Worfolk Anxiety Management
Jumbo jet

Blog

How to conquer your fear of flying

20 March 2017 - Chris Worfolk

Jetting off somewhere warm this year? If so, you may be apprehensive about the flight. Fear of flying, also known as aerophobia, is a common concern. Estimates suggest it affects around 10% of the population: you are not alone.

That is nice to know, but the real question is "what can I do about it?" In this article, we will look at some strategies.

Take a cognitive approach

When thinking objectively, it is easy to tell ourselves that flying is incredibly safe. It is. Flying is the safest way you can travel anywhere.

Almost nothing goes wrong. The only reason that we hear about plane crashes on the news is precisely because they are so rare. You do not hear about all the people who died in a car crash because there are too many of them: around 3,000 people per day will die on the road. In comparison, less than 500 people per year die in aviation accidents1 across the entire world.

Of course, it is one thing to tell yourself that, and another to get the feeling in the pit of your stomach to believe it.

This is why it is important to remind ourselves that humans are products of evolution. We were created in a hunter-gatherer environment in which we adapted to forage, catch a few animals, and use advanced technology like sharpened sticks and fire.

The human brain has not changed much since then. It has adapted to modern life remarkably, but it is still roughly the same hardware underneath.

Therefore, when you are sitting on the tarmac waiting for the jet engines to kick in, it is no wonder your fight or flight response goes into overdrive.

There is simply no way that evolution could have prepared you for sitting in a metal box that is about to accelerate to over 100 miles an hour and then sore into the sky, cruising along at 10km above the ground.

As the jet engines kick in, I find that a gentle reminder is no bad thing. Flying is super-safe. I am feeling anxious because evolution could not prepare the brain for this experience, not because there is any danger.

Use exposure therapy

With most forms of anxiety, the best way to reduce it is to use exposure therapy. For example, if you are afraid of tomatoes, you should pick up a tomato every day until you feel less anxious.

However, there is a clear flaw in this plan when it comes to flying: we cannot go jump on a plane every day. Flying is not something you can easily desensitise yourself to.

However, it is possible we can use proxy experiences to help reduce some of the worries.

Worried about being trapped in a vehicle you cannot get off? Take a train. Worried about heights? Use a tall building or high bridge. Worried about the crowds? Try the bus station at rush hour, busy pubs or nightclubs.

While we cannot directly expose ourselves to flying, if there is a specific phobia of part of their experience, we can use a proxy to help re-create that feeling and exposure ourselves to it in advance.

Use distraction

Distraction will not help you feel better, but it will make the experience more tolerable. Make sure you have something to distract you before and during the flight.

The key to good distraction is mental engagement. Watching a film is unlikely to be helpful because you can just ignore the film and keep worrying. Instead, you want to use a puzzle book or a video game: something that requires you to focus on the game and not on the worry.

Use medication

Medication can reduce your anxiety in the short term and make it easier to get on the plane. Once you have flown with medication several times, you may find that you can then do it without the pills.

Your doctor may be willing to prescribe a type of drug called benzodiazepines. These are short-term sedatives that should be taken an hour or so before the flight. Common benzodiazepines, colloquially known as benzos, include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and alprazolam (Xanax).

You can also self-medicate with alcohol. Obviously, I am hesitant to recommend you start the day by downing shots of vodka. However, the reality is that many people do use alcohol to ease their fear of flying.

Take a course

You may be able to find a local course that is designed to help with fear of flying. In the UK, Virgin's Flying Without Fear is excellent. You spend the morning looking at aeroplane safety and tackling anxious thoughts, and then take a 20-minute flight in the afternoon.

British Airways also run a course named Flying With Confidence. This consists of a one-day course that ends with a flight. They also offer one-to-one sessions and dedicated courses for children.

Promotional video for Flying With Confidence.

Conclusion

Many people find flying unpleasant: evolution never prepared our brains for the experience. However, there are things you can do to ease your symptoms and conquer your fear, including cognitive behavioural therapy, exposure, courses and medication.

References

  1. Casey Tolan. Is 2014 the deadliest year for flights? Not even close. CNN. 28 July 2014. http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2014/07/travel/aviation-data/ ↩︎

Permalink

Brown paper bag

Does breathing into a bag help with panic attacks?

13 March 2017 - Chris Worfolk

When you experience a panic attack, the stereotypical activity to suggest is breathing into a paper bag. But does it help? If so, how? This article will explain all.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden rush of anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms. When experiencing a panic attack, you may find that:

  • You feel like you cannot get enough air
  • Your heart beats rapidly
  • You start sweating
  • You start trembling
  • You feel sick and dizzy

You may also experience a range of other symptoms including tingling in your limbs and ringing in your ears. The attack can last anywhere from a few minutes up to twenty minutes or longer.

What does breathing into a bag do?

If you think back to your high school biology class, humans breathe in oxygen and breathe our carbon dioxide. We take air into our lungs, filter out the oxygen that we need to live, and then send the harmful carbon dioxide out the other way.

If you were to breathe in a sealed room, you would slowly suffocate because you would continually breathe in the oxygen and replace it with carbon dioxide. Eventually, the air would be all carbon dioxide and no oxygen, leading you to being unable to breathe.

At first glance, then, breathing into a bag sounds like a bad idea.

With each breath, you will expel the carbon dioxide as normal. However, because there is a bag covering your mouth, when you breathe in again, you will take this carbon dioxide back into your lungs, instead of a nice gulp of oxygen-rich air.

It turns out, however, that this is precisely the benefit we need.

What is happening when I am panicking?

A panic attack is most notable for the rapid shallow breathing you experience. This is called hyperventilation. You feel like you cannot get enough air, so you begin to breathe faster.

Unfortunately, this is a trap. What is happening when you begin to hyperventilate is that you are getting too much air. This excess is what causes other symptoms associated with panic attacks. What does "too much air" mean? When we breathe rapidly, we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our system. While too much CO2 is dangerous, so is too

As the symptoms increase, you panic even more, causing you to breathe even faster, which increases the symptoms. It is a cycle we find ourselves spiralling down.

How does breathing into a bag help?

When we breathe into a bag, we end up breathing in carbon dioxide rather than oxygen. Normally, this would be bad for us. However, because during a panic attack we are not taking enough carbon dioxide in, restoring the balance of carbon is useful.

As the oxygen in the air is replaced by carbon dioxide, the level of oxygen we take into our body with each breath reduces and the amount of carbon dixocide increases. This then reduces the symptoms of panic and helps us to calm down.

Conclusion

Breathing into a bag does help when you are experiencing a panic attack. This is because panic is counterintuitive: we think that we cannot get enough air, but in reality, we are getting too much. Breathing in and out of the bag helps restore this balance.

Permalink

Woman on a hill

Announcing our new book: Do More, Worry Less

10 March 2017 - Chris Worfolk

Anxiety sucks. It comes at you at night. You feel awful. The tightness in your chest and ache in your bowels. You wish there were something you could do about it. The problem: you are not sure what. You have tried to change, and it hasn't worked.

This isn't a new feeling. It has been dogging you for years. You rack your brain, but you cannot find a way past it. It is ruining your life, but you do not know what to do.

Do you ever feel hopeless?

Have you tried therapy or medication and not got the results you want? If so, you are not alone. I have been there, and it sucks. It is not that these things do not work. They do. However, there is a secret to getting the best from them.

That secret is lifestyle. Society always bangs the drum of how clean living improves your physical health. What is often missed, though, is the impact that it has on your mental health, also. For good mental health, we need to build on solid foundations.

Lack of exercise, poor diet, disorganised sleep, dysfunctional relationships and lack of relaxation time all make our anxiety worse. Treatment for anxiety can only reverse this so far: unless we start with a bedrock of a healthy lifestyle, we are doomed to repeat the same patterns.

I have tried that and it did not work

The problem with improving our lifestyle is that it is hard. It is tough to follow through. We decide to take on a new gym membership or change our diet and attack it with all of our willpower. It goes great at first: but a month or two later have fallen back to how we were before.

It is not because you are lazy, or weak, or do not have the ability to change.

It is because you need a system. You need the knowledge of how to design changes that turn into lifetime habits.

Do More, Worry Less provides this. In the book, I break everything down into clear steps. We will learn:

  • How the brain works, and how anxiety works
  • Why your previous attempts to change have failed
  • How to use systems to turn changes into lifetime habits

I then break down each area of your life and explain, in detail, how each affects your mental health. We will look at exercise, diet, sleep, relaxation, personal growth, relationships and community.

The power of small changes

Do More, Worry Less looks at every aspect of your life. That is a big concept to consider. However, we will do it without making any massive changes to your life.

How is this possible? We will use the power of small changes. Doing something small is much easier to follow through on. You can repeat it over and over again until it becomes a habit. No more giving up on that new meal plan because you do not have time.

We will use small changes that stick. How does this produce big results? Because, over time, small changes compound into significant changes. Over the course of a year, you will be doing things you never thought you could keep up with.

Do More, Worry Less book cover
If you want to spend less time worrying and more time living your life, Do More, Worry Less will take you step-by-step through improving every aspect of your life. Drawing on the latest research, we will look at what affects your mental health and how small changes can make you happier and healthier.

Who should read this book?

I only promise results in the long term. Replacing the bad habits of a lifetime can be a slow process. We want these improvements to stick around.

Therefore, if you feel like you need a quick fix for your anxiety, this book is not for you. It does not offer that: medication is a far better route for short-term results.

Nor is this a book for slackers. Making changes in your life is hard. We will break it down into small steps that are manageable. However, you still need the drive to complete the tasks and improve your life. If that desire is not there, you will not get the results you want.

For those who have struggled with anxiety for years and not found a solution, this IS the book for you. For those that want to commit to achieving a happier, healthier, more anxiety-free life, this book will help you along that path.

Chris provides a short introduction to the new book.

Is it finally time to tackle your anxiety?

Life is passing you by. How much longer are you willing to wait?

I get it: it sucks to have to put so much work in to feel normal. But, for me, I realised I was never going to achieve what I wanted in life without putting in some work. I did not want to change my lifestyle because I was afraid of change, because I was scared it wouldn't work and because I was already fatigued from worrying.

But the results are in: lifestyle change works.

I don't ask you to take this on faith. In the book, I draw on research from the world's leading universities, medical journals and health organisations. The book contains 290 separate footnotes and citations so that you can validate everything I say.

Be the first to benefit

We are in the final stages of proofreading and preparing the book for release. Join our pre-release mailing list to be the one of the first to get your hands on a copy.

Permalink

Bee landing on a flower

The difference between being busy and being productive

6 March 2017 - Chris Worfolk

Do you ever get the feeling that you are busy, but not productive? This scenario is more common than any of us like to admit, when you have anxiety. It's a trap: busyness seems a good idea but could be covering up what you want to get done.

Does this ever happen to you?

You get up on a morning and think about your to-do list. There are lots of things on there. The house needs cleaning, the washing up needs doing, emails need answering, and most importantly, you need to make a phone call. "Not that phone call," we think to ourselves.

Maybe it is not a phone call. Maybe it is writing a presentation for work, working on the blog you have always wanted to start, filling in a benefits form, completing a university assignment or making a cruical decision about your life.

Whatever the task is, it is a high resistance one. It is something that you do not want to do. Why? Most likely, it takes thinking, decision making or making yourself feel uncomfortable. Doing so takes up a lot of mental energy.

So what happens?

You know what happens next, right? The entire house gets cleaned, all the washing up gets done, every email in your inbox gets answered (except that email, that you know you should answer but do not want to, because it is a high resistance email) but that high resistance task on your to-do list does not get completed. It will have to wait until tomorrow.

If you look at your day, it seems like you have been busy. You have been busy. You spend no time relaxing, no time looking after yourself; you spent it all doing chores. But, and this is the critical point, you were not productive. Emails and washing up can get done anytime: there was one thing you needed to do, and you did not do it.

You are not the only one

We should not spend time beating ourselves up about this. Spending time punishing yourself mentally will not help you get it done in the future. However, we do need to accept that these days do not count as productive. They are busy days but do not produce the results we want.

This is very common for people with anxiety. At the root of anxiety is avoidance. If we were not avoiding any situations or thoughts, it seems plausible that our anxiety would not even bother us. It is the fact that it does cause us to avoid things that is the reason we find it so debilitating.

What should I do about it?

As with most issues, the first thing we need to do is to spot what is going on. Tasks do not only have a level of importance; they also have a level of resistance. These can be entirely unrelated, though often there is a correlation between them: important tasks are often high resistance.

If something has been pushed back on my to-do list for several days (or weeks!), it is a good sign that I have a high resistance task on there that I have failed to acknowledge.

The second thing we can do is to structure our day around them. You only have so much willpower. Therefore, rather than spending the entire day worrying about something and then not doing it, put it right at the start of your day.

As the old saying goes, frog-eating comes first.

"If your job is to eat a frog, best to do it first thing in a morning. If your job is to eat two frogs, best start with the biggest one."

If we do not force ourselves to get the task done, we will tell ourselves that we will do it later. The problem with this approach is 1) we spend the entire day with it on our mind and 2) as the day goes on, the amount of willpower we have available goes down. By the end of the day, we are tired and not in the mood to tackle hard tasks.

Starting our day with the hard task means that we tackle it precisely when we have the most willpower available. Completing a hard task gives us a small release of dopamine which then makes us feel better for the rest of the day. So you should: you crossed that tough task of your to-do list!

Eat a frog quote
This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but it is unclear of its exact origins.

Conclusion

It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are productive. Running around, crossing items off our to-do list makes us feel like we are getting somewhere. But are we working on the important tasks? That is the real measure of productivity.

If not, we need to acknowledge that some tasks are much higher resistance than others, and try to tackle these as early in the day as possible.

Permalink

Woman on top of a mountain

Announcing our 30-day challenge

2 March 2017 - Chris Worfolk

This April, we're declaring war on anxiety. We're bringing people together from across the world for a month-long challenge designed to reduce your anxiety and help you enjoy life more. Sound exciting? Then read on.

Free challenge through April

Every day next month, we will be releasing a new video containing a challenge.

The challenges are designed to give you small actionable steps to make a change in your life. Lifestyle has a massive effect on anxiety and by implementing tiny changes, we can see big results in the long term.

We will be looking at areas including exercise, diet, relaxation, self-love and relationships. There is no scoring: just complete many of the challenges as you can.

Best of all: it's completely free!

Join our community

You will not be alone. Everyone in the challenge gets access to our private Facebook group to share stories, successes and achievements.

When you are feeling down, the rest of the community will be there to pick you up. And when you are on top, everyone will be cheering you on.

You can do anything for 30 days, right?

It is too easy for us to go through life without pausing to consider where we want to go and what we want to do. It is too easy for us to tell ourselves we will tackle our anxiety later, only to find it has been ruining our life for years, or even decades.

Don't miss your chance to join us for this free month of coaching.

Let's make April the month where we make a change. Together, we can start taking steps towards a stress-free life.

Sign up now

Sign up for free on our 30-Day Challenge page. Get started with no commitment and see if it helps you.

Permalink

Want more content like this?

Subscribe to our newsletter to get more great content emailed to you directly. Plus, we'll send you some chapters from our books for free. We never share your details and you can unsubscribe at any time.