Though Safe, Why Does Turbulence Cause Distress
Though turbulence is NOT a safety problem, it is almost impossible for a person who is not a pilot to understand that when the plane is bumping up and down, it means absolutely nothing.
How can it be - when turbulence is no problem - that people have such difficulty understanding that they are completely safe? People who think in words, don’t have trouble with flying because words are processed in the brain which is not connected to feelings.
But people whose thinking is strongly connected with images and imagination have trouble with flying because the part of the brain that processes images is directly connected to emotion.
This means, when you “picture” something awful happening (it doesn’t matter how rare it is) you get hit with emotion. (One “picture”, one hit of emotion; two “pictures”, two hits, and several “pictures”, high anxiety or
panic . . . even on the ground just thinking of flying).
Then when you get in the air, the word-based brain is say, “Don’t worry, the plane is held in the air by Bernoulli’s Theorem”. The visual-emotional brain says “That’s a bunch of words - I don’t see ANYTHING holding this
If the flight is totally - and I do mean totally - smooth, the word-based brain’s assurance balances the visual-emotional brain’s anxiety. At that point the score is tied, left-brain 1, right brain 1.
But as soon as there is just a ripple, and plane goes up and down, the balance is lost. Even if the score goes from 1 to 1, to 1 to 1.01, that is enough to convince the visual-emotional right brain that the plane is about to go down. The right brain doesn’t notice up and down, which would allow it to understand that the plane is right where it was before the turbulence started. The right brain only notices the down motion and says, “This it is! We’re going down”.
There had been a balance between the word-based so-called rational mind and the visual-oriented emotional mind. The score was tied at one to one. Sure there was anxiety, but it was balanced by
But as soon as you FEEL something physically, the score chances from 1 to 1 to 1 to 1.01, the difference is conclusive to the right brain. What you feel physically becomes the deciding factor.
When you add what you physically feel to what you picture, it completely overrides all reason and logic.
Logic goes out the window and you are left with the complete certainty that at any moment you are about to plunge and die.
We can sit here on the ground and know that is not what is really happening, but in the air, forget it; the physical feeling of the plane down (actually up and down, but the up motion doesn’t register) and the physical feeling combines with the emotional anxiety to produce feelings of certain disaster.
We DEFINITELY can fix this. Bernoulli is right; planes do fly. But what about the feelings? We have to fix what happens emotionally when the plane is in turbulence. That drives people up the wall, or maybe I should say, it pulls the bottom out from under you.
Really, you cannot SEE anything holding the plane up, so obviously the visual-emotional part of the mind says there is something wrong with this picture. After all, “Seeing is Believing” and you don’t see ANYTHING holding the plane up.
That’s the problem. But we can fix it with the jello exercise in “Control of Anxiety”.
We give that visual-emotional part of the mind a way to KNOW what holds the plane up, and that makes all the difference in the world.