In Part I and Part II you have created your hierarchy, completed various exposures, and learned how to block safety behaviors so that your exposures work properly. Today, we will finalize this series by talking about actual flying exposures.
Continuing Your Exposures
You are going to have to spend some money at this point because it’s going to involve flying.
Exposure 6: Find a small plane company. I only say this because it’s cheaper than a major airline, but you could do that too. I’m going to suggest you do 3 different flights, though you may not need that many. You have to book a flight because you’re going on that plane at least once if you want to master this fear! We have to make the most of these exposures, so I’m going to break down how to do that in 3 flights, and you can condense these.
The goal is to do it without any safety behavior. That means just being on the flight, no safety behaviors, and definitely no use of any substances to “calm nerves”. That means again, uncrossing your arms, unclenching fists, saying to yourself “this plane may crash with me on it”. I have a second goal for you too. I want you to try and enjoy at least one part of the flight. Really pay attention to something that you find pleasurable (I love the views).
Again, you’re going to fly without any safety behavior, but this time you’re going to read through a script you write, to heighten your anxiety. Or you could record a script and listen to it on repeat. You’re going to read it at least 50 times on the flight, looking out the window in between each read so you aren’t avoiding the actual flight, turbulence when it occurs, or how high up you are. Here’s a sample script, but you can make your own.
“This plane may crash right now. All it takes is a little turbulence and the wing or the engine could damage. The pilot wouldn’t be able to handle the damage and we would start to fall towards the ground. It could happen at any time. I’d know at that point that I probably only have a minute left to live and it would feel terrifying. Even though it’s scary to think about, I have to learn to live with the uncertainty that bad things can happen so that I can learn to fly again.”
You’re also going to notice something else you enjoy.
Again, you’re flying without any safety behavior, but you’re going all the way this time. What’s that, you thought you’d already gone all the way?! Well, the last step is to get on the flight and then actually look down and think specific thoughts about the plane crashing, especially when there is turbulence. When there is turbulence think, “I hope the plane crashes” or “maybe the engine will fail or the wing will fall off”. Imagine the plane just breaking in half. Look at a spot on the ground and imagine it crashing into that spot. Then, read about plane crashes, and watch videos of planes crashing. Although this may be scary, I’m assuming you’re probably going to live, as it’s an everyday risk (people take flights every day). You’re learning that you can think anything on a plane and make it through. Going through that process you’ll naturally find that thoughts you have about planes crashing just aren’t as scary anymore. It’s like because you’ve now faced them deliberately over and over they just don’t seem to stick in your head or hold the weight they once did. I promise you that it will make flying so much less terrifying – Even enjoyable! You will have experienced many times that you can face your scary thoughts, block any safety behaviors, and come out the other side. The amazing thing is that because of this you also probably won’t have nearly as many scary thoughts anymore.
You’ll need to take a bigger flight. Do all the exposures you did on the 3 smaller flights. Or, if you’re like me, then do all those exposures and then write about them while on the flight too! If you do this, send me what you write as I’d love to read it.
If you have followed these steps it’s quite likely that your fear of flying will be much lower, or even gone. You have shown incredible bravery and come out the other side. It’s really an amazing achievement and something you should feel proud of. I hope you’ll be able to fly somewhere for a vacation to celebrate.
Some Additional Thoughts
- Treatment doesn’t work for everyone. This type of exposure therapy is by far the most effective treatment, but it only works for around 80% of people
- You’ll need to create your own hierarchy and adapt the exposures for yourself. Just doing all the exposures listed here may not be enough as your fear may be different to mine, and as people learn in different ways.
- If it’s not working, it’s very likely that there is some type of safety behavior occurring, or that your exposures aren’t quite targeting the right learning. I’d recommend seeking some help from a psychologist who specializes in anxiety treatment using exposure therapy.
- The final exposures are designed to go further than you need to. This lessens the chances that anxiety comes back, and actually makes it more likely that your treatment will succeed. You get out what you put in.
Thank you for reading this series, I hope you found it helpful!