Can Hypnotherapy cure a Fear of Flying?

I’ve written about my fear of flying previously, and to this day it remains on of the most emotional things I’ve ever written about. It’s hard writing about your flying phobia (or any fear) – especially when it’s the kind of fear that completely consumes you, as mine is.

I haven’t always been terrified of flying. I’ve never particularly enjoyed it (who does?) – but it wasn’t until my boyfriend and I set out on our RTW trip, that it really reared it’s ugly head. We had two pretty bad flights when travelling; the first coming into land at Queenstown (New Zealand) which we later learned is a specially classified airport – because it’s so tricky to fly into, and the second was coming into land at Hong Kong during a huge thunderstorm at midnight.

Those two flights were bad enough to burn themselves into my memory and leave scars, and ever since the very thought of flying sends shivers down my spine and makes my hands clammy with sweat.

I prefer to have my feet on solid ground.

I prefer to have my feet on solid ground.

Saying that though, I’m actively trying to overcome my fear. Earlier in the year in March, before a long-haul flight to The Dominican Republic, I had two hypnotherapy sessions to see if (maybe) it could help me. I contacted Jennie Francis who works at Harley Street in London and arranged to have two sessions with her a few days before I was due to take off.

I want to start by saying, I had no idea what to expect from Hypnotherapy. I had no idea whether it would work, or have any effect at all – but I was positive I wanted to give it a try and I was feeling good about the idea it might work.

The sessions themselves lasted about an hour (ish) with about 35 minutes of that being Hypnotherapy. In our first session, Jennie was really keen to chat with me openly – about what my fear was and where it was rooted from. My fear of flying comes from a lack of understanding, and also a lack of control. So Jennie targeted these two key areas in our sessions.

The experience itself was bizarre. Kind of like falling asleep – but knowing you’re not really asleep. Like when you hit snooze in the morning and doze off for a while. You know you’re on the verge of consciousness and you’re very aware that at any moment you could be awake again – but you’re still very detached from reality and waking thoughts. Like when you’re snoozing – It feels like you’ve been asleep for hours when the buzzer next rings – but in actual fact it’s only been a few minutes. It’s a bizarre warped sense of reality, but completely pleasant to be in – almost like a guided day dream.

Jennie was pleased with how my body had reacted to the hypnotherapy after the first session, and I’ll admit – when I left I was feeling really positive too. I had been dreading the day in the office as I knew I had lots of unpleasant tasks ahead of me – and yet suddenly (and it was a sudden change) it didn’t seem so bad anymore.

It seemed to leak over into other areas of my life too – and I felt myself being a little more carefree and less anxious in general.

After my second and final session I left Jennie’s office feeling really positive, and even though I knew I’d be flying the very next day – I wasn’t filled with the dread that I usually would have been. Ordinarily – before the hypnotherapy – the ‘pre-flying dread’ would have set in at least 48 hours before boarding the flight. This time, I didn’t really get it until I entered the airport. I even slept the night before the flight – which felt like an achievement in itself.

I know, to many people, this might seem like a small success – but I really can’t describe the sheer relief I felt to have been lifted from the fear – if only temporarily.

Stupidly (and this set my confidence back a bit) Pad and I forgot to check in online before our flight (doh!) so we didn’t get to sit next to each other. This made me panic a bit – which was frustrating because it was the first time I’d felt anything negative towards flying since the hypnotherapy. I’ll admit, some of those old feelings did start to creep back and I got a bit teary – but it was more the idea of facing the flight without Pad at my side (something I’d taken for granted would happen).

It wasn’t so much the flight itself. I like to have a hand to hold.

My hand-holding partner.

My hand-holding partner.

Once we got on the flight and had taken off, I was OK. Take off and landing were still a bit tentative – and were still my least favourite parts of the experience (they always have been) – but I had Jennie’s voice in my head the entire time telling me to be calm, telling me I was in a safe environment and telling me to relax.

One of the exercises we did in the sessions was a visualisation exercise where I imagined walking down a spiral staircase into a garden. With every step I took, I had to feel myself becoming more and more calm. This didn’t stand out to me during the sessions themselves – but when I was on the flight and felt myself begin to panic, I found closing my eyes and imagining the staircase and the calmness, really relaxing and really helpful. Whenever we went through a patch of turbulence I did the same thing, and it got my thoughts back on track.

Another thing to note, is that I found myself enjoying the experience more so than I ever had. I was no longer scared stiff. Sure, I wasn’t lapping it up – but I allowed myself to relax into the flight and I wasn’t perched on the edge of my seat the entire time either. I even got up and walked around for 10 minutes at one point – which in previously flights I’d have struggled to allow myself to do.

Even now, 2 months later – I’m reflecting positively – not negatively. That’s a tiny difference but for me it’s an important one. The thing I try and remind myself constantly, is that I don’t actually want to be scared. More than anything I want this fear to be gone. So I’m urging the hypnotherapy to be successful and I’m urging myself to continue those positive thoughts.

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I’ll be flying solo in June (on my way to Venice) and I’ll be flying solo out to Vegas (in July) so I guess my confidence will truly be tested then.

Let’s see…!

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  • Katrina

    I can very much relate to your fear of flying, although I don’t have the “excuse” of a bad experience. I just have an over-active imagination and a dodgy pessimistic outlook that if anything bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen to me! Not a very healthy attitude to have, but I am working on it. I flew solo to London in February and managed to do alright. Take-off and landing are definitely the worst parts… For me, focusing on the destination and the joys of experiencing new things helps me to overcome the flying frights. Glad to hear hypnotherapy helped you – if I can’t cope through this, I would definitely be open to trying that!

    • Elle-Rose

      Hi Katrina, I totally understand about having an over-active imagination… that’s totally how I would describe my own fear too now. I would definitely give it a go. I think as long as you go in with an open mind, then you’ll definitely benefit somehow – even if it’s just a little. xx

  • Emily Ray

    This sounds like a really good idea! Will you be having more sessions?

    I hate flying too – I hate the confined feeling you have on board, and the anticipation of taking off is the worst part of the flight for me. I’m taking it slow with a short flight to Amsterdam in August, but hope to overcome it so I can take longer flights again. I’ve even thought about taking the EasyJet fear of flying course!

  • Ti

    Hello!! I was wondering, did you ever manage to cure your fear? Im absolutely petrified, and most anxious when the flight is at cruise level (so the majority of the flight basically!) im contemplating sedatives :( please help!