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STEP 7: Use Visualizations For Rehearsal

panic attacks, panic attack

Achieving Comfortable Flight, CD 4-2: Generalized Relaxation and Imagery

 

Achieving Comfortable Flight, CD 3-1: Associating with the Positive

 

Achieving Comfortable Flight, CD 3-2: Creating Comfort from Distress

 

Achieving Comfortable Flight, CD 4-1: Rehearsing Your Coping Skills

 

If you are like most of the people who are uncomfortable fliers, you have a great imagination. The only problem is, you turn your daydreams into nightmares by picturing terrible things happening to you up in the sky. You can easily visualize yourself feeling uncomfortable. You reinforce that by visualizing the last time you felt terrible on a flight. As I have said, these repetitive negative images may cause you to feel as uncomfortable on your next flight as you did on your last.

It's now time to change all that. I recommend four specific visualization exercises to help you prepare for comfortable flight. All four are found in the self-help kit Achieving Comfortable Flight (see Resources).

Generalized Relaxation and Imagery

Many anxious people benefit from first recognizing when their body is tense and then relaxing those tense muscle groups. If they can let go of that physical tension, they will lower their emotional anxiety at that moment. Generalized Relaxation and Imagery (GRI) can teach you this skill through daily practice of formal relaxation. The suggestions within GRI offer the added benefit of practice using the visualization skills of your "mind's eye". That will come in handy as you practice these next imageries.

Listen to this imagery first to train yourself in formal relaxation and then any time you want to become relaxed, including while on the plane. Because this is a generalized relaxation, some people listen to it every day to enjoy twenty minutes of peace and quiet.

The Guide: Successful Task Imagery

(This tape is found in the Don't Panic Self-Help Kit.)   Before you take a flight, how often do you think about having troubles on the plane, or about the plane having problems? For too long you have dreaded flying and the scary images flying conjures up in your mind. How do you think your body reacts to such images? It will automatically begin to tense up in anticipation that your images might come true.

It is time for you to end such unnecessary habits of failure and the toll they take on your body. It is time to associate success with the experience of commercial flight. You can't accomplish that simply by telling yourself that everything will be fine. Your body and mind are conditioned to react spontaneously with distress, regardless of how hard you may try to have a positive outlook. Your body and mind need a chance to orient to the positive, to orient toward success.

Let Successful Task Imagery help you associate positive feelings with successfully reaching your goal of comfortable flight. Don't wait for your first successful flight before feeling your sense of success. You have already had many successes in your life, and your feelings of confidence and accomplishment are hard-earned. Now bring these feelings into this project. They will help you persevere during moments of discomfort.

Use The Guide: Successful Task Imagery to help build your confidence before practicing your skills. Then, any time you want the reinforcement of these feelings of success, practice this imagery again .

Creating Comfort From Distress

Most people who become uncomfortable on a flight believe that they can't control those feelings, that they will continue to feel bad no matter what they do. So far I have talked a great deal about how you can, in fact, change how your body feels by changing your focus of attention. Creating Comfort from Distress will give you the opportunity to experience this phenomenon.

You will start this imagery by practicing some brief calming skills. Then, I will ask you to imagine yourself in a past flight in which you had distress. Pay close attention to what changes in your body while you are mentally reviewing that scene. If you are willing to step into that scene with your "mind's eye," you will probably notice your current distress increasing. In fact, one of the primary goals is for you to actually experience some of your common feelings of distress during this practice. At that time you will have an opportunity to measure subjectively the changes you feel. Then you will have a chance to let go of that image and its associated body tension and return to a relatively calm state. Again, you will rate how you are feeling.

This practice gives you the knowledge of self-control: that you can change how your body feels by changing what you think and what you do. You will experience, through imagery, how your body and mind can get tense and how you can reduce that tension, all within minutes. I want you to have confidence in that possibility before you begin to apply those skills toward your discomfort with flying.

Practice this imagery several times, until you notice how your body and mind can easily shift from tension to calmness.

Rehearsing Your Coping Skills

Once you have been able to respond to the Creating Comfort from Distress practice, you are ready to apply your skills during a flight. Only this flight takes place in your mind, not in reality. You now know, though, that your imagination can be pretty realistic. In this important imagery practice you will determine which skills will be most helpful to you during a flight. Once you get a sense of your best skills, this visualization will also help you condition yourself to respond to your symptoms before and during your plane travel.

You will imagine yourself in five different scenes of an actual flight, such as on takeoff, or at cruising altitude in turbulent air. First, imagine yourself having your typical response to that scene, especially if you usually have a problem at that time. Then I will ask you to try out one or more of your coping skills, and watch it work successfully for you. Feel free to write down all the skills you think might help you on the flight ("remind myself I can handle these feelings, practice Calming Counts, talk to my seat mate, do the Ten-Second Grip," etc.). If you need ideas during the visualization practice, simply glance at that list.

Begin using Rehearsing Your Coping Skills several weeks before your next flight, and continue to use it until you feel comfortable with your new skills.