This was the opening sentence of a phone call I received. This poor chap was already in a heightened state of anxiety and described to me how he was so frightened of flying that he experienced panic attacks the week before his flight and often had to stop on the way to the airport to be sick on the side of the road. He rarely flew however at times his job required him to travel overseas. The whole experience of travelling to the airport and being in the terminal was almost as stressful as the flight itself. The feelings intensified each time he flew, reinforcing those horrible unwanted feelings every time he went away.
This is the experience of many people I see, although many people do still decide to fly off on holiday, feeling awful for a week or so before hand and losing the last few days of their holiday as the worry and fear kicks in again. Often this fear and worry can start after a particularly upsetting flight where turbulence was bad, or a landing may have been frightening. Sometimes, it’s the fear of not being able to get off, of feeling trapped in a metal tube up in the sky. This was indeed the case for my gentlemen. He remembered a flight to Spain when he was 9 years old. It was an extremely bumpy, turbulent two hours and he remembers his mum crying and being scared, which caused him to feel frightened. When he got off the plane he was sick on the steps leading to the tarmac and remembers feeling terribly embarrassed.
We reprocessed both of those memories and dealt with the fear, which he described as being ‘a saucepan boiling over’ in his stomach. With such a visual image, I asked him what had to happen to change that. He explained that he needed to ‘turn off the flame and cool it down with cold water.’ Our minds usually work in metaphors. Whilst I can suggest ways to help people, it is so much more empowering for the individual to envisage counter metaphors to feel better.
During the session, it also became apparent that the fear of being trapped stemmed from a time, when as a small child he had been trapped in a cupboard in the dark whilst playing hide and seek and that this was a similar feeling to how he felt on a plane. We did a similar technique with those memories and feelings. The next session I asked him how he wanted to feel when getting ready for holidays and flying. He answered calm and excited. By using times when he had felt that way before and transferring those resourceful feelings into a different situation, he was finally able to enjoy his flight to Dubai. Apparently, his work colleague told him he was annoyingly excited and wouldn’t stop chattering about things for the whole five hours! I bumped into him about a year later and he was not only flying on business trips but had also had a few weekend trips away with his wife.