Aerophobia is commonly known as the fear of flying. It is the 9th most common fear and is said to affect approximately 25 million people. For many years I suffered with this so severely that I wouldn’t board a plane, no matter the circumstances. The following is my advice to you or a loved one for overcoming this fear. I will also go over the common clinical advice to cope with fear of flying.I hope this article will help you. By traveling more, you will most certainly increase your quality of life and expand your world. I speak from experience. I hope by cataloguing my experiences with this, I will help you.
My personal journey with aerophobia began immediately with my first bumpy flight. It was so rough that I was afraid we would never make it alive. Years went by with few reasons to fly. The next time I flew, we left on a tiny prop plane in stormy weather (Prop planes tend to be much more choppy than jets). The entire trip was torture. I was dreading the trip back from the moment we touched down. I was on the verge of a panic attack the entire return trip; layover and all. When we touched down I vowed to never fly again! Why put myself through the torture?
Fast-forward almost ten years! I realized just how much I was missing due to this fear. I did research online to find help. I found that the Fear of Flying classes that airlines used to offer, which employed an effective technique known as progressive desensitization, were no longer offered. I talked to a pilot at a small, local airport about trying to progressively desensitize me. I was too frightened to do that, too. I could not find a psychologist who used cognitive behavioral therapy. I prayed fervently to miraculously get over this fear! I realized years were passing by and I still had only been to few places in my entire life. Anywhere we went involved a long and increasingly dangerous drive. (Thanks to more traffic and more texting drivers!) Any long trip necessitated a stop on the road which would entail hotel stays and meals both going and coming from the destination. This increased the time of the trip and the cost.
I finally decided to just take the plunge and try a short, direct flight on a mid-sized jet. I took an anxiolytic medication but was still pretty traumatized. Fortunately though, the flight was smooth and I survived! The flight home was much the same. With several other relatively short, direct flights, my fear waned. I remained fairly nervous, but toughed it out. Fast forward a couple of years. I have flown several times, mostly to Orlando from Louisville with a couple of flights to California, and even one to Hawaii! I can’t say that I am completely over the fear, but I am determined not to let this stop me from seeing the world! I can attest to the fact that the sheer will and determination to fly, along with the desensitization I employed is the reason that I have little anxiety flying now. (I still don’t like turbulence when flying!). We are even flying to Europe! If I can “recover” from this very severe phobia, I feel anyone can.
Now let’s talk about a few of the methods commonly employed for overcoming fear of flying.
- Progressive desensitization-
This is a method commonly employed to overcome almost any fear. It is very effective when done alone or with a counselor. I did this myself and it proved very helpful in overcoming my fear of flying. The principle behind this is to expose yourself to a small amount of the stimulus for your fear and gradually build up over time. For fear of flying I read to just envision first being on the plane; then to watch tape of people flying; then sit on a plane; then just taxi the runway; then take a short flight; then a longer flight.. Following this entire protocol is not possible in most places now since the Fear of Flying courses are no longer available. As described above, I modified this method by taking short flights on mid-size jet planes (which are smoother) and not waiting toolong before my next flight. I find that if I take fairly frequent flights, it seems more natural and old-hat to fly. Your mind and nervous system become accustomed to the sensations and sounds of flight. So, it is no longer traumatic; much like riding in a car is very “natural” seeming.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-
This method can be good if you can find the right therapist. The idea is to help how you think about flying and sometimes incorporates diaphragmatic breathing. The thought is if a person is educated about how a plane stays in the air, turbulence, air currents, etc., then it will help during the flight. The breathing exercises are thought to help reduce anxiety during the flight by giving you something to focus on and preventing hyperventilation. If you can maintain slow, steady breaths, it can keep the anxiety from escalating into a fight-or-flight full-blown panic reaction.
- Anxiolytic Medications–
Examples of these are Xanax and Ativan. Alcohol can also fall into this group because it is a central nervous system depressant and can lower anxiety. They are all helpful to a limited extent, but if you are like me, the anxiety can be so strong that it overcomes any anti-anxiety medication. It also does not really get to the heart of the problem, either.
Aerophobia (fear of flying) can be debilitating. It can completely impede most travel plans. If you can find a psychologist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy, then it might be worth a try. Anxiety medicines can take the edge off of the fear, but alone are not the answer. The most important step is to be determined and decide that no matter what, you are flying. Pick out a short, direct flight on a jet (which makes the flight smoother). Repeat as often as possible. St. Augustine said,” The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only a page.” Overcoming the fear of flying then enables you to “ read more than a page “ and see the world.