Interview: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D.Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Trauma, and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with anxiety and phobias, including aviophobia (fear of flying).
There are several things you can do to combat your nerves around flying:
The preparation you do for your flight is more important than what you do when you’re actually on the plane! Don’t dismiss these just because they are not in the moment:
1. Imaginal rehearsal. This is the idea that you would picture in your head EXACTLY how you would want it to go. Picture in your minds eye, leaving for the airport, checking in, going through security, boarding, taking off, etc all in a perfectly calm way. Picture yourself using your tools and skills and having it go amazingly well. This is exactly what professional athletes do before big games: they set their expectations, which primes the brain to comply. Good stuff.
2. Get organized. Being rushed or disorganized only contributes to stress. So get organized! Make sure all of your packing is done well before you leave, print out your boarding pass or have a screen shot of it on your phone, ready to go, in case you can’t an internet connection, download your airlines app so that you can stay up to date on the status of your flight, etc. Anxiety is about feeling out of control and there are always a bunch of things that you cannot control. So instead, focus on the things you CAN control and control the heck out of those factors.
In the moment
The prep is incredibly important and makes all of these in the moment strategies much easier to do because you’ll come in less anxious. But even if you don’t have the time to prep, these strategies still have the potential to be helpful.
1. Guided meditation. Download “Insight Timer” or “Calm” both of which have free versions and a ton of options for guided meditation. Here’s the thing though: if you have a meditation session playing, but you’re still actively rolling around in anxious thoughts about your plane going down, the meditation isn’t going to help. You have to actually listen to what is being said and focus on those words. When you’re actually present and in the moment, rather than in your head, it’s very hard to be anxious. Research is clear that meditation is every bit as helpful, if not more so, than medication when it comes to managing depression and anxiety! So give it a shot.
2. Diaphragmatic breathing. This is simply a fancy term for taking low, slow, deep breaths. When we’re anxious, we breathe high, rapid and shallow which makes sense if we’re trying to run away from a serious threat, but that’s not the case when we’re on a plane. So the best way to let our body know that we’re Ok, is by consciously and deliberately slowing our breath. Try this: Inhale through your nose (bringing the air all the way down into your stomach) for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale out your nose for a count of 4 and then hold your breath again for a count of 4. Just a couple rounds of this square breathing will send a message to your brain that it’s all good and your brain will respond by sending out chemicals to help you calm down. All just by breathing. . . . Pretty cool right?
3. Challenge anxious thoughts. If you sit down on the plane and immediately have a thought about turbulence which leads to a thought about the plane crashing, you’re not doing yourself any favors. When you catch yourself having an anxious thought, instead of immediately starting to roll around in it, take a couple deep breaths and see if you can come up with something more helpful and accurate. It would go like this: “Oh my god, I hate this. What if there’s turbulence and then. . . . Wait a second. There goes my anxiety again. It’s Ok to have anxious thoughts because I accept I struggle with anxiety, but I don’t need to add gasoline to the flames. I have so many tools and skills that I can use to manage this and thinking about all of the absolute worst case scenarios (that are also very unlikely to actually happen) doesn’t help me at all. So for now I’m just going to listen to my meditation and focus on taking some deep breaths and I’ll go from there. I can do this.” Our thoughts affect our feelings and our feelings affect our behavior and our behavior affects the outcome. So if we’re having super anxious thoughts then we’re more likely to feel super anxious which makes us more likely to have a panic attack which only serves to increase our anxiety. But if we can approach the anxiety with loving kindness, come up with more realistic and helpful things to say to ourselves, this makes us feel less stressed and more in control, which increases our ability to effectively manage the fear which increases our confidence that we can do it again. Practice, practice, practice.
Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D.
Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois. She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.
She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference,” by Today’s Chicago Woman. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.
PR Managing Editor
Success In Media, Inc.