Lesson 1: Fear and Anxiety

(Approx time to complete: 15 minutes.)

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - President Franklin D. Roosevelt


You have made an important first step by acknowledging your fear. You may feel frustrated that your fear of flying adversely affects your life and limits your freedoms. I bet you also know, deep down, that your fear is something you can control or overcome with a little help. This lesson is the foundation, each lesson will build a complete strategy for helping you. The first step is to look at fear in more detail.


  A therapist discusses anxiety

  "Dear Captain Stacey, for the first time in 30 years I was able to get on the plane and feel comfortable. I am usually curled up in the fetal position, crying, shaking, and waiting for the plane to go into a nose dive. Reading your course has made me realize that a plane is safe and I could 'sit back and enjoy the ride'"


Fear is often a significant obstacle preventing us from achieving many things. Looking closely at what motivates us you will find that fear plays an important role. In our world fear seems to be epidemic. We fear change, we fear stagnation. We fear failure, we fear success. We fear dying, we fear living. We fear crowds, we fear loneliness.

Fear affects our lives in many ways; it sure would be nice to have control over it. Fear is often not so much a psychological issue as an educational issue. This may be a relief for those who thought something must be "wrong" with them.

If you learn more about unfamiliar situations and become convinced that you can handle those situations fear will naturally subside. To help you deal with fear you must first learn about fear.

Back To Top | Review Lesson

Are you feeling nervous?

Use deep breathing to calm yourself:
  1. 1. Push your stomach outward and slowly inhale through your nose.
  2. 2. Fill your lungs from the bottom up, and then pause.
  3. 3. Slowly exhale while whispering, "relaaaax". Do this a few times and you'll be ready to continue reading.

"I am writing to tell you what an enlightening experience I had taking your online course designed for fearful flyers. I've flown since I was barely able to walk, yet somehow experienced a tremendous onset of fear in my early twenties. There was no trigger for this irrational fear, and it was extremely frustrating for me to have to deal with something so ridiculously traumatic. I have an upcoming flight in the next couple of weeks, and I just couldn't stand putting my family and young son through another one of my panic attacks while onboard the aircraft."

What causes fear?

Fear is the involuntary emotion felt when we perceive (think) that we are in danger, or when we believe something bad is about to happen. Fear is felt because of hormonal (adrenaline) and chemical responses sent from the brain. Whether or not the threat is real, it is our perception or belief in the threat that triggers our fear.

Our fear is real. Our emotion is real. Our perception is real. Is the threat real?

Have you ever been surprised by someone in the dark in your home? You round a corner and "BOO!" You suddenly experience the emotion of fear. Your heart races and your breathing quickens as you fear for your safety. You think an intruder is about to harm you. Then you discover to your relief that it was only a friend or family member. For an instant you perceived a danger, but once you learned more about the danger your fear quickly disappeared.

Fear acts as our defense mechanism. As one of the most basic human instincts, fear prepares us to fight or flee. Fear is a good thing, it is responsible for self-preservation. Do you think you would be alive today if it weren't for fear? It is important to have a proper balance of fear. I know I wouldn't last long as a pilot if I didn't have a good healthy appreciation of fear

So we know our fear is real. We know we must have some fear in our lives. Wouldn't it be nice to have just the right amount of fear at the right times? We are not going to eliminate our fear or emotions, we are going to have to change our perception of the threat. That's where education (this course) comes in. We need to know (perceive) when a situation is dangerous or not.

Back To Top | Review Lesson

  Nervous mother-fear of flying

  "Dear Captain Stacey, for the first time in 30 years I was able to get on the plane and feel comfortable. I am usually curled up in the fetal position, crying, shaking, and waiting for the plane to go into a nose dive. Reading your course has made me realize that a plane is safe and I could 'sit back and enjoy the ride'"

What kinds of fear are there?

Fear of Loss and/or Separation - This is the most basic fear and it includes fear of death (The "mother" of all separations!). Our culture teaches us to fear being alone. Obviously, when we travel we are separated and that can get lonely.

Loss separates us and leaves us open to feeling lonely and vulnerable. Many fearful fliers developed their fear in their twenties or thirties. As we age many of us have new families that we care about. When we fly off and leave our children or spouses behind we may feel afraid that something will happen to ourselves or our loved ones. We fear we will never see them again. Also, as we age we become more aware of just how fragile and dear life is. The older some people get the greater their fears get.

Having children can change how you view flying. You might think about their bright future ahead and feel it is irresponsible and cruel to put them on a plane. At the same time you want to take your family to places which are only possible by air travel. You can be concerned about passing your tense feelings and fear onto your children. You want nothing but the best for your family. It’s natural to feel protective. You are not being irresponsible by letting your kids see the world. Flying is safe and many thousands of families fly every day. Kids usually love flying, and it feels great when they ask you a million questions on the plane. With this course you will have the knowledge to answer them. Be a hero in their eyes!

Back To Top | Review Lesson

  Flight Attendant Fear

Fear of the Unknown

This fear accompanies change, growth, and any new endeavor such as flying. You will become much more familiar with this endeavor called flying in the next few lessons.


Fear of Falling / Heights

This is a common and sometimes rational response to help protect us from harm. According to many psychologists there are two natural fears that we are born with, the fear of loud noises and the fear of heights. However, experiencing an intense fear of heights while inside a safe environment such as an elevator or airliner is not a helpful response. Besides, nearly everyone reports that there is no sensation of height when looking out an airplane window, the perception of height just doesn't look real.

Many people worry about what it would feel like to be in a plane which falls or "plummets". It is one's vivid imagination which is responsible. As you will learn in Lesson 3, planes don't just "fall" out of the sky. When you recognize that your imagination is taking you down the path of wondering what it would feel like to fall, stop and change your pattern of thought.

Back To Top | Review Lesson

  Feeling of No Control



 Physician discusses breathing techniques

Loss of Control

This fear is a biggie! We like to feel we are in control of our lives. We exercise and eat right to try to control our health. We build fences and walls around our property to try to control our space. We want to be in control, but when we get on a plane we have to sit down, shut up, and keep our feet off the seats! You may say, "Who's driving this thing? I hope he knows what he's doing; cause I'm stuck back here and there's nothing I can do."

Here are some ways to feel better about your control issues: Education – This program will show you what to expect on your next flight so that you can anticipate each sensation of flight. You will know what is happening and what will happen next. Self control – By learning effective relaxation techniques your confidence will build. It feels good knowing that you can now control how you feel. Learn to act, not react. Meet the pilot – Before your flight, politely ask if you can meet your pilot. The pilot can tell you what to expect on your particular flight. A short visit with the pilot will make turning control over to the flight crew much easier. Learn to let go – As a passenger you are along for the ride, but you will learn that it is a safe ride. Holding tightly to the armrests does nothing to stabilize the plane. The plane is already designed to fly steady. When you find yourself tensing up, let go. By the way, guess who are the biggest control freaks? Yep, that's right, pilots! It comes with the job - we have to be in control.

Back To Top | Review Lesson

 Therapist discusses claustrophobia



Flying with Claustrophobia


Another control issue is the feeling of being cornered, trapped, or not having an easy escape route. It is a learned response to being in certain situations.

If you become afraid on a plane your defense mechanism triggers you to want to "fight or flee". On a plane you know you can't physically fight or run away, so this can bring on the added fear of becoming afraid of losing self-control. Another issue related to claustrophobia is the concern over the availability of fresh air. As compared to other large enclosed spaces such as an office, a jetliner's cabin environment is superior. The air conditioning system in most large buildings provide only 20% fresh air and are rarely equipped with high-efficiency filters like those in jetliners. Besides, you are well above any smog!

You might dread the moment when the aircraft door shuts and you feel trapped for the duration of the flight. Many people report experiencing this concern, but the techniques learned in Lesson 4 can help you overcome this anxiety. Remember, claustrophobia is a learned response, and you can learn to overcome it.

Another thing you might try is to book your flight on a larger plane, you'll likely feel more comfortable in the roomier cabin.

People have asked what would happen if someone tried to open a door in flight. Here is a short narrative about cabin doors:

Back To Top | Review Lesson

Reactions to Fear

  • Racing heart
  • Heavy breathing
  • Tightness or pain in chest
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Tingling in finger tips
  • Muscle pains/weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Rudeness

  "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear. " -- Mark Twain

What are reactions to fear?

You are probably familiar with some of the symptoms on the list below, they are a natural reaction to fear. Many are simply ways to prepare your body to fight or flee in response to a perceived threat. If you are going to fight for your life you are going to need a racing heart and heavy breathing. Fortunately in our world we don't often have to fight for our lives, but tell that to our fears! The symptoms may feel uncomfortable, but they have been necessary for our species survival.

The thing to remember when you feel these reactions to fear is that they may feel uncomfortable, but they won't physically hurt you. You will not lose control, faint, or have a heart attack. You are just experiencing some good healthy fear, just as your body intended!

Back To Top | Review Lesson

Physician discusses getting help



Therapist discusses panic attacks

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety affects people who have recurring fears or worries, such as concerns about health or finances. They often have a persistent sense that something bad is about to happen. The person finds it difficult to control the worry. The fears and worries are very real and can often result in the following:

  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Becoming easily fatigued
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank

Everyone gets worried, but if a person stays worried, or fears the worst will happen, it is hard to relax. Dwelling on the "what ifs" doesn't help. If a person learns to see situations in a different perspective and learns techniques to control the anxiety it can be dramatically reduced.

Panic Attack Anxiety involves sudden, intense and unprovoked feelings of terror and dread. A panic attack increases in severity until it leaves, usually within ten minutes. People who suffer from this anxiety generally develop strong fears about when and where their next panic attack will occur, and they often restrict their activities as a result. Panic attacks often occur as the result of a period of intense worry or stress or disruption of one's lifestyle. People often are more afraid of the actual panic attack than they are of specific events. For instance, their 'fear of flying' is not that the plane will crash, but that they will have a panic attack in a place like a plane where they feel they can't get help.

Many people are helped by understanding what a panic attack is and how many others suffer from it (one out of every 75 people). Many people worry that their panic attacks mean they're "going crazy" or that the panic might induce a heart attack. Changing one's way of thinking helps replace those thoughts with more realistic and positive ways of viewing the attacks. It helps to break a fearful situation down into small manageable steps. Relaxation techniques can further help. These techniques include breathing retraining and positive visualization. Experts have found that people prone to panic attacks tend to have slightly higher than average breathing rates. Learning to slow your breathing will help you deal with a panic attack and also prevent future attacks. Using a support group can also be helpful.

Back To Top | Review Lesson

Post Traumatic Stress Anxiety

Post-Traumatic Stress Anxiety can be caused by a severe physical or emotional trauma. A strong fear of flying can be caused by a disturbing event in flight (turbulence, aborted landing, etc.). If you experience a frightening event and believe you are truly in danger of losing your life you can develop a lasting anxiety. It is a shame that so many people are needlessly frightened on airplanes simply because they don't understand what is happening. To prevent emotional trauma education is vital. This is why I have created this course along with the video, Prepare to Fly. What you don't know can hurt you!

"Dear Captain Stacey, before the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US, I only had a normal fear of flying. Afterwards, I was terrified. However, after reading your course I feel so much more excited about our adventure. Before, this was always clouded by the worries of the flight, but you have explained everything so clearly."

What is the role of adrenaline in your body?

Adrenaline is known as the "energy" hormone. It plays a central role in the reaction to stress, fear and anxiety. Too much adrenaline can cause problems, it can over stimulate you. Wired Adrenaline is also a major player in panic attacks. When you become anxious your body produces adrenaline. Trouble processing this excess energy will make you feel excited. This quickens your heart rate and breathing which can make you feel dizzy or light headed. Fearing that you are losing self control will lead to the release of even more adrenaline. This cycle continues as your emotions escalate. The result is a full blown panic attack. When you begin to feel a panic attack come on, recognize the fact that it is your body producing excess adrenaline. Take comfort that you now know the reason for these feelings and that they will subside when your body is finished processing the excess adrenaline. It's like the playground bully, once he realizes that he won't get a reaction from you, he gives up and goes away.


It is natural to experience some fear when startled, such as hitting a patch of unexpected turbulence. With your new found knowledge of aviation and using your new coping skills you will see that you can quickly feel comfortable again.

Now when confronted with fear you will identify and deal with it in a more positive way. In the next few lessons you will learn about flying and the aviation industry, and be assured that flying is safe! Later in the course you will be given specific techniques to control your fear and deal with your anxiety.

So let's not be afraid of fear itself. Let's only be afraid of real danger! Does that sound good to you Mr. Roosevelt?

Please email me with questions, comments or suggestions about the topics covered in Lesson 1.

Back To Top