A video course for mile high anxiety, claustrophobia, and panic
With just three weeks until my next flight, I emailed the founder of SOAR Inc to ask if he’d be interested in comping me his video course for the purpose of reviewing it. He was. The complete course (for which I paid nothing) includes 11 DVDs, instant online viewing, and a 20-minute phone counseling session and retails for $480.
This course covers a lot of territory. The program promises to change how you feel before you fly and how you feel while you fly. The various videos gauge your anxiety level during a simulated flight, explain the causes of high anxiety and panic, teach you a strengthening exercise, and educate you about turbulence and how planes work.
When fearful fliers feel a bump or hear a sound, our imaginations take over. We fantasize horrible scenarios that are completely unrelated to reality. The solution? A strengthening exercise. And lots and lots of homework.
The strengthening exercise
There is an axiom in neurology which states that neurons which fire together wire together. In the fear of flying context, you feel the bump, imagine the engine failure, and picture the crash almost simultaneously. Negative thoughts cluster, attack together, and automatically overwhelm you with stress hormones.
To fight fear, you need to break the thought chain apart. First choose a moment of empathetic connectedness (which is another way of saying “a moment when you were completely happy and at peace”). Next wrap every possible scene from a flight (both the mundane and the frightening) with the happy moment.
This is a gross oversimplification of the exercise. At first, I found it to be easier said than done, but I improved a lot with repeat video viewings and lots of practice.
The back-up exercise
But what if you panic on the flight, even though you’ve prepared? That’s when you whip out your deceptively simple but effective back-up exercise! This is a relaxation technique that helps distract your mind while your body burns off stress hormones. It’s virtually guaranteed to make you feel like a total kook, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. Right?
Ready? Let’s do it. Focus your eyes on an object. Slowly and (if you’re not worried about appearing crazy) out loud name five things you see in your peripheral vision, then five things you hear, then five things you feel. Work your way down to four of each, then three, and so on. Stop whenever you’re feeling relaxed or when the Federal Air Marshal snaps the handcuffs you, whichever happens first.
With eight completed strengthening exercise practice sessions under my belt and armed with the back-up exercise (not to mention .25mg of Xanax even though the SOAR program officially discourages the use of it), I put the program to the test on a flight from San Francisco to Denver. My last flight to Denver had felt like a roller coaster over the Rocky Mountains, so I wasn’t feeling very happy about this one.
I was traveling with my kids, which always increases my anxiety for two reasons: 1) I don’t want them to pick up on my terror and think we are in real danger, and 2) I feel like I can’t comfort them during turbulence when I’m terrified myself.
Ironically it was the smoothest flight I’ve taken in a long time, but I felt calmer than I had in years.
The program definitely worked for me and I think I was also buoyed by the feeling that I had taken charge of my fear. Still, even on a smooth flight there were a handful of opportunities to remind myself of my overwhelming statistical safety and count out loud to distract my racing mind. “I see the emergency exit. I see an aircraft safety card. I see a Sky Mall catalog. I see a barf bag…”
This is the third post in a five-part series about conquering fear of flying. Topics will include:
Too busy to read all that? Flying very soon? The online video-based fear of flying program I tried (and highly recommend) has recently published a book called SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying. It’s available on Amazon for much less than the cost of the full program.