Aviation phobia is a specific phobia that involves the fear of flying or air travel. Although statistics show that air travel is actually safer than travel by other means such as cars and trains, flying is still a common source of fear.
Studies have shown that 2.5% to 40% of people experience flight-related anxiety each year.The low-end estimate may represent an instance where the condition is diagnosed by a mental health professional, while the high-end estimate may be the result of self-evaluated symptoms of flight anxiety.
Therefore, although many people are afraid of flying to some extent, only a small percentage of people actually meet the diagnostic criteria for phobia. Whether or not your fear of flying has developed into a phobia, it will seriously affect your quality of life.
People with aerophobia experience constant and intense anxiety when thinking about flying or traveling by air. The symptoms of aerophobia, also known as aviation phobia, are similar to the symptoms of other specific phobias. Physical symptoms of fear of flying may include:
- lose the way
- Flushed skin
- Stomach upset
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
In some cases, people may even experience a full-blown panic attack. A panic attack is an attack of intense fear, which can be accompanied by symptoms such as heart palpitations, disconnect from reality, and fear of death.
Some people who are afraid of flying are quite comfortable at the airport, but begin to show symptoms before boarding the plane. Others encounter difficulties as soon as they arrive at the airport.
Anticipatory anxiety, where you start to experience the fear of flying long before the scheduled flight takes off, is very common.
If you have certain other phobias and anxiety disorders, they may cause or aggravate the fear of flying. Some of them include:
- Claustrophobia: People with claustrophobia are often afraid of flying due to small space and lack of personal space.
- Acrophobia: The widespread fear of heights (acrophobia) can also lead to fear of flying.
- Social phobia or bacterial phobia: People who suffer from social anxiety or have a fear of bacteria are usually afraid of flying because they will be forced to spend a long time with strangers.
In many cases, addressing these underlying problems can help alleviate the symptoms of aerophobia. The treatments for these related fears are usually the same as the treatments for other types of phobias.
Some physical illnesses can cause fear of flying, including:
- Blocked sinuses or middle ears can cause pain or dizziness during flight.
- Colds, chronic sinus problems or diseases such as dizziness or ear disease can cause great fear of physical discomfort.
- Cardiovascular disease or other diseases that increase the risk of blood clots may raise concerns about deep vein thrombosis during flight.
Discuss any physical conditions with your doctor before the flight to develop an action plan to minimize risks and discomfort.
The exact cause of the fear of flying is unclear, but many different factors may play a role. One review found that fear varies from person to person and is affected by a series of complex physical, psychological, and social factors that are unique to each person.
Some of these factors may include:
- Experience a traumatic flight or plane crash: Even watching a large number of news reports about aviation disasters is enough to trigger fear of flying. For example, after the September 11 attack, many people were at least afraid of flying.
- Environment: If your parents also have flying phobia, you may have internalized their fear. This is a particularly common cause of aerophobia in children, but it also affects many adults. You may feel the fear of flying from other relatives or friends, but parents seem to have the most influence on the phobia.
- Other related situations: Your aerophobia may also stem from a completely different conflict. For example, the fear of flying shortly after promotion to a job that requires travel may be due to worry about the job itself or its impact on your daily life. Similarly, having to fly frequently to visit children of divorced parents sometimes produces phobias as a coping mechanism for divorce trauma.
Studies have also shown that triggers such as severe weather, takeoff and turbulence are often the most anxiety-inducing aspects of flight.Travel delays that are common when flying at popular times may exacerbate the fear of flying.
Fortunately, even if the root cause is not known, the fear of flying is a treatable disease. Some common treatments include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the first-line treatment for phobias including fear of flying. CBT is a method that focuses on changing negative thoughts that lead to fearful behaviors. Many specific treatments for phobias are based on CBT, but other treatments are sometimes used. Some of the most commonly used methods include:
- Exposure: Experts agree that the best way to overcome the fear of flying is to control exposure, whether through virtual reality, flight simulation or actual flight.
- System desensitization: This involves gradual exposure to the feared object or situation, which is often used to treat phobias, such as the fear of flying.
- Individual therapy: Individual CBT, hypnotherapy and virtual reality technology can also improve your fear of flying. A study found that Internet-based exposure programs can effectively treat flying phobia.
If you do not have other physical or psychological barriers, you may be a good candidate for fear of flying courses. These courses usually last two to three days, usually on weekends, and sometimes by airlines. In class, you may meet pilots, talk about aviation safety, and even have the opportunity to board a real airplane. Sometimes just being more familiar with the process and environment can help you feel more comfortable.
Sometimes medications may be prescribed to help relieve certain symptoms related to the fear of flying, such as nausea or anxiety. For example, your doctor may recommend that you take a medication designed to reduce motion sickness before flying. They may also prescribe an anti-anxiety drug, such as Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium (diazepam).
Although medications may help, they are usually a short-term solution. They can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy.
In addition to treating your phobia, there are things you can do yourself to help cope with the fear of flying.
- Understand the flight process. Understanding the working principle of airplanes, the causes of turbulence, and the meaning of various sounds and bumps can help reduce the fear of flying.
- Identify unreasonable ideas. Negative and catastrophic thoughts can lead to your fear of flying. Learn how to recognize these negative thoughts when they occur, and then practice to replace them with more realistic and useful thoughts.
- Learn to recognize triggers. When you think about flying or feel anxious during the flight, pay attention to the thoughts or situations before the fear. If you start to notice that certain aspects of flying tend to trigger anxiety, you will be able to better plan how to deal with these situations when they arise.
- Practice relaxation techniques. It can be helpful to build a “relaxation kit” or a series of relaxation strategies, which can be used when you begin to experience fear. Use techniques such as deep breathing, imagination, and progressive muscle relaxation for things that cause anxiety. Over time, these techniques may help reduce your fear of flying.
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If you are afraid of flying, it is best to make an appointment with a qualified mental health professional. They can diagnose phobias, determine if you have any concurrent diseases, and develop a personalized treatment plan.
The fear of flying can have a major impact on your quality of life. However, with proper treatment, you can learn to manage or even overcome this common phobia.