Another emotion control system, the Social Engagement System, is activated if stress hormones are due to the appearance of another person. The Social Engagement System does its work unconsciously. It reads the face, body language, and voice characteristics of the person. Depending on what it senses, it partially or completely overrides the Mobilization System's urge to flee or fight.
The Social Engagement System, when well-developed, controls fear in social situations. We have found a way to retrain this system so it can control fear in flight situations as well. By retraining your Social Engagement System and increasing the effectiveness of your Executive Function, SOAR completely controls your feelings when you fly.
But what about emotional safety? As you continue SOAR, you will establish automatic control of the feelings that make flying difficult. Feelings are caused by stress hormones. SOAR controls feelings by automatically controlling the release of stress hormones.
How the brain works. When anything unexpected or that is non-routine happens - or is imagined - stress hormones are released by a part of the brain called the amygdala. Hormones activate your emotional regulation systems.
One of these, the Mobilization System, is very basic. With a "knee-jerk" system" it urges us run or fight. But stress hormones also activate Executive Function. Think of it as your inner CEO that says, "Wait, take a look. Let's figure this out." It does three things. A. it makes an assessment of the situation. B. it builds a plan of action - if needed - and, C. commits to carry out the plan. When all three steps can be done, Executive Function ends the release of stress hormone, and resets the amygdala.
As you go through SOAR you will become an expert in how flying works. You will know that before every flight every system is checked. The flight begins using the primary systems (electrical, hydraulic, navigation, etc.). If one exceeds the normal range, the plane automatically switches to its standby system. If the standby system does not remedy the situation, the pilots are notified. Using a checklist, they switch to the third system. In most cases, a fourth, or even a fifth
system is available.
For any problem that can develop, there is a backup and backups to the backup. In the SOAR Program, you learn how the pilots deal with each and every problem that could possibly develop.. Pilots are more comfortable in flight than on the ground because, in flight, they have more control than on the ground. When this control is real to you, you will be satisfied about your physical safety in flight.
According to researcher Dr. J.T. Junig, M.D., Ph.D., anti-anxiety medications "are more likely to aggravate than improve a patient’s symptoms." They are addictive, cause cognitive problems, memory loss, and prevent people from learning to deal with their fears.
In addition, anti-anxiety medications are associated with increased likelihood of death. "In patients who were prescribed these drugs, there was an estimated overall statistically significant doubling of the hazard of death (hazard ratio 2.08)."
This shows that there are very few heart conditions that mean heart patients can't fly safely. The report includes specific information on heart conditions that do and do not rule out flying. To view a full copy of the report click here.
Passengers who use sedatives (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan or sleeping pills) when flying increase their risk of deep vein thrombosis. The risk, normally very small, doubles in four hours of immobility in a passenger seat. The risk remains elevated for about four weeks after a flight. Additional flying within that period compounds the risk.
This WHO research underscores the importance of finding a way to manage flight anxiety which does not involve any form of sedation.
According to Aviation Safety Review, 706 million passengers flew 7.15 million flights worldwide during the ten year period 1990 through 1999 on airliners registered in the United Kingdom without a single fatality.
CAA PDF Document
The following article is based on a study done by Sivak and Flannagan published in the January-February 2003 issue American Scientist.
Since 95% of accidents occur during takeoff and landing, risk of flying depends almost entirely on the number of flights involved in the trip. The length of the trip is not significant; a long flight has pretty much the same risk as a short flight.
But with a car, the risk of fatality depends upon how many miles are driven.
To make a direct comparison between the risk of fatality driving with the risk of fatality flying, we need to figure out how many miles of driving is equal to the risk of taking one flight.
To calculate this, Sivak and Flannagan chose the safest possible driving, which is driving on an Interstate highway in a rural area. This distance calculates out to 10.8 miles. In other words, the risk of driving about 10.8 miles on a rural Interstate highway is equal to the risk of a one domestic flight on a major U.S. airline.
In terms of time, at 55 MPH, 11 minutes 47 seconds of driving equals the risk of taking a flight. Since the average airline trip is 694 miles and takes about an hour and a half, 11 minutes 47 seconds of driving has the same risk of fatality as the average airline flight. But it also means that 11 minutes 47 seconds of driving equals flying eight hours to Europe or flying fourteen hours to the Orient.
Don't forget that these stats involve rural Interstate driving. If flying were compared with driving on urban or suburban roads and streets, a trip of just one to two miles would be equal in risk to one flight. This means the risk you face every two to four minutes of non-interstate driving equals the risk of one flight.
Another view compares the average airline trip (694 miles) with driving the same distance. For a trip of 694 miles, driving is 65 times more risky. Driving a trip longer than 694 becomes more risky (because the risk when driving increases constantly per mile) while the risk of a longer flight is about the same as the average flight.
Let's consider a trip from New York to Los Angeles: it is 261 times safer to fly than to drive the 2821 miles.
Notice that these figures INCLUDE the fatalities of the passengers on the hijacked 9/11 flights. What if terrorism increases? How much would terrorism have to increase for flying to become as risky as driving? Sivak and Flannagan figure disastrous airline incidents on the scale of those of September 11th would have to occur 120 times over a 10-year period, or about once a month for flying to become as risky as rural interstate driving.
The relative safety of domestic flying on the major airlines over driving is so strong that the flying will remain safer unless terrorism in the air were to reach - in spite of today's security measures - almost unthinkable levels.
In 1980, The Boeing Company published a report by Robert D. Dean and Kerry M. Whitaker entitled Fear of Flying, Impact on the U.S. Air Travel Industry. This report surveyed the results of five studies done on fear of flying and was sponsored by Kit Narodick, Director Analysis and Support, Boeing Commercial Airplane Company.
The report indicates that one of every three adult Americans is either anxious or afraid to fly. Though there is no single explanation which can account for all persons who are afraid of flying, fear of dying and fear of heights are the dominant themes.
The majority of fearful fliers do not consider flying unsafe, but avoid flying in order to escape the emotions experienced when they fly. When asked why they avoid flying, fear itself (48%) was reported as the primary factor. Still, a significant number cite safety concerns (15% of fearful fliers and 29% of nonfliers). Only 6% of adults in general consider flying unsafe.
Of studies included in the Boeing report, the study by Opinion Research Corporation appears to provide the best view of American adults. The study sampled 2117 adults selected to be representative of the continental U.S. adult (over 18) population.
Of those surveyed, 18.1% answered affirmatively to the question "Are you afraid of flying?" An additional 12.6% reported anxiety with regard to flying. Added together, these two figures show approximately 30.7% of the adult population - about one person in three - is anxious or fearful about flying.
Among fearful fliers, the highest levels of anxiety occur during segments of air travel that involve heights and life-threatening situations. For those who have no fear or anxiety about flying, missing luggage and missed connections are as significant as sources of anxiety as in-flight events.
Of those afraid of flying, 73% were frightened of in-flight mechanical difficulties, 62% of bad weather flights, 36% by on-ground mechanical difficulties, 33% of overwater flights, and 36% by flying at night.
In a study done by International Research Associates of 2002 adults, fear of flying was twice as prevalent among women as men (21% vs 9%). Similar results (26% vs 11%) were found in the study by Opinion Research Corporation.
The ORC study found anxiety when exposed to heights had the highest correlation with anxiety during commercial air travel of all the situations investigated (eta-squared of 0.13 for heights, 0.07 for confined spaces, 0.06 for water, and 0.05 for darkness and crowds).
By Captain Tom Bunn, MSW, CSW, LCSW
For twenty years, as an airline captain and licensed therapist, I have worked successfully with people seeking to overcome fear of flying.
When people ask me about the new Virtual Reality treatment for fear of flying, I am tempted to tell them it is fraudulent, but it is safer to say their claims are just grossly misleading. For example, an article in USA Today on August 18, 2000 states, "A new study has found the computer-based therapy . . . as effective as traditional therapy."
Why is this misleading? Consider what they call traditional therapy. "Those receiving the standard treatment went to an airport, sat on a plane and imagined the flying experience."
This is misleading because the "therapy" Virtual Reality is compared with is neither "traditional therapy" for fear of flying nor adequate treatment for treating fear of flying.
The traditional treatment for fear of flying was developed in the 1970s and made available to fearful fliers by Captain Truman Cummings, Dr. Albert Forgioni, The Fear of Flying Clinic, Carol Stauffer MSW and Captain Frank Petee. It included several hours of lecture on how flying works, how fear arises and how to control it. This was followed by exposure to a parked airliner, and finally an accompanied flight. The effectiveness of these programs in the 1970s far exceeded the results claimed by the new "high tech" treatment in 2000.
Subsequently, SOAR, the program I developed in the 1980s, produced still better results, as shown by research at the University of Tennessee. Further advancements have led to a nearly 100% success rate.
Larry Hodges, Ph.D, cofounder of Virtually Better Inc. states as follows: "Nearly all of the SE and VR patients flew within six months (80% of the VRET group and 90% of the SE group), . . . . " (VRET means Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy and SE means Standard Exposure).
More information and research on VRET:
Thus, by his own statistics, even the lame treatment used for comparison had half as many failures as Virtual Reality. When you consider that most people entering treatment can fly but experience great anxiety when doing it, an 80% "success rate" (success meaning how many later fly) may indicate no success at all.
This becomes more obvious in an article in the Psychiatric Times. Michael Kahan, M.D., of Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. states "The criteria for improvement was simply: did the patients fly?" Forty people entered treatment and thirty-one completed it. Following treatment, only twenty-one (68%) flew.
In an attempt to assess if the treatment had long term effects, only seven responded that they had flown, and some of those reported moderate anxiety.
This info is available at the Psychiatric Times web site at:
Seven out of 40 people is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good track record for a $1200.00 treatment.
The problem with the Virtual Reality approach is that people who suffer from fear of flying have such a vivid imagination that they easily create realistic images of impending disaster when flying. These images in their mind's eye are so real that the body reacts to the images as the body does to actual danger. Because the physical reactions that result are the same physical reactions one experiences in actual danger, it can become impossible for the person to separate feelings of danger from actual danger.
In addition, the feelings that result are so intense that the person may have no way to control them. On the ground, when one feels anxious, one naturally seeks to gain control of the situation so as to change it in a way that will alleviate anxiety. If that is not possible, escape is sought. In flight, neither control of the situation nor escape is available leaving the fearful flier no way to control his or her feelings.
The need for control or escape comes from feelings of anxiety. Since neither control nor escape is available, the problem can be addressed only by reducing the anxiety.
Adequate treatment to reduce the anxiety requires neutralization of the images the person already has in the mind. Additional frightening images presented in Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy may only add to the problem. VRET fails because, instead of neutralizing the images the person is already dealing with, it provides even more.