Saturday, May 14, 2011

Question For You About Plane Anxiety

I am a horribly anxious flyer on planes and a comment once made to me by a pilot and therapist on a fear of flying board made me wonder if this fits any of you.

I described that I am very fearful of flying as I imagine all sorts of horrible things.  That beeping noise heard over the PA several times a flight?  I convince myself it is code from the pilot to the flight attendants of imminent danger.  Seeing other planes also flying in the distance?  I am convinced that it is too crowded out there and air traffic control is sleeping and planes will get too close.  Don't even get me started on turbulence.  I've been known to gasp out loud.  I once met a pilot at a party and I asked him many questions and I truly felt better after listening to him.  This was New Year's Eve 2008 and a couple of weeks later a plane hit birds and had to land in the Hudson.  So now I worry about fowl as well as wackadoodle, trouble-causing passengers.

Anyway, I received this response from a therapist:

"We all have some built-in ability to deal with uncertainty. Some of us handle it better than others. We therapists believe it has a lot to do with whether enough feelings of security was built into the relationship between the young child and the caregivers.

Though most of us look back and think of early life as secure, there are major differences which, because we don't have comparative experience, don't recognize.  The major difference, we believe, is whether or not the caregivers "tuned in" enough to actually feel what you were feeling. A child who develops in an environment where there is a feeling connection from the caregivers, also feels the connection and develops security.

Fast forward to adulthood. When the feeling connection and the security that comes with it is not solidly established for us, we have anxiety problems. So, we make up for feelings of uncertainty by trying to establish certainty. We use control. We try to take the uncertainty out. Still, we want a way out; an escape route.  If we have both control and escape, we feel synthetically secure.

But when flying, these two "security blankets" (control and escape) are taken away.  We, thus, are thrown back to only the built in semi-security of early childhood. It isn't enough. We panic."

It is true that I did not have a secure childhood, and it is true that I am anxiety-ridden during a flight.  It is true that my DH had a secure childhood and he is so relaxed during a flight that he can sleep the whole time (curses!).  But it is also true that I worry about everything.  Maybe I would worry about the flight even if I had a more secure childhood?  And bummer for me, I have had to fly a lot this past year, with more flights planned this summer.  I try to remind myself how every day and night thousands of planes are flying in the skies without incident.  But just about every time I fly I'm a wreck on the inside and often my limbs are shaking.   However I have to fly about every month for work and I will fly a couple times a year for visiting GM and other events here and there.

What do you think?  Do any of you have a correlation between your childhood and flying anxiety?  Or do you think it is pretty normal for anyone to imagine a disaster could happen on one's flight.


  1. This seems a bit too anecdotal for me to say yay or nay to. I've also had a pretty insecure childhood and am a terrible flyer, but I'm not ready to take the leap that the latter is necessarily because of the former. It makes sense, absolutely, but I'm still hesitant.

  2. It seems it would make sense. I am also very terrified of flying and the lack of control and escape is the main reason why. I had a very insecure childhood. I was not listened to or protected in any way from any harm. It's possible there's a correlation. I haven't been on a plane in 13 years and doubt I ever will fly again because the anxiety it produces just isn't worth it to me.

  3. Maybe it's just how I coped with things, but I'm a pretty comfortable flyer. Before boarding, I say a sort of acceptance chant to myself: you are going to take this flight, and whatever happens happens. Almost like unfocusing my eyes - just going into a little coma for a while. I tell myself worrying will only make it harder, and to take the leap and relax.

    Thinking about your proposed connection, I can see how my coping method of "tuning out" or kind of mentally floating away during stressful events would improve my ability to crawl into a plane and let go of control.

    Interesting post!

  4. I also am a horrible flyer. I have always known it was about control. I have often said if I could sit with the pilot and know what was going on I would feel better. I don't know about the correlation, but it could definitely be a possibility.