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Soar: The Breakthrough Treatment For Fear Of Flying Paperback – October 1, 2013
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Captain Tom Bunn is a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot-turned-licensed therapist. This gives him a unique perspective to help those of us with not only flying anxiety, but also anxieties of other types. He divides his book into two parts: the Psychology of Flying Anxiety and the Mechanics of Aviation.
I was born with a genetic disposition to anxiety disorders. Many members of my family have anxiety, and I am what Dr. Elaine Aron calls a “highly sensitive person.” As a result, I experienced a variety of painful events, from being bullied in school, to enduring social humiliations, and other types of distressing mishaps.
But it wasn’t those events that led to my flying anxiety per se; it was the response to them by those closest to me.
“Cry, and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“All kids are bullied; you’re being too sensitive.”
“When I was little, I couldn’t tell my parents about my problems. They were too busy working and paying the bills.”
In other words, when I experienced any anxiety or distress, I wasn’t met with what Captain Bunn calls “empathic attunement.” I didn’t experience the sweet relief that comes with the release of oxytocin, which “conveys the sense there is less to be afraid of.”
Because of this, I developed panic attacks. My attacks of panic weren’t the typical ones you hear about from others—racing heartbeat, dissociation, fear of death. My panic attacks were dry heaving, gagging, and a fear of vomiting in front of others.
I had to leave school to be home-taught. I became agoraphobic. I also learned my mother didn’t leave the house for 20 years.
Fast forward about 25 years. With the help of counseling and a daily medication, I am able to function independently. I have my own apartment, my Master’s degree, and a pretty darn good job.
But I still have a hard time sitting in a classroom. I have to sit in the exit row of a movie theater. Being a passenger in a car is troublesome. And church…well, forget that. Even sitting in the last row gives me anxiety.
Any situation where I cannot escape (whether a physical or psychological barrier) is a no-go.
And that’s the crux of Captain Bunn’s SOAR program. He explains how it’s not being able to escape on a plane that causes so much distress. Many of us who fear flying (and fear sitting in movie theaters or churches or restaurants) lack the ability to regulate our emotions, which expresses itself in a variety of anxieties. Any situation where escape is impossible or embarrassing becomes a source of anxiety. Driving over a bridge? Sitting in a juror’s box? Sitting in the middle row watching a performance?
Each of these anxieties have pretty much the same cause, which Captain Bunn explains in SOAR.
At the end of October, with the prodding of extended family, I flew from Philadelphia to Orlando, and back again. I followed the exercises and suggestions in the book.
I was determined not to take any Xanax on my flight (Captain Bunn explains the dangers of doing so). I did take some along, but the bottle was in my backpack in the overhead compartment a few rows back. I didn’t even think about getting it!
I never experienced such calmness! I told the flight attendants that I wouldn’t worry until I saw them worry. They chuckled. “Don’t worry,” they said, “It’s just another day at the office for us!” On the return trip, I sat over the wings at the window. It was amazing.
There were two times when my anxiety was a bit high, but it didn’t have to do with the actual flight itself.
The first time was when I was checking my baggage. I felt the familiar feeling of anxiety rise in my throat. But that was my fault, as I didn’t practice the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise enough that Captain Bunn explains in the book. My instinct was to get out of line, and perhaps leave the airport. But then I saw two little kids in front of me. I knew they were going to Disney World, so I started talking to them. That helped me a great deal.
The second time was when I handed the letter of introduction to the gate agent. This letter, which is a part of the book, asks the agent to let me board first and meet the pilots. Captain Bunn says this is what really internalizes the exercises from the book. The gate agent wasn’t sure; she asked me if this letter was from my doctor. I told her no, but it was from my personal therapist (I hope Captain Bunn doesn’t mind!). After about ten agonizing minutes, she begrudgingly agreed to let me board early.
(At the time, I decided to have my physician also type a letter for me; however, since my trip was so calm and enjoyable, I may not need to pre-board in the future.)
I plan on giving a copy of SOAR to my friends who also struggle with flying. One is able to fly while medicated, but she cannot drive over bridges. Another friend had a traumatic experience while flying, and refuses to do so again.
In fact, I would recommend SOAR to anyone with anxiety, flying or otherwise.
Captain Bunn and SOAR helped me do the impossible. These words are painfully inadequate to express that.
Today my wife and I were to fly to Houston, but the flight got split up, with our first flight being a "connector flight". It was in the tiniest commercial jet there is. 2 seats on one side, 1 on the other. I got bad anxiety before the flight, despite doing the work. I was terrified boarding. I started crying as I went to my seat and had a full blown panic attack once they closed the door and announced "we are clear for departure". Thank God I had my wife to comfort me and I played music that uplifted me in my ear buds.
As we took off, knowing I was trapped, a major panic attack was about to set in and I fired off the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise for probably 20 minutes. I just kept doing it over and over. And then...
"Hey. This isn't so bad."
Whenever there was turbulence or when the plane had to circle around the airport due to delays, I knew we were in good hands. As we started our descent, I was looking out the window, easy peezy.
I am writing this review on the longer flight, 4 hours, and doing great!
With anything worth pursuing, you get what you put into it. If you're afraid of flying (or anything really) and hate that it paralyzes you, this will work for you. Give it a go.
P.S. Went to use the bathroom! :P