There are many ways of learning to control your emotions, but two particular methods of emotional control that work extremely well for many people are deep breathing and progressive relaxation.
You may have heard of the famous Russian physicist Ivan Pavlov and his experiment with dogs where he proved that reflex actions were not necessarily uncontrollable. This is an idea that can be applied to your thoughts as well by associating them with deep breathing so that breathing deeply becomes a conditioned reflex that is triggered every time your fear of flying kicks in.
When Pavlov carry out his experiment, the concept was that he rang a bell before giving his dogs food. After doing this for some considerable time, he discovered that as soon as he rang the bell, the dogs began to salivate and their digestive processes kicked in. In effect, the experiment carried out by Pavlov proved that involuntary reflexes could be triggered on demand as a result of conditioning and training. There is no reason why the same thinking cannot be applied to people and your fear of flying.
You can read about this particular deep breathing training training in detail here but in a nutshell, the idea is that you train yourself so that as soon as your fear of flying starts, you have already conditioned yourself to start breathing slowly and deeply as a natural reflex reaction.
In essence therefore, by adopting this particular deep breathing training technique, you ensure that you start taking counter-action as soon as your fear starts to take over and, more importantly, you do so immediately and automatically.
This is obviously not something that you can train yourself to do immediately but with a little time plus a reasonable degree of concentration and effort, you should be able to master this technique in a matter of a few weeks. And once you have done so, you have acquired a perfect way of dealing with your fear of flying any time it seems as if it is likely to hit you.
The beauty of this approach is that once you train your reflexes, you remove the requirement for conscious thoughts that tell you when to start breathing deeply. This is very important because you already know that your fear of flying is anything but rational, so having to use conscious thinking to remind yourself to stop breathing deeply might be a little difficult.
When you are suffering fear induced anxiety or panic attacks, the last thing you have is the capability for rational conscious thought so conditioning your reflexes to act automatically in this way is extremely effective.
Progressive relaxation is a technique for stress management that was developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920’s. Jacobson argued that since anxiety was often accompanied by tense muscles, it could be reduced or removed by learning how to relax.
The basic idea of progressive relaxation is that you learn to tense and then relax muscles throughout your body and that by doing this, you also learn how tensed and relax muscles feel. This is a very simple technique for relaxing yourself, takes around five minutes and can be done anywhere, any time. As suggested, relaxing means that you reduce anxiety and tension in your body, which means that by adopting this relaxation strategy, you automatically lessen your fear of flying.
If you are at home, sit or lie down, or if you are actually on the plane and in the air when you start to feel the fear creeping up on you, make sure that you are sat in your seat.
Once you are comfortable, start the program by tensing all of the muscles in your head and face. Scrunch your face up in a grimace or frown, grit your teeth together, close your eyes as tightly as possible and if you can do it, wiggle your ears up and down. Breathe in whilst doing all this and hold it for ten seconds.
Now, let the air out and relax, let every muscle go as lax as possible, almost as if you are asleep. You should feel the tension draining from your face so enjoy the feeling before moving on to doing the same with your neck and shoulders.
This is why it’s called progressive relaxation, because you move on from one area of your body to the next. After your neck and shoulders, move on to your chest, then your abdomen, right arm from the top to the ends of your fingers, your left arm and so on.
With practice, it is said that this process can become like ‘liquid relaxation, with the idea being that the tension drain is like something that is poured on the top of your head that then flows down your body.
And if you are in a hurry or need to feel the results quickly, there is a four step version of this program where you focus only on your face followed by your shoulders, neck and arms. After that, it is your chest and abdomen with your focus finally switching to your buttocks, legs and feet.
With either the full version or the abridged progressive relaxation program, you are able to relax and by doing so, reduce your fear or anxiety levels.
There are millions of people who are apprehensive about flying although the majority manage to get over it pretty quickly. But the point that you have to grasp is that if you suffer from a fear of flying is that you are really the only person who can get you over or past where you are now, although in a genuine worst case scenario, you could always consult a mental health care professional like a psychologist.
But it is easier and quicker if you learn to control your emotions through your own efforts, mainly because by doing so, you will have the capability of keeping a lid on things on command, something that you can call on at any time.
Deep breathing or progressive relaxation will both help you relax and used in combination, they make a very strong antidote to all forms of anxiety, fear or stress. There is therefore no reason why you should not start practicing them right away.