May 29, 2013

Help for fearful flyers: A chicken's guide to wingin' it


Yet Cicala, an attorney in San Francisco who flies upwards of 50,000 miles per year, says that he slowly got used to turbulence. "I guess my brain eventually learned that these bumps may be unpleasant but don't mean that we'll crash," he says.

Considering the persistence of my flight fears — and my track record with self-treatment — I decide to search for outside help.

An Internet search reveals a cottage industry dedicated to combating everything from flight jitters to full-blown aviophobia. Books, videos, online courses, smartphone apps, even clinics that use virtual reality and flight simulators as treatment. Since travel to a clinic would probably involve, um, air travel, I decide to explore the other options.

— — —

Like most of the online courses that I check out, SOAR involves a combination of practical education and behavioral therapy. Over a few hours — and a dozen or so video lessons — program founder Tom Bunn, a retired pilot and licensed therapist, demonstrates how and why planes do the things they do and helps equip me with a mental tool kit for challenging fearful thoughts and replacing them with happier ones.

No quick fix, this is a process in which you work to replace every specific fear of flying by conjuring memories of "emphatic connectedness" — basically, moments when you were most happy with another person or persons. After a few days of working at this, I'm unsure whether it's working. Bunn assures me later by phone that this is normal.

"Most people are so busy trying to consciously control their fears that they don't even know they've already started to set up unconscious controls" with SOAR, Bunn says. "Sometimes it takes them two or three fear-free flights to believe that it's working."

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