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Irrationally rational

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  • Irrationally rational

    I am the typical flew all my life and loved it, then one day I didn't anymore, and then it got worse. I developed anxiety in other aspects of my life which just added itself on to my already fragile relationship with flying. I haven't flown since January 017 and I'm flying tomorrow. I have gone through all emotions to the point of crying, not so much out of fear as out of frustration : I used to recruit pilots for a living, I have seen everything they need to do to get here, sat in interviews, worked in the operation center .. I'll be flying with the airline I used to work for, the 'best airline in the world ' - I know these pilots and I trust the process that got them there, the fleet is brand new, the route is rather short and pretty peaceful, very little turbulence as per the forecast map - 5h55 flight .. my rational knows it is safe and I'll be okay.

    But my irrational lashes on to the unvertainty, the part beyond our control- does Murphy's law still apply with a machine engineered for everything to run smooth? My mind goes into this fantasy mode Of what ifs and I panic all the while thinking I'm a bit arrogant to make 300 people's flights, safety all about me.. even more so when I think about the millions of people that will be airborne at the same time I am,

    when i get rational, I feel so peaceful. I actually enjoy flying, the soothing sound of the engines, the dimmed lights during night flights - landing is my favorite part because I mentally rate the pilot's skill even though I no longer work for the airline. And then a thought comes up - usually some catastrophe scenario - and I get scared, I even considered not getting on the flight .. but I have to. I can't let this fear drive me. I love the idea of speaking to the captain but access to the pilots is tricky with this airline, if I'm lucky I might know him and maybe get a shot. I'm definitely talking to the cabin crew though.

    But I know, with the life i have as an expat, flying is the only non negotiable aspect. I tried to un-expat myself and was miserable. Going through soar was tremendously helpful thank you so much... , but my fear is less technical like plane, or pilot and is more existential. Life's uncertainty feels even stronger when I'm headed 30 000 ft upwards take off is my nemesis , I really struggle with that one because it has a 'too late now' feeling ... I go back and forth between sheer terror and a weird sense of knowing I'll be fine so I should stop being silly ... it's exhausting !

  • #2
    It's interesting. The average age of onset of fear of flying is twenty-seven. As we mature and become more aware that something can (and ultimately will) end our life, we become more interested in control of thing that could end our life. It isn't possible to get complete control of those things. Unless we are willing to accept this as a fact of life, anxiety rushes in as we focus on the areas where control is not absolute. When we think "what if" and imagine something ending our life, we trigger the release of stress hormones. The stress hormones unbalance our thinking. What we fear, instead of being an extremely unlikely possibility, becomes to look like a probability. That releases more stress hormones. Our thinking becomes more out of balance, and we begin to imagine that what we fear will happen if we engage in the feared activity. Thus, the only sure way to keep what we fear from happening is to avoid being exposed in any way.

    Also, it is as if, if we fret about our inadequate control, we might find a solution. We never do. The more we fret, the more anxiety we experience. Even if we do get more control, it is never enough to reach the level at which we can stop being anxious (again, if we can't accept this fact of life) unless we attain absolute control.

    There is a way around this. First, we need to decide if the activity - flying in this case - is safe enough to do. If you understand how safe it is, and why it is so safe, you will become - intellectually, at least - comfortable with the idea of flying. Next, how do we control the feelings when we do it?

    I have a smoke alarm in the kitchen. If something cooking on the stove starts smoking and makes the smoke alarm go off, I don't automatically run. I know what is causing the alarm. So I push the reset button and the smoke alarm quiets down for five minutes.

    We can do the same thing when your non-routine sensor - it's called the "amygdala" - goes off. When you encounter - or imagine - something non-routine, something your amygdala is not used to, it releases stress hormones to grab your attention. That's the same as what your smoke alarm does.

    In both cases, amygdala and smoke alarm, it is up to you to figure out whether there is or is not an emergency. You don't automatically decide there is a fire if your smoke alarm goes off, so don't automatically decide there is danger when your amygdala goes off. Instead, recognize something non-routine is going on - either around you or in your imagination. Is this non-routine thing a danger? If you mean flying, the answer is yes and no. In extremely rare cases, a flight encounters danger. But it is a very good bet that taking a flight will not expose you to any danger at all. Why? Because flying is super-controlled, and there are backups (and backups for the backups) if a problem arises.

    Murphy's Law makes sense. But, aren't you assuming people who provide air travel don't know about Murphy's Law, or think they can circumvent it? We in aviation know things go wrong. Instead of depending on nothing going wrong, we expect it, and are prepared when it happens.

    For example, consider Todd Curtis. Todd is a PhD engineer. He now runs but worked for Boeing when the 777 was being developed. His job was, together with a team, to list everything that could possibly go wrong. Then, after that list was complete, to assemble other teams as necessary to come up with a way, after any of the things on that list happened, to get the plane back on the ground safely. This meant developing backup systems that could be relied on when the main system stopped working properly. It also meant developing backups for the backups because, based on Murphy's Law, there could be a failure of the main system and then the backup system also fail.

    Consider your car. What is your backup? If you crash your car, then what? You hope you could step out. If not, someone would get you out and get you patched up. But what is your backup to your backup. This is where things go wrong with cars. There is no backp if you can't be gotten out of the car and to a hospital before your body quits working.

    Air travel is far safer than surface travel because, unlike surface travel, air travel deals with Murphy's Law and provides backups for the backups. Todd did his job well. So far as I know, no person has perished on a 777 due to running out of backups.

    The 777 is not the only airliner with backups for the backups. If you look at the record for the past fifteen years, in the U.S., no person boarding a flight on amajor U.S. airline has failed to return safely to the ground.

    How do you keep your mind from going into fantasy about "what if?" Don't even try. Your mind is supposed to think "what if." What is missings is emotional regulation WHEN you think "what if."

    Now, assuming you are intellectually satisfied that flying is OK to do, how do you do what I do with my smoke alarm? How do you find the reset button that silences your amygdala? You will find it if you sign up for any of the SOAR Courses. We show you how to train your mind to automatically produce a hormone when you fly that that keeps resetting the amygdala, and keeps it from producing the stress hormones that cause the unwanted feelings. See

    Sign up for "Complete Relief." When you get to video clip 9, set up a time for the included counseling session with me so I can make sure the automatic protection is established and will work on your flight. My online schedule is at


    • #3
      Thank you so much for your thorough response Captain. My rational mind is so relieved by everything you said and I'm more than aware at how far fetched my thinking is. I have friends, family on a plane every week at different times and everyone lands safely. Heck I have been on countless planes ( minimum twice a year ) for my whole life and have always landed safely. As a matter of fact, I have not had a bad flight to speak of... albeit sometimes a bit shaky or unusually loud ( like the A320 or the 787) ...

      You're absolutely spot on my amygdala goes off all the time, and added to the superstition that when you focus long enough on something it eventually manifests gives me irrational but valid enough reasoning to justify my fear. While driving back from the airport ( I didn't end up flying last week though it was due to unforeseen circumstances ), I was on a German highway at peak hour and it was raining.. and I thought to myself there are higher risks of something happening to you on this journey right this moment than had you gotten on your flight .. but you're not scared which goes to show youre completely irrational.

      The 777 was by far my preferred airliner until I experienced the A350 ( so smooth, quiet you barely notice you're flying ) - though with the recent engine failures of the A380s I have to say I'm a bit more Boeing inclined ( the fact that airbus is so dependent on technology is great until something goes awry .. I find Boeing pilots are still more in 'pilot mode ' but I can't know for sure )..

      the plane i was supposed to fly on got there safely ... i am bummed because I would have loved to have that flight behind me .. but at the same time i don't just want to override my fear, i want to go back to enjoying the experience. It's almost as if in my late 20 ies something made me realize I was 30 000 ft in the air ... before that it really didn't hit me or matter.

      Maybe I'm also processing a friend of mine who recently passed at 37, so my sense of mortality is heightened. I wish I could afford your course right now but I can't justify this expenditure for the time being, though I will definitely take part eventually.

      You also mentioned acceptance of that which we can't control. That's a big one for me. My mind finds smart ways around every explanation I give it, including the fact that on those planes who didn't land safely there were people who also believed they would be safe or who were afraid but decided to get passed their fear to get where they needed to go. That aspect really bothers me because fact is regardless we don't actually know for sure. We can prepare and remove risk as much as possible but there can always be that one thing nobody thought of and unfortunately that minimal percent is the one my brain is focused on, the one percentage it can't predict, explain or accept ... it makes absolutely no sense.
      Last edited by Ibelieveicanfly; 10-10-17, 03:45 PM.