I am terrified of flying and have been since I was a teenager. The terror starts during taxi and take off, and my fear escalates as we are climbing.
Add any bumps or turbulence and I’m in full-blown panic mode. That anxiety manifests as sweaty palms, trembling, crying — and if it’s bad enough, grabbing onto the person sitting closest to me (even if that person is a stranger.)
I’ve tried a few methods to combat my fear, including reading books, taking online courses and talking extensively to a mental health professional. In the end, she and I determined the fear was irrational, and as such, only medication would help. She prescribed a regimen that works. I usually fall asleep while in flight, but then wind up feeling drowsy the rest of the day. I never loved the drowsiness, but it was much better than the complete and utter panic.
Recently, I had to travel for business. I planned to not take my medication so I could be alert for the work day ahead, but turbulence upended those plans. I spent the day in a haze — and wasn't the most productive. I realized I needed alternative ways to deal with my fear of flying and decided to try hypnosis.
I found Jeffrey Rose, a hypnotist in Manhattan, who agreed to work with me in preparation for an upcoming flight to Costa Rica. In our initial phone call, he stressed we’d be working to remove negative self-talk, as well as improving some of my general lifestyle habits, all in order to get me to a solid place where the hypnosis would be the most effective.
What is hypnosis like?
Rose informed me that I'd have three sessions with him. During the first session, we chatted about my lifestyle for 20 minutes and then he began the hypnosis.
I was sitting in a comfortable chair, which was reclined so that I was nearly lying flat. He turned on a soothing sound machine that mimicked ocean waves, while he darkened the lights. Then he began speaking in a soothing voice, guiding me into trance.
He counted down from 10, guided me to picture myself on a beach, and used other imagery to get me into a trance-like state. Once he was satisfied that I was in trance, he reaffirmed what we had discussed before: I’d sleep more, drink less coffee and alcohol and limit any negative self-talk.
From there, he spoke specifically about flying, including statistics about how safe it is to fly, how well-trained the pilots and crew are and how the planes are state of the art. While he spoke, he’d waft lavender essential oil under my nose, with the hope the smell and the positive affirmations would be linked in my subconscious and I’d be able to use the scent of lavender in the future to calm myself.
Then he counted me out of the trance and we were done. I felt drowsy, but never lost consciousness of what was happening.
I imagined the hypnosis would be like what you see in the movies, where people are completely under the spell of the hypnotist. Instead, I was relaxed, but totally cognizant of my surroundings.
In the next two sessions, Rose repeated the routine: dim the lights, recline the chair and count down to trance. Between the sessions, I had homework to do: I committed three positive affirmations to memory (one favorite: I am worthy of love and respect), which I’d recall when I was feeling anxious. I also had an audio recording of a hypnotist to guide me into trance when I was on my own.
I was sure my flight to Costa Rica would go off without a hitch. I had reduced my caffeine and alcohol intake and increased my sleep and exercise. As we waited for our flight, I listened to the audio hypnosis and chanted my affirmations. I felt calm and secure as I buckled my seat belt and prepared for takeoff.
But as the plane lifted off, the familiar tremors of fear started to kick in. The takeoff wasn’t even that bumpy, but it was enough to send me into a panic. I ripped my headphones off and, hands shaking, took my medicine. Within a few minutes, I was calm, and then asleep.
Disappointed the hypnosis hadn’t worked on the way to Costa Rica, I was determined to try again on the way back. However, as I sat in the airport in Costa Rica, I looked at my mom and told her how terrified I was. At that moment, I realized it’s just not worth it to live with debilitating fears. And so I took my pills and flew home.
It was pretty disappointing the hypnosis didn't cure my fear of flying, but I don't want to discourage anyone else from giving it a try. It works for some people, just not me. The positive affirmations and the effort to substitute negative thoughts with confident ones have had a lasting effect on me.
So if you're like me and suffer from a debilitating fear of flying, I'd say give at a shot. The worst that could happen is that it doesn't work, and you leave with a better head space than you started with.