season.

We had been so proud of having a last swim, leaving the beach, dressed in shorts and bikinis, and managing to get two ferries and a train back to Athens airport in time for our flight home and our second year at university.

But as 18-year-old girls tend to do we got distracted by a group of off-duty pilots flirting with us. So, we hadn't even reached the main departure lounge when a check-in assistant pointed out our flight leaving above our heads and my friend burst into hysterical tears. We had a few coins to phone our desperate parents and let them know the bad news.

After two days of stress, sleeping on the floor, being kicked and woken and treated as vagabonds we appealed to the check-in desk, badgering them yet again. (We must have been quite smelly having come straight out of the sea two days ago).

We were frantic to get back to university for the start of freshers week where we were volunteer helpers. I saw the pilot behind the desk and said to my friend 'cry, just cry!' There and then we had more hysterics in front of the pilot who insisted on us flying back on the next plane. I actually flew in the cockpit with the pilots and have a photo to prove it. My friend sat in the jump seats with the stewardesses. None of that would be allowed now!

We were so relieved (as were our parents) but that was just the start of developing my fear of flying. It's what's known as the ISE - the 'initial sensitising experience' for a phobia. The first thing you recall about your fear.

Compounding the fear

The next thing is that the initial fear gets compounded. Mine developed with a short and very bumpy flight to Edinburgh where the tea and coffee were flying out of our hands as it was so turbulent. (Now I quite enjoy turbulence amazingly). Then I took a business flight to the USA when we lost one of the engines over Ireland. To be honest I might not have noticed had the American pilot not said we were boldly carrying on.

He said in typical gung-ho cowboy style that this was 'a normal situation...er, well maybe it is abnormal... but hey, we practice this type of thing all the time in simulators so we're carrying on!' My heart dropped into my stomach as I realised these problems do happen. However, my colleagues were all strangely confident that we could fly on even one or two engines if necessary.

This was the second episode that compounded my fear.

Interestingly I wasn't really aware of this until it started to affect me going to the airport and catching, or rather missing, flights. I live so near Heathrow, but I would avoid going and chat with friends as if I was 'oh, so relaxed' about my upcoming flight. And then promptly miss it!

I often found myself in long queues at the airport frantic about where I needed to be. On one occasion, I actually got compensated for inadvertently missing a flight. Instead of being on my way to Zanzibar I spent the evening in a curry house in Twickenham! On another trip I gratefully received compensation to be bumped and take a flight the next day... I could avoid flying for another day and get £150 quid and a free hotel stay too!

When I finally got on the long flight to Zanzibar where I was alone, I was petrified of missing connections, so I asked BA for the 'special service' for vulnerable passengers. Normally it's used for old, infirm people and children, when I was in my early 30s! Surprisingly, I got the service, but it didn't help much. I never saw the words Zanzibar on the departure boards, only Casablanca and Blantyre which made me fear I was on my way back to Scotland! But I made it.

I was now even becoming afraid of going to the airport, being in the airport... as well as flying itself! I was constantly watchful of the signs and departure times when I was at the airport. It was time to act.

Overcoming the fears

At this time, I'd started learning how to be a therapist with various techniques including NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and hypnotherapy.

It meant that I was able to practice on myself and learn how to overcome my own fears. I did this via simple tools with complex names. Changing the 'VAKOG sub modalities of my lSE' which in simple terms means altering the powerful memories installed by the initial experience. The picture in my mind was bright and vivid so I learnt how to tone it down, the noise volume was high so I found I could lower it and do the same with the other senses.

I also learnt fast phobia cures, relaxation with hypnotherapy, the power of positive suggestion and how to change the negative language in my head. I could become more logical and rational like those colleagues who had been fine about flying on one or two engines.

And so, slowly I learnt how to fly again. It took time but as I gained confidence and learnt new techniques and coping strategies, I was able to fly comfortably and safely. I even flew to Australia on my own which was probably the final step in curing myself.

Now I am fine flying and even though glitches happen with overbooked planes, cancelled flights and bad weather I know I'll be OK. But I still keep a watchful eye to make sure I never miss a flight again!

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

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Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6
Written by Karen Kimberley, CBT Confidence & Communication Coach for anxious people
Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6

Karen Kimberley is a coach, therapist and trainer based near London, who has been coaching people to improve their confidence, communication, and capability since the late 90’s. A qualified therapist in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) she runs a business called The Engagement Ring.

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