Last week on the Savvy Psychologist show, we discussed tips and tricks to get you on a plane and to your destination without the aid of the airport bar or having a panic attack. Check out How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying (Part 1) for more.
This week, we'll tackle the reasons behind your flying fears, plus some more tips on how to manage them.
An in-flight panic attack can be triggered by thinking you’re in danger, fear of a panic attack itself, or even just out of the blue. And if you’ve actually experienced a panic attack on a plane, memories of those excruciating minutes are often enough to keep you grounded, or at least heavily sedated on your next flight. What you’re afraid of is no longer flying, but of panic. Your fear really is of the fear itself.
How does it start? Panic often flares from a spark in your own body—a racing heart, a tight throat, a feeling of lightheadedness. If you’re leery of flying, you may be on the edge of your seat to begin with during a flight. Then, a sensation such as popping ears due to increasing altitude, a stomach drop due to turbulence, or feeling smothered in the recycled air can all contribute to catastrophic thoughts of losing control, dying, or simply being trapped in a metal tube for hours with hundreds of strangers, a surefire way to jump-start a panic attack.
Some of us are more attuned to bodily sensations than others. You probably know someone who can’t tell if she’s hungry or has no idea how he got that bruise. On the flip side, you probably also know someone straight out of The Princess and the Pea. This awareness of one’s own body (or lack thereof) is called interoceptive awareness. Interoceptive awareness, unsurprisingly, is more sensitive in individuals prone to panic attacks.
A classic and easy way of measuring your own interoceptive awareness is try to sense your own heartbeat. To try this, sit straight up without letting your back touch your chair, put your hands in your lap, and breathe normally. If you can’t detect it, don’t despair. Either way is considered normal. That said, a 2011 study found that individuals with a fear of flying have higher interoceptive awareness than those who fly without a second thought.