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Steps to Overcome Your Fear of Flying So You Can Explore the World!

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Fear of Flying can be fear that a plane will crash or it may be fear of fear itself!  You feel that if you fly, you will panic and when you do, there will be no way to relieve the panic.  Medication is probably not the answer. 

Panic on a plane is more common than you may know and it can be someone’s worst nightmare and can turn into an intense phobia.  In the sky relief is literally miles away. The plane will not land until you arrive at your destination. 

You are not alone if you experience fear of flying.  Here are some tips to conquer your fear and engage in a fulfilling exploration of the world!

Remember, if you have questions related to your health, always consult your doctor or medical professional. The information presented here is informative only and is not medical advice.

Many people with a fear of flying don’t understand why flying is a problem for them. Trying to regain control is difficult but possible.

You may have been told that you are safer on a modern airliner than driving in a car. It’s true.

When you feel as though you are “the only person that has fear of flying” or “you have the worst anxiety ever”, it’s easy to keep things to yourself and suffer through yet another uncomfortable flight.

Flying has become common in most countries, but regardless not all passengers enjoy flying. From the beginning of humanity, people have been looking up at the skies. The crucial question has always been how to conquer the distance, how to reach the sky without being damaged or killed and land safely on the ground. Although commercial flights have become one of the safest forms of transport, they are still anxiety-provoking for many people. Fear of flying has been estimated to affect 10-40% of adults within society.

There is a difference between term “fear of flying” and problems arising from anxiety disorders, phobic reactions, traumatic stress,  psychosis and motivational changes. Fear is a set of acute emotional manifestations experienced by people encountering a dangerous situation. This factual and special danger exists in external reality. Fear can have some adaptive function when it remains limited and controlled, since it forewarns us of a danger and provokes a state of alertness. In phobic fear of flying, the person counts the fear as irrational, nevertheless tries to avoid the situation. Phobic reactions might be due to the personality predispositions, maladaptive training and stress conditioning patterns.

Fear of flying (air travel phobia, flight phobia, and aerophobia) is categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) as a specific phobia, characterized by a marked, persistent, excessive
fear which is precipitated by the experience or immediate prospect of air travel.
The most tangible behavioral reaction to the fear of flying is avoidance. It is represented in one of three ways: the person who (a) will not fly; (b) will fly under an absolutely urgent condition or (c) will fly when required but shows anxious reflections when doing so. Anxious flyers may exhibit a set of safety behaviors such as insisting on having a specific seat (aisle or exit seats for ‘quick escapes’ or window seats to facilitate avoiding interaction with others). They may interrogate an airline staff about the weather, delays, technical problems or the pilot’s qualifications. In addition, hostile or aggressive behavior among some travelers may also be fueled by anxiety. There are also some evidence that fearful flyers have an increased desire to use medication and alcohol when flying to get rid of distressing symptoms and anxious feelings.

The passenger may think of a fear of crashing, death, mutilation, loss of self-control and social embarrassment and imagine crashing, death and and the height attained by the plane.  Other responses to air travel revolve around separation anxiety, rumination on recent personal traumatic or stressful incidents or media coverage of sensational events. There is also some evidence that mothers with young children may be subject to catastrophic thoughts on the consequences to their children if the mother were to die in an accident while flying.

How does it physically feel?

Physiological reactions might involve combinations of increased heart beat and blood pressure, hyperventilation, sweating, palpitations, shaking or stomach upset regardless of the nature of what the passenger is thinking.  Reported physiological responses have included full-blown panic attacks.

Fear of flying is quite common, but almost 20 percent of the population report that their fear interferes with their work and social lives. It’s not uncommon for fearful flyers to avoid vacations and job promotions. Experts divide fear of flying into three main groups; which one do you belong to?

  • Avoiders Those who don’t fly or haven’t flown for more than five years despite the opportunity to do so.
  • White Knuckle Flyers Those who fly only when absolutely necessary with extreme terror.
  • Mild Anxiety Flyers Those who fly when required, but with anxiety. 

How does it develop?

There are several theories about how fear of flying develops. One theory suggests that a bad experience, somehow related to flying, could be the source of fear: Maybe you were on a plane that experienced violent turbulence, or had a haunting nightmare about a plane crash. The bad feelings originated from that experience become associated with things like the sound of the engines or the feeling of taking off. These associations turn into triggers that spark the same bad feelings over and over.

Another theory says that we learn fear from others. Because a parent or a sibling seems afraid or upset, we naturally pick up on their feelings. Pretty soon, we no longer need anyone else. Just by being in the situation, we become upset.

A third theory speculates that some people develop a fear of flying simply because they have the wrong information about how safe it is. In the end, they genuinely begin to believe that something bad is bound to happen to them while they’re in the air.

Fear of flying can be the manifestation of one or more other phobias, such as claustrophobia or social phobia. It can also be the effect of generalization of one or more natural environment phobias, such as fear of heights, falling, storms, water, instability, etc. Determinants, that are also noteworthy, are fear of loss of control and a high need to have control over the situation.

Fear of flying can be a combination of all of these things listed above.

That is why a multimodal treatment program is often most appropriate to help patients who have different mechanisms and backgrounds that underpin their fear of flying and cannot get it under control themselves.  Once fear of flying, whether experienced to a mild, moderate or high degree, usually influences functioning in one or more areas of life, such as professional, social and family life. It may also affect marital or relationship satisfaction as fear of flying hampers or restricts a partner’s freedom of movement and shared activities.

There has been a substantial growth in the quantity of published literature on fear of flying since 1990 and simultaneously, demand and supply of psychological treatment for fear of flying has increased.  Hence, it is not surprising that demand for treatment as to fear of flying is growing. That is why we decided to give some suggestions of non-pharmacologic treatments that have been used for fear of flying up to now.

Treatment and Relief

Even though 70 to 98% of people with FOF can be treated successfully, professional help is sought by only 41%, and medication is used by 30%.   It is advised to avoid maladaptive strategies like avoidance, alcohol and medication.

1. Essential Oils help many to curb their anxiety when flying or traveling.  These can be applied to temples, neck, clothing masks or wherever suits you.  Lavender essential oil is the most common variety used.

                    

2.  Rescue Remedy is a blend of five Bach Flower Remedies especially beneficial when you find yourself in traumatic or stressful situations.

      

3. Sleep mask with Bluetooth is a good technique of distraction.  Many types are available and it may take a few tries to find the right fit.  If you respond well to relaxing music or meditation routines these can be played simultaneously in a comfortable manner with these masks.

     

4.  Programs and Resources   LTD recommends this book SOAR which is a great starting place for you but Captain Tom Bunn, a psychologist and pilot developed a program to help those who suffer from Fear of Flying.  Oxytocin is the hormone produced during breastfeeding, when you see a baby animal, or romantic arousal. When your body is secreting this so-called “love hormone,” it has trouble secreting stress hormone at the same time. His method uses envisioning feeding an infant, picking up a kitten, or cuddling with your partner while working a picture of a plane into the scene and in doing so, encourage the flow of oxytocin as opposed to cortisol in your bloodstream.  SOAR, Inc. has courses with many features for use at home, online and in person to give you relief.

5.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  includes techniques for managing anxiety, such as diaphragmatic breathing, to use while on the flight. People who are sensitized to bodily sensations during take-off, landing, or turbulence are desensitized to these triggers. You will need to find a therapist to engage in CBT.

6. Education helps calm anxiety, too: how a plane flies, facts about turbulence, and the meaning of the various sounds and bumps during a normal flight. Virtual reality programs, during which fearful flyers are exposed to computer simulations of flight triggers, are also helpful. So, too, are flight simulators that are ordinarily used to teach private pilots how to fly small planes. (These are sometimes located near airports.)

6.  Biofeedback A Virtual Reality Biofeedback Program is based largely on psychological principals of Exposure therapy and Desensitization.  Exposure is delivered through the virtual reality simulator and  relaxation training occurs using state of the art biofeedback. Using biofeedback allows you to develop the proper neurological relaxation response and ensures you are you doing it correctly.  You may need to find a therapist to engage in biofeedback.  Full Catastrophe Living is an excellent resource to get you started in using this excellent method to help your fears!

7.  Counseling may be necessary to guide you in using these treatments and tailor them to your individual needs. Click here to find a therapist.

8.  If your distress is actually fear of vomiting or motion sickness, ginger, Dramamine or wrist bands may be effective.

      

We suggest trying any of these methods as a passenger in car rides before flying to see how effective they are or any side effects that may be problematic for you.

Remember, if you have questions related to your health, always consult your doctor or medical professional. The information presented here is informative only and is not medical advice.


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About the Author Michelle

I am a travel maniac! Because I travel so much around the world, I look for solutions to make my travel easier. I get asked all the time about the travel gadgets I use or my recommended items. It makes me happy to share these things with you to make healthy and meaningful travel happen!

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