January 25

Are you afraid of flying? This might help.

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Reading time 7 min.

Fear of flying, or aviophobia, is a pretty common phobia. Although distressing, there are ways to reduce the negative feelings and eventually defeat the fear. Here, we talk about different ways to do that.

Aviophobia can be successfully overcome.

Here are some essential points about the fear of flying.

Fact: flying is the safest way of transportation. The newest International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) report demonstrates that, in 2015, there were only 92 commercial airline accidents out of 33 million estimated flights globally.

More importantly, there were only six fatal accidents, resulting in 474 deaths. Given that approximately 3.5 billion air passengers traveled in 2015, that’s a rate of only one death per 7.5 million flyers.

Compare this to the latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which show that in the United States alone, there were 32,166 fatal accidents in 2015, resulting in 35,092 deaths. That’s a rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 of the U.S. population. These figures demonstrate how significantly safer air travel is than car travel.

But, despite these statistics, fear of flying (aviophobia) is a common issue: a 2014 YouGov survey shows that a third of Americans admitted to being slightly anxious about flying, and some 16 percent confessed to being too afraid to fly.

What causes aviophobia?

One factor that has led to increased fear of flying is the heavy media coverage of airplane accidents. Seeing images of an airplane crash on TV or in the newspaper can sway one’s opinion on the safety of air travel without even considering the true risk involved.

Airport security measures, such as long queues, body searches, and X-ray scanners can also trigger feelings of anxiety in some people.

Sometimes, the fear is simply the outcome of an unpleasant experience in the past, such as a flight with severe air turbulence.

Often, a fear of flying is not due to the flying itself but stems from related factors, such as:

- a fear of being in an enclosed space ( claustrophobia)

- a fear of crowds ( enochlophobia)

- a fear of heights ( acrophobia)

- a fear of hijacking or terrorism

Symptoms of a flying phobia

Regardless of the cause of the fear, people may experience the following physical symptoms before and during a flight:

  • sweating

- heart palpitations

- shortness of breath

- shaking

  • nausea

  • dizziness

- clouded thinking

  • irritability

For some, even the idea of planning future air travel can produce these symptoms. This can limit holiday options and can be an issue for those who need to travel for business.

Because the causes of aviophobia are diverse, specific treatment options are needed to address the particular fear involved. Below are some different techniques used to tackle a fear of flying (and flying-related phobias).

Treatment options

There are a number of practical ways to reduce the fear associated with flying (and various flying-related phobias); these include:

1. Facing your fears

One strategy used by psychologists to help people overcome their fear of flying is controlled exposure. Exposure-based therapies work by gradually exposing the person to the object or situation that scares them.

In general, people with a fear of flying try to avoid it. This means that they do not have the opportunity to learn that, very often, their fears or anxieties do not come true; or, if they do come true, that they can tolerate them because they are not as terrible as they imagine.

Flight simulators can be used to help reduce the fear of flying.

Treatment usually includes several sessions under the guidance of a trained therapist.

In the first sessions, people generally learn anxiety management techniques, such as deep breathing and how to identify and correct irrational thoughts.

In the later sessions, they learn to face their fear in controlled stages.

Traditionally, this involved the therapist accompanying the person onto an actual flight, but these days virtual reality can be used to simulate the various onboard conditions.

Studies suggest that controlled exposure is an effective treatment for a flying phobia with participants reporting significantly reduced flight-related anxiety and an increased likelihood of flying again at a follow-up assessment.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps people to change the way they think about things they are afraid of. In CBT, people learn to question negative thoughts and emotions to see if they are realistic and helpful. If they are not, then these thoughts must be corrected so that they don’t develop into negative behavior patterns.

This research demonstrates that the skills acquired in CBT treatment were associated with reduced flying anxiety. Besides, the participants continued to use the skills after treatment was completed, which suggests that CBT has positive long-term effects. There are a number of CBT courses available online.

3. Pharmacological treatment

Medication is sometimes prescribed on a temporary basis to treat the symptoms of a flying phobia, such as anxiety and nausea. These drugs are usually taken shortly before a flight. They include:

- Anti-anxiety medication, such as diazepam(Valium) or alprazolam(Xanax).

  • Motion sickness medication, such as dimenhydrinate(Dramamine).

It is necessary to see a doctor before taking these medications. They are only seen as a short-term solution; they can prevent anxious fliers from addressing their fears, which may be more pronounced the next time they fly without the crutch of medication. They can also be addictive.

4. Take a fear-of-flying course

Many airlines now offer a 1-day course to help people overcome their fear of flying. The course is targeted at people who are too frightened to get on board as well as those who suffer from anxiety while flying.

For some people, the opportunity to meet trained airline pilots and ask them questions about the airplane and their experiences of flying can help to calm their minds down. For others, the chance to board a plane without the dread of a real flight helps them become more familiar and relaxed in the environment; it can prepare them for the real thing.

5. Planning a trip

Thoughtful planning can help to take the stress out of traveling. Here are some practical tips to make sure a trip will go smoothly:

- Book a direct flight without any transfers to make the trip shorter.

- Reserve a seat in the middle over the wings - here, there is less turbulence.

- Choose an aisle seat - these have additional space, allowing stretched out legs; or, pick a window seat where you are less likely to be disturbed.

- Reserve priority boarding to reduce queuing before getting on the plane, which can make some people anxious.

- Fly in a larger plane - larger planes are less affected by turbulence.

Outlook

Fear of flying is something that can be overcome with the right instruments and assistance. Don’t let fear stop you from going on a memorable foreign vacation, enjoying time with family overseas, or making the most of international business opportunities. You can do it!

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