Last year I wrote about SOAR, the online course for fearful flyers created by pilot and psychotherapist, Captain Tom Bunn. The course was terrific, only I didn’t stick with it. I got very busy with work and even though I had potential flight plans, I didn’t practice the exercises as I should have.
To my surprise, however, I felt I had benefited, from what I did spend time on, especially Captain Tom’s well-articulated explanations of the mechanics of flying, and his “jello” explanation of how a plane actually stays in the air. I found the classes on the gulf stream and weather really interesting, too.
Thinking about flying had never been easier.
I also began to re-up my meditation practice, hisbodedus, in which I specifically worked on issues around flying. And I began immersing myself in a course of spiritual study and prayer to alleviate anxiety and fears.
Then I planned a trip half-way around the world, to the Former Soviet Union.
This required me taking at least one airline that I was not confident about, to say the least.The night before the flight (alright, I crammed a bit for tests in school, too) I spent about an hour reviewing the lessons about airplanes as well as the SOAR exercise I had done the most, the one I wrote about here, and actually used it in the cab on the way to the airport, where it worked wonders on the mild anxiety I felt when we hit traffic.
I then flew anxiety free for the first time in 22 years.
No white knuckle terror, no pounding heart, no being frozen to my seat.
I actually enjoyed the flights tremendously which I attribute to both the spiritual work I did as well as the my new-found knowledge about how planes actually work which I learned from Captain Tom. When my flight from Russia to Ukraine was repeatedly delayed and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought on the (tiny) plane, not once but twice, two people were hauled off the plane by what looked like military security, and a panic-stricken woman demanded to be let off the flight (she finally was), I could only feel amazed that my anxiety was nil. Is this to be expected from someone who used to fret on every flight about what’s holding the plane up. No, really? Que, Sera Sera.
Now, Captain Tom has written an incredible book called SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment For Fear Of Flying. The book (there’s a Kindle version, too) essentially contains the SOAR course, plus a lot more. The author has studied psychology (he’s a licensed social worker) and shares information about what’s really going on in your brain and body when you have a phobia. He writes about the mechanics of fear, and describes how our stress hormones work, what hormone overrides them (oxytocins), and how we can increase our oxytocin levels.
Captain Tom’s created a Strengthening Exercise which mentally and emotionally brings us to a time in our life when our oxytocin levels were at their highest. This exercise, through repetition, has been proven to reduce or alleviate fear. In fact, the author recommends using this to help you with other anxiety and fear producing situations, such as the fear of elevators, doctor visits, and so on.
There are also other exercises, as well as thoughtful explanations of why we have fears, their root causes, how our emotions “work”, and more information that makes for fascinating reading. Richard began the book and immediately said that reading Soar would not only be helpful to people with flying or other phobias, but also be beneficial for therapists who work with fearful patients.
Captain Tom also addresses some seemingly rational issues fearful fliers have that I don’t recall being addressed in the online course, such as what happens if the plane engine sucks up a bird. (In his 38 years of flying experience, he only collided with a bird once.) Basically, it sounds scary but it’s not a crisis. If the bird gets into the engine, the engine may vibrate, but the plane can land safely. As in the online SOAR course, my favorite part of the book was the chapter How Flying Works. It really is interesting, though I can’t say I have any desire to get my pilot’s license anytime soon.
What may make this book most helpful for those with the fear of flying is the detailed planning and flight lists with explicit instructions. It takes a lot of pressure off to know that there is a formula or recipe you can use to travel by plane. From committing to actually making the flight, from choosing an airline to turbulence, from take-off to landing, following the flying guide is not only comforting, but it keeps you very busy moving in a positive direction.
Therapy Soup gives SOAR by Captain Tom Bunn, 5 out of 5 Cups of Soup.
WIN A FREE BOOK! We were sent two review copies of SOAR in error. We’d be happy to send you one, free. Here’s how:
1. Please tell us about your fear of flying (you can do this anonymously if you like) in the comments section of this blog.
2. Then email us at email@example.com with your name and continental U.S.A. address.
We’ll randomly draw a name early next week and send out the book to you. ONLY CONTINENTAL U.S.A. PLEASE.
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Last reviewed: 10 Oct 2013