Monday, July 21, 2014

Fear of Flying Just Went Up

Fear of flying has been a serious problem for everyone from students going off to college to executives making business trips and even some extremely famous entertainment people. One entertainer refused to go anywhere except in her specially equipped, chauffeur driven bus and for this reason tried to keep all her biz obligations close by. Hearing about passengers getting panic attacks and attempting to force the plane cabin door open either on the ground or in flight doesn't happen every day, but it happens frequently enough to be a problem for the crew.

Whether it's that feeling of being trapped in the equivalent of a metal can, or the sudden realization of claustrophobia (your first CT scan can acquaint you with this), it is an overwhelming fear that can force people from careers and enjoying what life has to offer. I, in fact, had a patient years ago who was about to lose his job because, as a traveling salesman, he was required to fly when his territory was changed. Time and time again he made up excuses until the fear became so paralyzing that he became sick in his driveway when getting in his car to drive to the airport.  It ended with a job change because he could not, no matter what the intervention, shake it and didn't want to try anything else. His boss understood, so it had a somewhat happy ending.

Anytime there's a plane mishap or a crash with particularly horrific circumstances such as the downing of the airliner over the Ukraine, it's a reinforcement of the fears of those who are phobic and the nurturing of an incipient fear in those who were fearless in the past. Airlines know the impact it can have on their traffic and profits, but it's the disruption of lives that is of greater consequences here.

How many families will implore their loved one not to fly and to drive to wherever they need to go? Is this a prudent thing to do considering the number of auto accidents we hear about every day? Even if you're riding in a luxury bus you aren't completely safe because there are sleepy drivers, unforeseen road hazards, reckless individuals who just want to push the pedal to the metal and those who can't see over the steering wheel sufficiently.

It reminds me of the patient that Freud had, the Rat Man, who obsessed about having done something (removed a stone from a path) and then obsessed that this action would actually precipitate an accident rather than prevent one. I suppose you could say it's a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." How can you know and should you lead your life in this type of emotional turmoil?

No one can provide guarantees in life, not even life insurance companies that sell policies, but that's not actually a guarantee of anything, just a benefit if something happens. If you buy insurance (like flight insurance), are you protecting yourself or just trying to quell that awful anxiety that precedes boarding a plane? Some people never travel without it as though it were a totem against mischief or a guarantee warding off danger. They say that the money is well spent, especially if they never need it. Interesting thought there. I know of one woman whose mother always buys $25K of flight insurance whenever she travels. Has anything happened to her? No, but that's like magical thinking, isn't it? Magical thinking is best left to those pigeons in the behavioral research studies by B. F. Skinner.

Actually, a neighbor in an apartment building near me put a plaque on his door. It contains a small mirror in the middle and isn't for checking out your appearance because it's too high on the door. I suspect it's to protect the family against the "evil eye" that might lurk nearby.

This is not unlike an Italian custom of throwing pennies or tying a red ribbon in a new car.
Yes, it's another form of protection against that old evil eye of jealousy and, if you don't want to do that, you might perform a special ceremony in your home to see if someone may be capable of doing you harm (malocchio). The task is simply putting a few drops of olive oil in a dish of plain water. Should certain forms appear there is a special set of actions required to help rid the person of this infliction. I've seen it performed in a friend's mother's home. The grandmother had been duly diligent in teaching all her children this skill before she died.

Life is to be lived and the angst and imprisonment of anxiety has to be put in its place. It's reasonable to have some concern about unfamiliar snakes, animals or spiders as well as building cranes. But denying yourself the freedom to go where you want, when you want needs to be challenged by each and every one of us. A certain degree of anticipation before a flight is normal; will I arrive at the airport on time, is the weather good, do I have my tickets, my money and all my belongs are expected sources of anxiety.

Careful, thoughtful planning is your best bet here. Take your time, help yourself to calm down and look forward to a pleasant arrival at your destination.