The Onset Of Flight Anxiety Problems

A person on the SOAR Message Board writes, “Can one person fly for almost twenty-nine years with no turbulence and no fear and then just freak out about it? I was first on the plane at age of 6 months and never even once up until this year worried about flying. I would fall asleep on planes.”

Until one flight to San Francisco and back, my nerves were really on edge for some reason and they plane shook and its the first time ever I got nervous. A few months later I went with my family to Cozumel Mexico and on the way there the plane shook a bit, I cried, my arms got numb.

When I tell people that I never really experienced turbulence up until this year they don’t believe me. Now I am convinced that every flight I will take from now on will bump and shake. I even got nervous last week watching a plane in a movie.

I was supposed to go to Paris in end of November for my 30th birthday and I had to cancel. I am a freelancer and will start getting sent on the trips overseas more often and I would probably will have to say no. How sad!

The Average Age Of Onset Is Twenty-Seven

This is not unusual at all for flight anxiety to begin at age twenty-nine. In fact, the average age of onset for fear of flying is twenty-seven. Each of us develops a limited amount of ability to regulate feelings. What we develop is developed before age three. When we don’t get enough ability to regulate feelings, we turn to control of things, reassurance from others, a way out, if things don’t go well. Having those three “security blankets” helps us deal with anxiety.

But there is another thing that seems to cause the onset in the twenties: the death of illusion. Teenagers typically believe nothing can go wrong; bad things happen only to other people. In our twenties, we begin to realize things that we thought only happen to others can happen to us, too. That changes how things look.

Then, flying is a problem because we no longer hold the illusion of safety, and we are not in control, don’t have reassurance (unless a pilot is in the next seat) and we can’t escape if things go wrong.

The answer is to build inside the emotional strength to deal with things without high anxiety. That’s where one of the advanced methods of dealing with flight anxiety comes in. What I call “The Strengthening Exercise” is used to build the emotional strength we need so we can fly almost as anxiety-free as we did back when we — naively — thought bad things can only happen to others.

The exercise works this way. The bad feelings you get when flying such as rapid heart rate, rapid breathing (or feeling you can’t get enough air), etc., come from stress hormones released by the amygdala, a sort of mini-brain that tries to sense danger, but gives us false alarms when flying. There is a hormone — oxytocin — which shuts down the amygdala. All we need to do to stop the bad feelings is to produce oxytocin before the amygdala can produce stress hormones. The Strengthening Exercises link the various moments during a flight to a memory which can cause oxytocin to be produced. It is a bit complex, but once learned and practiced for a week, feelings are controlled.

To get a clear picture of how this works, see this free video.


4 responses to “The Onset Of Flight Anxiety Problems”

  1. I appreciated you sharing this. I fall into your category. I was flying before I could even walk. My first trip was from Argentina to New York at the age of two months. As a child, and this included long trips, I never got nervous – up until that age of my early 30s where things started to fall apart. Much like you, and more than several instances, I would cancel trips due to this fear. It’s apparent through my research, etc that I have fear of not being able to control the uncontrollable. My anxiety builds up typically weeks or a month before I travel. As a DJ who is about to start traveling more often, this is an area I need to work on and essentially become desensitized to the whole fear of flying. Thanks again for sharing this bit. It helps knowing that I’m not the only one out there struggling w/ this silly fear.

    • I also want to thank you for raising this. I also have been flying regulary since the age of 6 and now at 30 have developed a real fear of flying to the point of now considering cancelling a planned trip in a few weeks time. After looking through this and a few other sites am determined to conquer this and enjoy holidays once again with them being overshadowed by the flights!

  2. To desensitize, you need to train the amygdala – the part of the brain that triggers the release of stress hormones when it notices anything non-routine – to not do that. Of course flying is non-routine. So it triggers hormone release. Desensitization would train the amygdala to not do that. But to do desensitization, you need to start exposure to the phobic stimulus at a VERY low level, and very slowly increase the intensity or duration of the exposure. As you can see, you really can’t do that with flying. The problem is, you are either flying or you are not; you can’t adjust exposure.

    That is why we had to develop an alternate way to retrain the amygdala. If you would like info, please contact me.

    • Capt Bunn,
      This issue describes me to a “T”…I have been flying since I was very small and about a year ago, I began fearing every flight so much that I have missed some very important thing in my life. I am supposed to be flying to the east coast to visit my little brother this July, and I am already having bad feelings and losing sleep about it. If you could find a way to help me out with this so I don’t have to cancel this trip, I would very much appreciate it.

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