When you think about how to overcome your fear of flying, do you wonder what the secret to success is?
It turns out that for most people, there are MULTIPLE things.
But what are they?
And should they be dealt with in a SPECIFIC order?
To find out, don’t miss this interview with New York therapist, Nathan Feiles.
Nathan is a graduate of New York University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of New York.
And, like me, Nathan used to have a fear of flying. BIG TIME.
But by using a variety of techniques, he managed to crush it. For good.
Since then, he’s used his approach to successfully treat other people.
If you DON’T listen to this interview, you’ll miss Nathan revealing:
- The 5 things you MUST deal with to beat your fear.
- What results you can REALISTICALLY expect.
- How much effort you need to put in.
- How long until you’ll see results.
- Plus loads of PROVEN tips.
Tim Benjamin: If you have a fear of flying, I’m sure you’ve spent a ton of time, trying to work out how to overcome it.
Well, the good news is that today, you’re doing to find out.
Hi – I’m Tim Benjamin from the Fear of Flying School.
And joining me on the show is New York therapist, Nathan Feiles.
Nathan is an expert in helping people overcome their fear of flying.
And today, he’s going to tell us how he does it.
Nathan – welcome.
Nathan Feiles: Good morning Tim – how are you?
Tim Benjamin: I’m really well – yourself?
Nathan Feiles: Good thank you – I appreciate you having me.
Tim Benjamin: Not all.
Now – before we get started, Nathan, just so people can get a sense of what it is you do, can you just tell us a little about your role?
Nathan Feiles: Sure – well I’m a therapist in New York City.
And I do treat many different things.
But a fear of flying is one of the – one of the specialities that I focus on as a therapist.
You know, I work with many different people who have experienced fear of flying in different ways.
Whether it’s they can’t get on a plane at all.
Or people who can still fly – but they fly with a considerable amount of anxiety.
I work with people on both sides of that spectrum.
Tim Benjamin: Now, I know that you also have a personal interest in aviation.
Tell me a bit about that.
Nathan Feiles: Well, I myself – when I was younger I had a pretty considerable fear of flying myself.
And that kind of generated my interest in flying in general where I started to become very interested in airplanes as a hobby.
And learning about flying.
And I started flying airplane simulation.
And I’ve actually flown airline simulation as well as small plane simulation.
And its really become – over time – it’s become much more of a hobby than it’s become a fear.
And as I became a therapist, I began to integrate it into the therapy as I started seeing more of a need for it.
Tim Benjamin: In what way?
Nathan Feiles: I’ve worked with – ah – a high number of anxiety cases.
And there are other types that fall into fear of flying.
But, what’s happened with people I’ve worked with for other issues is inevitably at some point in the treatment, they’ll say “I have to go on a trip” – either a business trip or some family’s having an event – there’s a wedding.
Or – even in more sad cases – a family member just died – “I need to take a trip across the country”.
Or, you know, there have been times when people have said to me “I would really LOVE to go on a trip – but I can’t. I NEED to get on an airplane.”.
And that’s happened a lot more than you might expect.
And this is when I’m NOT treating fear of flying issues – this is just when I’m treating something else – their fear of flying comes up.
And the more that I started to see that, the more we started to focus on that as part of their treatment.
And then I realized that there really was a strong need for it.
And even though some of the other therapies out there touch on fear of flying – which they do in a roundabout way – there’s really a lack of treatment for specifically that targets fear of flying.
Tim Benjamin: Well if we talk about those other approaches for a moment before we go on to talk about what YOU do.
What do they typically – you know – what approach do they typically take to treating peoples’ fear of flying?
Nathan Feiles: Well, often what you see – it depends on the type of therapy.
There are many types of therapy – and they’re all very good and reputable in their own ways.
But in terms of fear of flying, what we often see is one approach will take just going into your feelings about it.
Let’s talk about the anxiety you have – let’s kind of break it down and see where that anxiety manifests in the past for you.
They really try to get underneath the emotional experience of it.
Which is interesting – and can be helpful – but it takes a VERY long time.
If you’re going to approach fear of flying that way, it’s just an incomplete approach.
Even if it targets an emotional symptom.
Or even an emotional experience or history.
There are other more behavioural or CBT-type approaches that tend to be a little bit more helpful.
They kind of target the experience of flying through an exposure approach.
The problem with this is that it still lacks certain components that you’ll see are present with a fear of flying.
It kind of helps people conquer a stage – one at a time.
But there’s only so far you can go with exposure since nowadays you can’t really go past the security gate unless you’re actually going to fly on the plane.
So – um – CBT tends to be a little bit more helpful, but as you’ll see, it’s still a bit incomplete.
Tim Benjamin: That’s – uh – a kind of summation of some of the OTHER approaches out there.
Can you walk me through what it is that YOU do when somebody presents with a fear of flying?
Nathan Feiles: Sure.
Well, the program that I created, it takes – it takes therapy approaches – and it combines it with the flying experience itself.
So, there are basically – there are a few modules of how I approach fear of flying which kind of encompasses each different experience that a person will have while on an airplane.
So, there IS the emotional experience that is still very relevant.
We have to understand what your fear of flying comes from – whether it’s – maybe there’s just a general claustrophobia.
Or a fear of heights that you might have.
It could be a fear of getting sick and not being able to get help.
It could be just a fear of loss of control.
A fear of flying can – the fear is LESS of crashing than something else underneath it.
So, we DO have to understand what your own fear is coming from.
So, it’s part of the emotional experience.
There also is a relaxation component to it, which falls under the principle that – the relaxation component falls under the principle that you CANNOT be anxious and relaxed at the same time.
So, if you can get relaxed, then we can take away some of that anxiety.
And that’s just done with – we go through a whole a whole bunch of different relaxation exercises.
There are grounding techniques, mindfulness, there are general deep breathing, there’s some other meditations that we use.
So, it’s really a comprehensive relaxation component to try to decrease the physical anxiety.
Which also actually helps decrease EMOTIONAL anxiety as well as physical symptoms.
So, beyond that there are also other, more cognitive components to it that – the best way to describe it – are PERCEIVED threats – or things that we – and many people who have a fear of flying – have an over-active imagination.
And imaginations are very good for a lot of creativity.
But in terms of flying, it can really work AGAINST a person.
Having an over-active imagination is where we start to picture things happening that are NOT happening.
And one good example is people who picture a wing falling off of an airplane.
Or the airplane just dropping out of the sky.
And that just DOESN’T happen.
It’s something that – if it DID happen – then there’s probably a one in a BILLION chance of that happening.
And it’s not really – it’s a PERCEIVED threat.
It’s something that’s SO unlikely to happen that we’re kind of creating our own anxiety there.
So, part of what we do is try to perceive – I’m sorry – we try to tackle the perceived threats by understanding what is possible with flying – and what is MUCH LESS likely to happen.
And so, through that, that comes from understanding your flying environment.
And this is where the aviation component comes in – is understanding how flying actually works.
Now, with this program, you don’t learn how to become a pilot.
It’s not going to teach you how to fly a plane or things like that.
But it’s going to teach you how the plane works.
What’s happening while you’re flying.
What the sounds are that you hear.
What the sensations are that you feel.
And a popular one for that is right after you take off, after about 30 seconds you feel the plane kind of sink a little bit.
That’s the experience people tend to have – which is not happening at all but that’s the perception.
What’s really happening there is that the plane requires a LOT more thrust to take off than it does to continue to climb.
So, after the plane is well off the ground, they decrease the throttle – they decrease the speed a little bit.
And that’s experienced as a sinking sensation.
But the plane is still climbing and perfectly fine.
So, understanding things like this – what you’re hearing – what you’re FEELING – will help you understand that your environment is still OK.
As opposed to a sound that you hear that you don’t understand – your brain interprets it as a problem.
So, learning these aviation components will help – when you combine it with everything else – to relax you.
And one major component that I haven’t mentioned yet is the idea of ‘normalization’.
This is a very important module in overcoming fear of flying.
The thing about flying is people’s brains don’t understand it as routine because they often do it – well it’s kind of an oxy-moron – they often do it so infrequently.
When your brain does something less frequently – when you finally DO that thing again – there’s kind of an alarm in your brain.
That ‘This ISN’T normal – I don’t UNDERSTAND this. What’s supposed to happen now?’.
And that right there triggers its own anxiety.
So, a big portion of the program is training your brain to understand how ROUTINE flying really is.
That there are MANY tens of thousands of flights that go out per day.
But not just that – but understanding – not just training yourself to say ‘Oh – yeah – it’s really routine.’ – but actually INTERNALIZE the idea of how routine it is.
And that’s what a lot of exercises also target.
And just to bring this into light for one quick example here.
Something that we do that’s risky on a daily basis is taking a shower.
People have gone into the shower and they’ve slipped.
They fall – and they hit their head – and some people have actually died from that.
But, I would take a risk here and assume that you probably take a shower on a day-to-day basis – without much anxiety.
Because it’s something that you do EVERY day – something that’s become so normal to you that the risk of it is not experienced.
The risk of it is so low that you don’t really experience it as a risk.
So, part of what we aim to do with fear of flying is to train our brains to understand that the risk is so low that we can just go into it as if we were taking a shower.
Or riding a bike.
Or anything else.
Tim Benjamin: Now – I’ve got a question for you.
We’ve covered four separate elements of your program – the first of which was dealing with people’s underlying emotional issues.
I’m interested to learn a little more about that – how that works.
You pointed out that a person could have one – or perhaps more – emotional issues underlying their fear.
One of the examples that you used was an underlying fear of heights – which might actually be a key reason why somebody fears flying.
If we use heights as an example, how would you go about dealing with that person’s fear of heights?
Nathan Feiles: Well, fear of heights is a tricky one because that also signals other anxieties.
The underlying anxiety to ALL of this is a fear of death.
And I know that’s a hard thing for many people to talk about.
But when we fear heights, we fear falling.
We fear falling because we fear ultimately that we’re going to fall to our death in some way.
So, when we’re looking at emotional factors for flying, part of it is understanding our – and coming to terms with – our own fears of death in certain ways.
Which, you know, is a piece that we look at, we talk about, we uncover the history to the fear of death.
To where it comes from, to where the anxieties are.
And fear of death often comes at a very young age where – for example – if we’re over-protected – and unable to experience things in the world – they become more scary to us because we’ve been warned away from things.
So, the more we’re warned away from something, the more we develop fear.
And so we have to start looking at those underlying anxieties, the underlying fears of death.
And through that, we can re-structure – this is where cognitive re-structuring comes in – we can kind of re-structure our brain to understand heights.
Or even enclosed spaces in different ways than we perceived them before.
Tim Benjamin: Another thing you touched on as being part of your program is the issue of relaxation.
What sorts of relaxation practises to you walk people through?
Nathan Feiles: Well, there are several that we use.
Each session kind of has its own structure.
And each session also has a review of all the techniques that we do.
And also introduces a new one each time.
So, there’s kind of a constant flow and practice of these relaxation techniques.
There are – as I mentioned – a few of these before.
We do ‘grounding’ techniques which kind of help us – it gets us in touch with our flying environment.
So, for example, we can sit on an airplane and we can just be very present.
We can look around and see what’s around us.
For example, I see the seats around me.
I see the window.
I feel my feet touching the floor.
I feel my back against the chair.
And this sounds very simple.
But as we go through and get this on a deeper level, we begin to – for lack of a better way of saying it right now – we begin to kind of feel ‘at one’ with the airplane.
And that can actually really help increase relaxation in terms of our own feeling of flying through the air with the airplane.
It’s a very different feeling than feeling removed from ourselves and kind of forced into this box.
Which is a very removed emotional experience which actually increases anxiety.
So, grounding exercises.
We learn how to regulate our breath which – when anxious – our breath speeds up.
So, we start breathing HIGHER.
We start to hyperventilate a little bit.
We start to feel closer to things like panic attacks.
So, being able to regulate breath through certain deep breathing exercises and counting and breathing.
We learn how to bring our breath deeper.
So we become more relaxed – and best – further away from anxiety and panic.
Tim Benjamin: You also touched on the issue of perceived threats.
You know – the kind of threats likely to emerge from an overly creative mind.
How do you deal with that?
Because that seems to me to be another particularly tricky issue to combat.
Nathan Feiles: Right – and that’s where I think fear of flying therapies have really lacked – up until recently – because perceived threats are HARD to change just by the experience of flying.
Now I’ve treated people who say that they fly every week for business.
And they’re terrified EVERY time they get on a plane.
And this usually comes from the overactive imagination which links to the perceived threats.
Now – just to clarify – a PERCEIVED threat is something that we FEEL is a real threat – even though it’s not an ACTUAL threat.
So – for example – if we see a cat and we think it’s a tiger – we become very scared because we’re afraid we’re going to be attacked.
But, if we understand that there is no actual threat here, then our anxiety will decrease a lot.
So, this issue has been problematic because it needs to be trained through UNDERSTANDING of our flying environment.
If we’re afraid that the wing of the airplane is going to fall off – and we can picture it happening – then we’re going to become VERY anxious.
But if we understand that in most airplanes a wing is ONE long wing – as opposed to two separate wings that are stapled onto the side – it’s actually one long wing that goes through the airplane itself – you can see that it’s much less likely that it’ll just break off the side of a plane.
So, being able to understand that your threats that you’re perceiving are not ACTUAL threats is what overcomes this part.
It’s not really through just flying a lot here.
It’s not necessarily through just deep breathing and through understanding your own emotional experience.
But, it’s understanding that your environment is SAFER than you’re imagining.
And that’s where the aviation component comes in.
Tim Benjamin: It’s interesting – you touched a moment ago on this issue of people who fly a lot but are still terrified every time they get into a plane.
Is that a common situation that you see?
Nathan Feiles: It is actually a bit more common than one would think.
I would say it’s NOT the majority of the people that I see – but there are a fair handful that do fly frequently for work and they say they basically panic each time.
But they have to do it – it’s part of their work and they need their job.
So, it is somewhat common.
But the basic part that comes out of each person who flies under these conditions – it’s the perceived threats that come out.
That they just don’t know what’s happening.
They feel the plane is sinking after it takes off.
They feel the turbulence.
And they’re afraid that the plane can’t handle it.
And the surrounding issue here is that they just don’t know.
They just don’t understand what’s happening.
They don’t understand what IS possible with the airplane and what ISN’T possible with the airplane.
And in the air.
So, this is pretty common actually.
But it does tend to surround this one issue of perceived threats.
Tim Benjamin: On the subject of perceived threats, what are the ones you see most commonly?
Nathan Feiles: Well, as I’ve mentioned, the most common one is the idea that the wing is going to fall off of the plane.
And another one is – that I mentioned before – the airplane sinking.
People feel that when the plane takes off, that it’s sinking.
And that you’re lucky to have recovered from the sink – as opposed to understanding that it’s just a reduction in speed that – in the air – is experienced as a sinking feeling.
Another one that’s pretty common is the idea that the plane is just going to drop out of the sky.
And one thing that is also helpful for people to know is that a plane just doesn’t suddenly stop and fall out of the sky.
That planes are actually able to run on one engine.
So, even if you’re on a 4 engine plane and 3 of the engines stop working – if 1 of the engines is working, the plane can still fly.
And can still land.
Even if ALL of the engines on an airplane stop working, it can still act as a glider.
So, it doesn’t just drop out and go to the ground.
It actually can glide through the air without the engines working and can glide to an airport or to a flat surface to land.
Which is actually something people might have seen when that famous landing a few years back in the Hudson river.
That plane lost both of its engines because of a bird – they ran into a bunch of birds.
And the engines stopped working.
BUT – they didn’t just drop out of the sky.
They were able to glide to a place where the pilot could safely land the plane there in the river which IS a trained technique – that if there’s water that they can land in – that that’s actually a GOOD thing.
The point of that is basically that – even without the engines – the airplane can still act as a glider and be able to be piloted somewhere.
So, these are kind of the top three fears – perceived threats – that I see the most.
But there are certainly other ones.
Tim Benjamin: Well, it’s interesting because – staying with perceived threats for a moment – after 9/11, famously there was a reduction in the number of people flying – these are people who chose to drive instead – and as a result, the number of people killed on the roads in the United States increased somewhat.
The irony being these folk were too scared to fly because of the threat of terrorism – but ended up being killed on the roads instead.
Do you find that the kind of vague threat of terrorism is something that comes up in your conversations with clients?
Nathan Feiles: It is something that comes up.
And that’s another one of those – it is a perceived threat – mainly because the chances are still SO low of something like that happening.
And this is where the media plays in to the fear of flying.
And the media has a much bigger hand in this than people often realise.
We are INNUNDATED with flying being unsafe through the media.
Now, they DON’T report how EVERY day there are approximately 60,000 airplanes that takeoff and land.
They DON’T report every one of those landings.
But if ONE of those 60,000 flights has somebody on it who makes a lot of noise and has to be restrained by passengers, we hear about it.
Even if the plane lands safely, we hear about it.
If we hear of a plane that had a little bit of a structural issue, and had to land and make an ‘emergency landing’ as they call it, we hear about it.
We hear about EVERY little possible negativity that happens on a plane that the media gets a hold of.
Tim Benjamin: So, do you advise your clients to avoid consuming media coverage about air transportation, in particular those incidents?
Nathan Feiles: Well – if it’s possible it would be a good idea.
But the other issue is that the media understands – they play on the fears of people.
And what happens is someone with a fear of flying is going to see a story like this and they’re going to RUN to it because they’re interested.
So, while I’d advise to keep away from it, it’s something that’s hard to do.
And if someone is truly afraid of flying, they’re going to run to those kinds of stories because it validates their fear.
So, what ends up happening with these stories is actually INCREASES our fear of flying.
And makes us think these things are going to happen to us.
And we hear of a couple of stories a year where someone tries to do something to an airplane.
And it fails.
But, we hear about it.
And, thus, we automatically assume the threat is MUCH greater than it was BEFORE we heard all about it.
So – yeah – we do see this fear of terrorism that comes up.
But it kind of falls into the same category as perceived threats.
And almost into the normalization category where we understand NOTHING that we do on a routine daily basis is 100% safe.
And this even includes crossing the street – isn’t 100% safe.
So, the point of this program – and I know not everybody wants to hear this part but this will actually HELP with fear of flying – we’re NOT looking to prove that it’s 100% safe.
Even though it’s probably as close to 100% as you can get in transportation.
Or even most other things.
We’re looking to train our brains to understand that we can DO this regardless of the simple – you know – the one out of a billion threats that’s actually out there.
We’re trying to train our brains in this way to understand that it IS safe – even if there is some really small possibility.
Tim Benjamin: You’ve talked about how your program works.
You’ve talked about the different elements of it.
A big question that I’m sure anyone listening to this will have will be: what results can somebody reasonably expect from taking that multi-faceted approach?
Nathan Feiles: It’s had very good results.
And that’s why I’m pushing this program – you know – as much as I have been.
People can expect to – let’s say you come in with your anxiety about flying is at a 10 out of 10.
It can’t get any worse – you can’t get on a plane.
And your level is 10 out of 10.
People have come from that down to about a 5 out of 10 after a couple of months.
You know – it generally takes about two months.
And we can extend that further if you want to go more in-depth in certain areas which certainly can be more helpful, too.
People can get on a plane.
They can use the exercises and techniques.
And they can FEEL – maybe a little anxious still – but then good.
And then they come from that – and before the next flight – they often repeat parts of the program as a brush-up.
And their anxiety comes from a 5 out of 10 to about a 3 out of 10.
A 2 out of 10.
And one thing I’ll mention here which I’ve found quite common – and you can even put me in this role when I was younger – is that it can go from a great fear into something that you ENJOY – and look forward to.
It actually becomes a source of EXCITEMENT in a way.
So, when you learn about flying, I’ve found that people become very interested in it.
And with fears – when we learn to OVERCOME our fears – it often triggers a form of excitement.
And that ‘I can DO this – this is REALLY neat. I’m LEARNING about this – and I LIKE it.’.
And I’ve found that often, people look FORWARD to flying after taking this program because they start to understand it – and they want to see it in ACTION.
Like, they want to see not just their own progress in action.
But they want to see all the stuff they’ve learned.
All the stuff they’ve learned about the airplane.
All the stuff they’ve learned about turbulence – and how to handle it – how the plane handles it.
And they want to experience that sinking feeling when they go up in the air so they can understand – they understand it from a different cognitive perspective.
And people actually begin to ENJOY flying – which is what I’ve seen more often than not, believe it or not.
Tim Benjamin: That’s so interesting.
That certainly reflects my own experience.
Just recently I was on a plane sat next to the window.
And this was a few days after interviewing Captain Jeff Neilson who was on the program talking about how lift works.
And how wings work.
And he talked at length about the role of – you know – how the wings were structured for takeoff, mid-flight and landing.
And kind of actually observing the different surfaces on the wing changing in accordance with what he’d been talking about.
I found that absolutely fascinating.
Nathan Feiles: Oh yeah – it’s very interesting.
When you learn about how an airplane takes off or lands, you can maybe learn about the flaps and how they kind of slow the airplane down as they approach for landing.
You can see the flaps on the airplane lowering.
And – yeah – you can see these structural changes.
And when you understand what’s going on – or why you’re hearing a sound at that moment – it can be kind of neat to have – it gives you your own control over the situation which – many people with a fear of flying have that fear of LOSS of control.
Understanding how it works brings the control back.
Tim Benjamin: You’ve talked about what somebody who really commits to a program like yours can expect.
A question that I’m still curious about is – you know – how long might the average person expect to wait before they start to see some REAL results?
Nathan Feiles: The results usually start to happen as someone goes through the program.
So, the program is structured – it’s structured as a minimum of 8 sessions – which is kind of – the time commitment is one session a week.
And there is some homework.
And this homework is what the normalization is geared towards.
You know – it kind of gets you involved every day in some aspect of flying.
But the homework is VERY simple.
It doesn’t take more than 10 – maybe 5 to 10 minutes a day.
It’s very very quick and simple work.
And while, over-all, this whole process I’m explaining might sound somewhat complicated, for the person who comes in to do the program, it’s all very easy.
You’re just – you’re running though the exercises, we’re talking about stuff.
You know, the complicated part is from my end where I put it all together.
But for someone else, it’s not something you have to be able to wrap your brain around every component.
But, to get back to your question, the results – usually about half-way through the program – people start to experience flying DIFFERENTLY.
And the approach to flying differently – their cognitive approach – they start to see it somewhat differently.
And I’d say by session 4, there’s already a change in the experience – if not even sooner for some people.
You know, I HAVE noticed that some people do want to take it to about 12 sessions.
And maybe 15 if they really feel more anxious about it.
Which – it can help.
One thing that I’ll staple onto this is that the techniques that we do are also very helpful OUTSIDE of flying.
That it’s very helpful for people who experience a lot of stress.
I also run therapy for stress reduction.
And stress prevention.
And some of the exercises do overlap because they’re very good at preventing stress
And helping with relaxation.
So, people begin to use these exercises outside in their lives and they also can be very helpful.
So, as things come together, I’d say within 2 to 3 months, most people are ready to try a flight.
And then – beyond that – if they want to continue further to bring their anxiety down to zero – some people do that too – some people find that one time through the program is all they need.
Tim Benjamin: Nathan – it’s been a real pleasure having you on the program.
If someone listening to this wants to reach out to you, where can they find you?
Nathan Feiles: Sure – they can find me – the name of my actual business is ‘New York City Life and Relationship Counselling’.
So, if you go on the web – it’s www.nyclifeandrelationshipcounseling.com.
That’s all one word – nyclifeandrelationshipcounseling.com.
And all my contact info is through there.
Tim Benjamin: Fantastic – thanks for joining us, Nathan.
Nathan Feiles: Thank you Tim – I appreciate you having me.
Tim Benjamin: And to you in the audience – thanks for listening. Bye.
Now I’ve got a question for you…
Did Nathan say something you could relate to? If so, tell me about it in the comments below.