Fear of Flying

Alex Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW
Individual, Couples & Family Therapy
IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.

Posted by: Alex Robboy
CAS, MSW, LCSW Individual, Couples & Family Therapy IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.
267-324-9564

How To Cope With A Fear of Flying / Aviophobia Treatment in Center City Philadelphia

Business meetings. Family gatherings. Relocation. Eventually, for one reason or another, most people will have to make a trip that requires getting on an airplane. For some, it is a thought that brings on shaking hands, rubbery legs, cold sweats, and even distress to the point of severe nausea.

Does this sound like you? Many people are afflicted to varying degrees by aviophobia, or a fear of flying. Sometimes this fear controls a person’s life to the point where he or she misses out on special occasions or professionally valuable opportunities just to avoid getting on an airplane. However, you don’t need to let those important moments in your life pass you by! There are steps anyone can take to help keep their fear of flying under control.

FEAR OF FLYING - CAUSES The first thing you can do to make your fear of flying manageable in to understand the root causes for your fear. “That’s obvious!” you may say. “I’m afraid the plane will crash and I’ll be killed!” However, while the answer does indeed seem obvious (and simple, which makes it more appealing because it is easier to understand), consider this: air travel is absolutely, factually, and without a doubt safer than driving a car. Every statistic we have makes this crystal clear. Roughly one out of 7000 drivers are killed every year in automobile accidents. The same statistic for airplanes? Less than one in a million. Now, if fear of flying was based on the realistic likelihood of a fatal airplane accident, you should be more than one-hundred times more afraid to get in a car than you are to fly… but people who are petrified of airplanes almost universally have no fear of hailing a cab, taking a bus, or getting behind the wheel themselves. So, if actual safety risks don’t cause your fear of flying, then what does?

* Feelings of Helplessness: The most common answer is a feeling that events are beyond your control. When you get on to an airplane, you entrust yourself to a pilot you don’t know, can’t talk to, and can’t see. This feeling of putting yourself in the hands of a stranger is what triggers most people’s phobia. They feel helpless because they don’t know what’s going on in the cockpit, and may be overwhelmed by the feeling that they cannot do anything to effect what happens to them while on a plane.
* Lack of Understanding: The situation is made worse by the fact that most people are so unfamiliar with how airplane flight actually works. It’s simple enough to understand what makes a car stop, go, and turn; but to many the forces that keep a 435-ton Boeing 747 airborne are completely alien. To passengers who have never been told otherwise, it seems all too easy to believe that these forces could suddenly fail at any moment.
* Travel-related Stress: An additional factor that is often at work is that the reason for traveling often involves a measure of uncertainty. Things like going to important business meetings, visiting family who live far away, or moving to a new state usually involve some degree of risk and may cause anxiety. However, the root causes of that anxiety are likely to be complex, deep-seated emotions such as self-doubt (Am I really ready to give this presentation to the CEO? What if I mess up?), concerns about the effects of time and distance on relationships (I haven’t seen my sister in two years – will she be mad at me for not visiting more often? What if we don’t get along any more like we used to?), or worries about your abilities as a provider (How will we afford this new house?).
* Physical Symptoms: A final cause of aviophobia is that many people have actual, physical symptoms caused by flying itself. People who are pressure sensitive often experience mild headaches or earaches while flying, and the motion of the airplane gives some people the feelings of nausea known as “airsickness.” By themselves, these symptoms do not cause fear. However, feelings of physical discomfort can push a person’s state of mind from slightly nervous to outright fear. When the body is unwell, it causes generally negative thoughts and makes it more difficult to think rationally. Worse, people who are already afraid may interpret these unpleasant sensations to mean that “something is wrong” in the larger sense of the plane and their safety.

These four factors are the cause of almost all aviophobia. Acute feelings of a loss of control and lack of knowledge, not airplane safety, are the real culprits behind a fear of flying. Remember: a fear of flying is a phobia, not a rational fear! Rational fears are generated when something bad is actually happening, but phobias are predominantly created by imaging frightening or dangerous things that might happen. Though both these fears trigger the human fight-or-flight response and thus cause anxiety and elevated emotional sensitivity, phobias originate entirely within the mind. Unfortunately, that means that relieving the fear is much more complicated than just pointing out the statistical safety of planes. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take, both before and during a flight, to stay calm and relaxed during your trip.

FEAR OF FLYING - TREATMENTS (developed at the Center for Growth, Center City PA)

* People fear what they do not understand, so the first step you can take is to educate yourself about the actual process of flying. There are several websites you can visit to do this in the comfort of your home, including HowStuffWorks.com and About.com. By understanding the physics of flight, not only can you feel more secure, but you can empower yourself with knowledge and feel more control over the situation. 
* Do not leave trip preparations until the last minute! Doing so means you will get on to the plane feeling stressed, nervous, and rushed, and can only amplify your fear. Make arrangements for travel to and from the airport well ahead of time, along with hotel accommodations, and pack a few days in advance. 
* As you get within a week or two of your flight, don’t leave yourself with nothing to do but worry about it. Thinking about how upset you are going to be when you get on the plane almost guarantees that it will happen. Do some project around the house, preferably something physical which will occupy both your mind and body. The same principle applies to the flight itself – bring a book or some music so you don’t spend the entire flight dwelling on your fears. 
* If you experience physical symptoms like nausea, get medication to control them beforehand. There are several medications designed specifically to combat the symptoms of motion sickness, and having a comfortable body will help you keep a clear head. Two inexpensive over-the-counter brands are Bonomine, which is non-drowsy, and Dramamine, which is drowsiness-inducing and is something you can use if you would feel more comfortable sleeping through the flight. 
* Learn to recognize the thoughts and feelings caused by your phobia, so you can be aware of them and counteract them with rational thought. Reminding yourself how many people fly safely every day, how well-trained the pilots are, and how you have faced and overcome obstacles before will help you. Remember, the fear is only in your mind, and you are the master of anything that happens in your own head. 
* Meditating is something you can do anywhere to calm your mind and body. Take long, slow breaths through your nose, and focus on a single simple image. It could be a place, a thing, or even just a color, but your image should be something that has positive connections for you. Do not try to force away other thoughts; rather, try to let them go as if they were being carried away by a stream until you are left with only your image. Do this until you feel relaxed and in control. 
* Never underestimate the value of positive thinking. When taking a flight, think about the positives of the destination you are traveling to. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to make an impression at works, or perhaps you will get to see an old friend. There is something positive about any situation, so dedicate yourself to finding what yours is.

Aviophobia is something many people live with – it is real, and nothing to be ashamed of. But to overcome this fear, you must put yourself back in control. Even if you have to do something you may not like, such as flying, you are the only one who can decide how you will react to your situation. Empower yourself with knowledge, and take steps to ensure that your entire trip will go as smoothly as possible. You can take back your life!

 

Struggling?  Help is available.  Call 267-324-9564.  Center for Growth / Aviophobia Treatment in Center City Philadelphia - Fear of Flying No More.