Fear of Flying

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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The fear of flying, known as aviophobia or aerophobia, is a common anxiety disorder that affects many people worldwide. This fear can vary in severity, ranging from mild discomfort and anxiety to a debilitating phobia that prevents individuals from traveling by air altogether. Several factors contribute to the fear of flying, and it often involves a combination of psychological, physical, and situational triggers.

Here are some key aspects that accompany the fear of flying:

Causes:

  • Fear of Heights: Some individuals have an underlying fear of heights, and flying in an airplane at high altitudes can exacerbate this fear.
  • Loss of Control: Being in an airplane can make some people feel like they have no control over their environment or safety, which can trigger anxiety.
  • Turbulence: Turbulence during a flight can be unsettling for many passengers and can be a significant trigger for fear.
  • Past Traumatic Experiences: Previous negative experiences while flying, such as a rough flight or a panic attack, can contribute to the development of a fear of flying.

Physical Symptoms before or during a flight:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling

Coping Strategies:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is an effective treatment for fear of flying. It helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to flying.
  • Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to flying situations can help desensitize individuals to their fear.
  • Medication: In some cases, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help individuals manage their fear of flying.

Self-Help Techniques:

  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful.
  • Education about aviation and how airplanes work can demystify the flying experience.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before a flight can reduce anxiety.

Professional Help: If the fear of flying significantly impacts your life or your ability to travel, seeking help from a mental health professional who specializes in anxiety disorders can be beneficial.

Support Groups: Joining a support group for people with a fear of flying can provide a sense of community and shared experiences.

Virtual Reality Therapy: Some therapists use virtual reality technology to simulate flying experiences in a controlled environment, allowing individuals to gradually confront their fear.

It’s important to note that many individuals with a fear of flying can overcome it with the right combination of therapy, support, and coping strategies. Overcoming this fear can open up opportunities for travel and personal growth.

The fear of flying, also known as aviophobia, is a common phobia that can manifest in various ways. Here are some examples of how the fear of flying can manifest:

  • Excessive Pre-flight Anxiety: People with this fear might experience extreme anxiety in the days or weeks leading up to a scheduled flight. The anticipation of flying can be as distressing as the actual flight for some.
  • Inability to Relax: During a flight, individuals with aviophobia may find it impossible to relax. They may be tense, fidgety, and constantly alert for any signs of turbulence or other perceived dangers.
  • Irrational Thoughts: Fear of flying can lead to irrational thoughts and beliefs. For example, someone might believe that the plane will crash despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
  • Dependency on Medication or Alcohol: Some individuals may rely on medication or alcohol to numb their fear and anxiety during a flight, which can be unhealthy and potentially dangerous.
  • Avoidance Behavior: Fear of flying can limit a person’s willingness to travel. It can hinder them from taking vacations or attending important events. They might opt for long road trips or other modes of transportation to reach their destination instead of taking a plane.
  • Negative Impact on Career: For some individuals, the fear of flying can hinder career opportunities that involve regular air travel, as they may avoid job assignments or opportunities that require flying.
  • Social Isolation: Avoidance of flying can lead to social isolation, as individuals may miss out on family gatherings, weddings, and other important events that involve air travel.
  • Impact on Relationships: The fear of flying can also strain relationships, as it may be challenging for partners or family members to understand and accommodate the fears of the person with aviophobia.
  • Financial Costs: Avoidance of flying can lead to increased travel costs and time, especially for longer distances, as alternative transportation methods are often more time-consuming and expensive.

It’s important to note that fear of flying is a recognized psychological condition, and there are various techniques and therapies available to help individuals overcome this fear, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and medication in some cases. If you or someone you know is struggling with a fear of flying, seeking professional help is advisable to address and manage this phobia effectively.

Advanced Behavioral Health, LLP provides CBT for fear of flying. Call 646-345-3010 or email drfeinstein@behaviortherapynyc.com for a free 15-minute consultation to see if you qualify for treatment.

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