According to Seif, who now runs workshops called Freedom to Fly Now, "The active ingredient for overcoming anxiety is exposure." Seif takes patients inside a flight trainer, used to train private pilots, at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. In general, he advises fearful flyers to learn about their personal triggers and about flying itself. As he says, "Anxiety loves ignorance."
Before Frankel flies, he'll prepare himself by watching YouTube videos of takeoffs and landings. Plus, he'll speak with "Captain Tom," who will provide a sense of what to expect on his route and other helpful hints – a down bump, for example, is always leveled by an upward one, Frankel says.
For Ratner, too, understanding air travel provided peace of mind. "I had to learn the science and to go over and over it until I believed it," says Ratner, who also learned that she was holding her breath when she was tense.
These days, as founder and director of the Center for Travel Anxiety, Ratner encourages patients to relax by inhaling and exhaling for three counts. She also employs cognitive behavioral therapy – she'll take a claustrophobic flier in an elevator, and travel one floor at a time. And she uses detailed visualization. If someone finds a beach scene relaxing, for example, she'll work with the patient to create every detail of that image – the precise time of year, how the breeze feels and what the water looks like.
The key, Seif says, is trying to stay in the moment – and your senses can help you do that. "Stay more connected to sensory experiences rather than these what-if thoughts because when you're anxious you're always in the future."
[See 8 Ways to Become an Optimist.]