For Anxious Flyers, ‘Self Compassion’ During a Flight


What is Self Compassion and How Can It Help You?

It’s not widely talked about, but this is a strategy can be one of the most helpful in alleviating fear of flying. So what is it, exactly, and how is it practiced?

Basically, self compassion is a kinder, less critical way of looking at and treating yourself. The main difficulty we many of us have in reducing our internal self-judgmental attitude is based on beliefs as simple as “we must always improve” and the fear of fragility, which we directly associate with “failure”.

So when you get on a plane and experience disturbing emotions such as anxiety or fear, your nervous system sets off alarm bells and you go into what we’re going to call “reactive mode”. This means that you perceive the situation you face as so dangerous that you can merely react, and you’re unable to simply behave neutrally.

So bringing compassion into play here can open up new options for you. Let me cite an example. When you’re afraid that something bad will happen during the flight, your mind is flooded with catastrophic thoughts, and then gives way to circular thoughts like “Why did I get on this plane? I should have seen this coming”. And with this level of activation, your anxiety skyrockets.

But step back for a minute, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “what am I feeling at this moment?”

 – I feel worry and fear.

– I understand, and I have every right to feel this way; I know I’m very afraid of airplanes and it doesn’t matter if it’s logical or not. I can treat myself with affection instead of trying not to show or criticize myself for it.

With this realisation, suddenly you’ll find that this activation – and as a result your fear – start to ebb, and you’ll stop fighting against what you believe you should be or feel and accept what’s coming with compassion.

This may be hard for me because it’s a new concept, and so it’s normal that sometimes I don’t know how to stop my negative thoughts when I get on a plane. That’s why I’m here, to hug myself and keep myself company at every step, both with and without fear.

Maybe you’ll notice that your body relaxes from merely reading this.

Self compassion is a way of looking at life that’s infinitely kinder and more loving than many others. And this can make a real difference when it comes to a phobia like fear of flying. It may not make you lose that fear entirely – that’s what therapy is for. But it can mark a before and after in the way of dealing with it – and thus make the experience of flying not have to be something so unpleasant and hard for you.

Several Examples for the Next Time You Fly

Instead of telling yourself, “It’s stupid that this is making me so afraid”, why not try: “Todo el mundo tiene miedo a algo, por qué no iba yo a poder tenerle miedo a volar”

Or rather than “I’ve got to calm down right now”, how about “I can give myself whatever time I need to calm down – this isn’t easy for me”.

And instead of “It was a mistake to decide to travel so far”, go with “I’m lucky that even though this is something that makes me uncomfortable, I’m giving myself the chance to explore and enjoy the world out there”.

Go on, please give it a try, and you’ll see how you have a much better flight!


Founder of the Instituto Lanzas, David Lanzas is a psychologist specialising in anxiety and trauma


Photo | anyaberkut