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How can I overcome my fear of flying?

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Ever seen a passenger beside you pop a pill before his/her flight? Or seen a passenger especially nervous during a flight? He or she may be suffering from fear of flying, also known as Aviophobia.


Approximately 33%-40% of all people experience some form of anxiety when it comes to flying and in this group, 60% of them experience generalised anxiety during the flight that they can easily manage on their own. Approximately between 2.5% and 5% of the population have a crippling anxiety of flying which is also known as Aviophobia.

Read more to understand about fear of flying and how to overcome it.

Phobia


To understand Aviophobia, we must first understand what phobias are. Phobias are a persistent and irrational fear of certain objects or situations that pose little to no danger to a person.

Individuals that suffer from phobias are usually very overwhelmed by their anxiety to a point they will avoid getting into a situation that will make them face their phobia. If they are not able to avoid such a situation, they may experience trembling, panic and fear, rapid heartbeat etc.

Most people experience certain fears with differing intensity and the fear will pass eventually. However, when an individual’s fears become intrusive and is able to disrupt normal life, interfering with work or social relationships, the fear becomes a phobia.


The American Psychiatric Association has identified 3 main categories of phobias: Social Phobias, Agoraphobias, and Specific Phobias.

Specific phobias


Specific phobia, as the name suggests, is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of specific objects or situations that poses little to no real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance in an individual such as fear of flying and fear of heights.


Specific phobias are long-lasting issues for individuals that causes intense physical and psychological reactions and can affect one’s ability to function normally at social settings.

Specific phobias are one of the most common anxiety disorders and not all phobias need treatment. However, if a specific phobia starts to affect one’s daily life, there are several therapies that can help one work through and overcome their fears – often permanently.

There are 5 different types of specific phobias

  1. Animal type (Fear of dogs, Fear of spiders)

  2. Nature (Fear of thunderstorms, Fear of heights)

  3. Blood, injection, injury (Fear of seeing blood, Fear of taking blood test)

  4. Situational (Fear of enclosed places, Fear of Flying)

  5. Others (Avoidance of situations that makes one feel like choking, avoidance of loud sounds like balloons popping)

Aviophobia


Aviophobia is a type of specific phobia where individuals experience an extreme sense of fear or panic when they fly, and they avoid flying altogether. If circumstances require them to fly, they are likely to experience panic attacks or other intense symptoms of anxiety either pre-flight or during the flight.

There is no specific cause of aviophobia as it usually originates from a variety of factors. Some fears such as the fear of heights can be genetically inherited, whereas the fear of flying may be modelled to kids through their parents. An increase in exposure to media that portray plane crashes or other incidents may also play a role. Most commonly, the fear of flying comes from agoraphobia, where one may feel trapped and helpless over their situation and safety.

Causes of phobias

The etiology of specific phobias like aviophobia are complex and include a number of factors such as learning history, past experiences and biology.


Learning history:

Direct learning experiences


Specific phobias can sometimes begin following a traumatic experience in the feared situation. For example, an individual who had experienced extreme turbulence on his/her flight might develop a fear of flying.


Observational learning experiences:


Some people may learn to fear certain situations by watching others show signs of fear in the same situation. For example, a child growing up with a brother that is afraid of flying may learn to fear flying himself.


Informational learning:


Sometimes people may develop specific phobias after hearing or reading about a situation that may be dangerous. For example, one may fear flying after reading up on the aircraft crashes such as the B737 Max accidents.

It is also important to note that learning is not the sole cause of specific phobias. There are many passengers who have experienced extreme turbulence in flight and has continued flying regardless.

Symptoms of Aviophobia


The common symptoms of passengers suffering from aviophobia include:

  1. Increased heart rate

  2. Cold hands

  3. Trembling

  4. Nausea

  5. Shortness of breath

  6. Choking sensation

These symptoms can affect an individual when he is thinking about flying, about to board an aircraft or while flying in an aircraft.

Treatment of phobias


For Aviophobia, there are many tips being shared online to overcome it. Some of these tips include:

  • Latching on to triggers that set you off

Figure out what frightens you and examine how your anxiety reaction is triggered. Your goal is to identify your particular triggers, so you can manage your fear when anxiety levels are lower. When you understand what sets your anxiety running, it is relatively easier to control it

  • Stepping into the airplane with knowledge

Anxiety thrives on ignorance and feeds off of “what if?” catastrophic thoughts. But once you possess more knowledge, you will realise that your “what if?” thoughts are only limited by the facts. Therefore, by knowing the facts, you will be more informed on the things that should and should not worry you and hence your anxiety levels will be reduced.

  • Anticipate your anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety is what we experience when we anticipate our fears. It is often the most intense anxiety one will experience during the flight, but it is not an accurate predictor of how one will feel on the flight as it is frequently far greater than what one actually experiences.

  • Separate fear from danger

It is often difficult to separate anxiety from danger because one’s body reacts in exactly the same way to both. Be sure to label your fear as anxiety and tell yourself that anxiety makes the frightening thoughts feel more likely to occur and remind yourself that feeling anxious doesn’t mean you are in danger. You are safe even when feeling intense anxiety.

  • Recognise that common sense makes no sense

Anxiety will trick one into thinking you are in danger when you are perfectly safe. One’s gut feelings in these instances will always tell you to avoid but if you follow these feelings, you will always be reinforcing your anxiety. Instead, doing the opposite of what anxious feelings are telling you to do and embrace the discomfort that anxiety brings.

  • Smooth over things that go bump in the flight

Focus on managing your anxiety rather than worry is a way to reduce anxiety in flight.

  • Educate fellow fliers on how to help you

Other fliers need to know what frightens you, along with what helps you most to cope with anxiety during a flight. Your task is to be clear about your triggers and ask specifically for what you find most useful

  • Value each flight

Exposure is the active ingredient in overcoming your phobia. Every flight provides you with the opportunity to make the next one easier. Your goal is to retrain your brain to become less sensitised to the triggers that set you off.


Conclusion


Flying should be an enjoyable activity for all and there are methods and tips shared by those who has overcome it on how to overcome the fear of flying.


Watch a video to learn more


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