Capt Tom’s Top Ten Tips
CAPTAIN TOM’S TOP TEN TIPSTip Number One - Dealing with Anticipatory Anxiety - Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise
First, keep in mind that this is a “band aid” fix, and it takes a lot
There are far more powerful techniques I can teach you any of these courses (click on the underlined title for more info):
Start by doing the 5-4-3-2-1 every five minutes. Then every fifteen minutes. Then every hour. It
is nothing more than a focusing exercise, something to intensely
occupy your mind so the disturbing thoughts can’t take hold.
Once you start to relax, you may actually become afraid to not be
afraid. It is easy to think that you can cause something
bad to happen by failing to worry enough. We can talk about this more in a counseling session
(or you will find info on this in the SOAR Course).
As I said, this is a “band aid” which takes a lot of work. Completely effortless and automatic relief from high anxiety and panic is taught — and practiced — in the SOAR Course. What you learn makes it
impossible to panic.
I can also teach you t his in a counseling session which will help immediately, I’m at 877 332-7359
or 203 258-4803 and available from 10 AM until 7 PM Eastern time (same
as New York).
Here is an outline of the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise
Sit or recline comfortably. Focus on some object in front of you. Keep
your focus on that throughout the exercise. (If you eyes drift off, just
bring them back.) Do it out loud first. Then, try it silently. See if one
works better for you than the other.
Maintaining focus, say the words “I see” and then name something in
your peripheral vision.
Then say “I see” and name something else in your peripheral vision.
Continue until you have made five statements.
For example: I see the lamp, I see the table, I see a spot on the lamp
shade, I see a book on the table, I see a picture on the table.
Maintaining focus, say the words “I hear” and name something you
hear. Then say “I hear” and name something else you hear. Continue
until you have made five statements.
NOTE: you will have to repeat something if there are not five different
things you can hear. For example: I hear the computer running, I hear
a car outside, I hear my breathing, I hear my voice, . . . (running out
of things, repeat one of them), I hear the computer running.
Maintaining focus, say the words “I feel” and name something you feel
(not internal, like heart pounding or tension, but external). For example:
I feel the chair under me, I feel my arm against my leg, I feel my left
foot on the floor, I feel my right foot on the floor, feel the shirt on my
That completes one cycle. It takes intense concentration. That is exactly
what we want. As you concentrate on non-threatening things, the “fight
or flight” hormones that were in your body when you started the exercise
get burned off. As they get used up, you get more relaxed.
See, you don’t have to MAKE yourself relax; as the old ones get used
up, you just get more relaxed.
What about the next cycle? If you always made five statements, you
soon could do the exercise WITHOUT intense concentration, and your
mind could drift back to “bad” thoughts.
To keep the concentration intense, we make one change each cycle
. . . instead of doing five statements again, we do four statements. Then,
in the next cycle, we do three statements. Then, in the next cycle, we do
two statements. Then, in the next cycle, we do one statement. Then, in
the next cycle, we go back to five, etc.
Is it OK to name the same things? Sure. Same or different is fine . . .
just whatever comes to mind.
When do you stop? When you are as relaxed as you want to be, just stop.
If you want to be more relaxed, or to fall asleep, continue.
If you lose count, that is a good sign because it means you are getting so
relaxed that you are losing count.
Tip Number Two - Avoid Imagination And Manage Your Stress Level
During the flight, focus on what is really happening - NOT what you
imagine. Why? What is real is not going to cause anxiety.
When you think something may be happening, ask yourself if you have
any real proof of that.
Feelings are hard to ignore when they get big. Manage them by tracking
your anxiety level on a scale or zero to ten.
Take along something to write on. Write down your feelings and thoughts.
Dumping thoughts and feelings out onto paper helps prevent build-up.
Tip Number Three - First Time Anxiety
“First time anxiety” is to be expected. Anything for the first time leads to
anxiety. We pilots would not be doing this job unless it was safe. And,
insurance companies are no fools; they sell pilots insurance at the
same rates as non-pilots.
Tip Number Four - Avoid Imagination
Keep the “visual channel” of your mind fully occupied with something
concrete to keep imagination from gaining a foothold.
Buy several magazines with splashy color pictures. Just flip through
the pictures to keep the “visual” part of your mind busy. This is a great
time to focus on needlepoint or puzzles, if you like those activities.
Or bring a DVD player, or a video game. Still bring magazines; you are
not allowed to use the DVD player or video game during takeoff or
Tip Number Five - Music Filters Out Plane Noises
Keep the “auditory channel” of your mind occupied. Bring along an audio
player with plenty of music.
Or, if you have an iPod or other MP3 audio or MP4 video player, get “Take Me Along”, the special tracks
I have recorded to play during your trip. You play one when you arrive at
the airport, another when you are waiting to board. Then, after boarding,
I tell you everything to expect on takeoff (the noises the plane makes are
included). Then during cruise, I tell you why turbulence is not a problem.
And before landing, you hear about everything to expect during landing.
It’s like having your own pilot with you.
Tip Number Six - Make It Your Choice
Take back control. Be very aware that - even if pressured to fly - you
still have a CHOICE whether you fly or not.
Make that choice - versus whatever the alternatives are - a conscious
and deliberate choice.
Take still more control. Before you board, go to the window. MEMORIZE
VISUALLY what is outside the jet-way and outside the airplane. Use
your photographic memory to record in detail what you see. Then, when
walking through the jet-way, visualizing what is outside helps reassure
you that there IS an outside and the walls are not able to pressure you.
Tip Number Seven - Meet The Captain
This is so important it is equal to all the other tips combined. If you don’t
do this one, you only have yourself to blame for an awful flight, because
Tell the gate agent you need to board early because you are an anxious
flier and need to speak to the captain. Some gate agents will help you
do this and some won’t. If the agent will, stay nearby so the agent doesn’t
forget you. If the gate agent will not board you early, ask the agent to point
out to you where you will be getting on the plane. Then position yourself
right by the entrance. When boarding (for first class passengers, elderly
passengers, passengers with kids, or people who need extra time - that’s
you) is announced, immediately step forward and board.
Don’t go to your seat. Instead, find a flight attendant who is not tied up
directing people to their seats.
Tell the flight attendant that you are an anxious flier and are working on
it with someone who says it is very important that you meet the captain.
Explain that you understand about security, so you want him/her to ask
the captain for you, while you wait right there.
- DO NOT APPROACH THE COCKPIT ON YOUR OWN. WAIT FOR A
- EVEN IF THE CAPTAIN OR FLIGHT ATTENDANT SIGNAL YOU TO
COME IN, A SKY MARSHALL SEATED TO THE SIDE MIGHT NOT
SEE THAT. WAIT TO BE ACCOMPANIED.
Meeting the captain keeps you from feeling alone. It also puts you in
personal contact with control.
You will sense their competence and confident. It helps to know they
- also - want to get back home to their family, and they have been doing
so for years. They will make extra announcements for you.
Embarrassing? Blame it on me; tell them I made you promise to do it.
Tip Number Eight - Your Space
Take some more control. Stretch out your arms and and legs, to sense
the physical space that is yours.
What about visual space? An aisle seat can give you more VISUAL
space. Many find visual space more important than physical space.
If you find yourself having breathing difficulty, hold your breath for one-
thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three at the end of
each exhalation and at the end of each inhalation.
Tip Number Nine - Know About Noise Abatement
On some takeoffs, we reduce power after reaching about one thousand
feet (roughly twenty-five seconds after liftoff), which can be frightening if
you don’t know what it’s all about. Ask the captain when you meet him or
her if the power will be changed significantly after take off, and ask how
it will feel.
Tip Number Ten - Lightheadedness Doesn’t Mean Falling
Expect and understand the physical sensations that are a natural and
routine part of flight. Imagine this: you get in an elevator on the ground
floor, and press the button for the tenth floor. The door closes, and as
the elevator starts to rise, you feel heavy. As the elevator approaches
the tenth floor, it has to slow down and stop. As it does, you feel “light-
headed.” In an elevator you know what the feeling is about. You are
just slowing down your ascent. Though this feels like falling, you aren’t
falling at all.
The same thing happens in an airplane when we level off after a climb,
or when we reduce power after takeoff.