Traveling by plane this summer? Got a fear of flying? Read this!

Are you going on a well-deserved vacation this summer? Perhaps to a warm, tropical island where you can relax and decompress for a week or two? That sounds like a dream... But for some of us, we will live through a nightmare before we get to that dream destination.

Aviophobia is the fear of flying. If you have aviophobia, read below to learn what you can do to ease your symptoms and possibly even completely overcome your fear.

Aviophobia - what is it?

The term aviophobia is composed of the Esperanto word for airplane, namely "avio" and the ancient Greek "phobia" for fear. Aviophobia is a fear of flying. But even restlessness and stress before flying are expressed by unpleasant symptoms such as shaky hands and legs, feelings of stress, sleep problems in advance of the trip, rapid heartbeat, nausea, dizziness or even abdominal or headaches - either when flying itself, but often before the upcoming flight.

Flying is the safest way to travel. Statistically speaking, on average, you have a 1 in 114 chance of being involved in a vehicle collision on the road, but only a 1 in 99,821 chance of being involved in an air transport incident. In pure statistical terms, it’s far more dangerous to drive a car than to fly on a plane. 

 

What causes aviophobia?

Loss of control, fear of heights and bad movies... the causes are diverse, as many know for sure from talking to friends, acquaintances and relatives or even from personal experience. For some the claustrophobic discomfort of being trapped inside an object hurtling through the atmosphere with no way to escape. Unlike in a car, the pilot flies the plane, leaving your fate completely in the hands of another person - a typical case loss of control, which bothers us. 

Even worse is the thought that the autopilot steers the plane, because then you have the feeling that you are at the mercy of technology. Although this is exactly the same when traveling by train, when flying there is still the altitude added, the (unsubstantiated fear) that the plane could fall down like a stone, and indeed several thousand kilometers - this explains the fear of turbulence.

The fact that most people have probably watched a catastrophic film that dealt with a plane crash, often further aggravates the situation. We still let this fear take over, even though the mind knows that the plane is the safest means of transport and the likelihood of falling with it is as likely as winning the super jackpot lotto, or be killed by a falling meteorite. The mind knows that panic is unfounded, yet many will not let go of their troubled feelings.

 

What can you do to help?

There are several ways to reduce the fear associated with flying (and various flying-related phobias); these include:

Exposure-based Therapy

One technique used by psychologists to help people overcome their fear of flying is controlled exposure. Exposure-based therapies work by gradually exposing the person to the object or situation that frightens them. In general, people with a fear of flying tend to avoid it. This means that they do not have the opportunity to learn that, very often, their fears or anxieties do not come true; or, if they do come true, that they can tolerate them because they are not as terrible as they imagine.

flight simulator

Flight simulators can be used to help reduce the fear of flying. Treatment usually involves a number of sessions under the guidance of a trained therapist. In the first sessions, people generally learn anxiety management techniques, such as deep breathing and how to identify and correct irrational thoughts. In the later sessions, they learn to face their fear in controlled stages.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps people to change how they think about things they are afraid of. In CBT, people learn to question negative thoughts and emotions to see if they are realistic and helpful. If they are not, then these thoughts must be corrected so that they don't develop into negative behavior patterns.

This study shows that the skills acquired in CBT treatment were associated with reduced flying anxiety. Also, the participants continued to use the skills after treatment was completed, which suggests that CBT has positive long-term effects. There are a number of CBT courses available online; the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website is a good place to start.

 

Herbal treatment

When all rational arguments are futile and our queasy feeling has gained the upper hand, good advice is needed. As ugly as flying may be for many, it is the fastest way to travel long distances, whether on vacation or on a business trip. Here, too, nature can help us, because she has given us medicinal plants along the way, which can calm us down when nervous restlessness plagues us before or while flying.

Passionflower has been known to take the edge off and help with mild cases of anxiety, as it calms the nerves and quiets racing thoughts. Valerian root is also a good herb to take as it also calms nerves, aids in anxiety and encourages relaxation.

Pharmacological treatment

Medication is sometimes prescribed on a temporary basis to treat the symptoms of a flying phobia, such as anxiety and nausea. Anti-anxiety medication, such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax), or motion sickness medication, and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) may be prescribed.

Pills

It is important to consult a doctor before using these medications. They are only seen as a short-term solution; they can prevent anxious fliers from addressing their fears, which may be more pronounced the next time they fly without the crutch of medication. They can also be addictive. 

 

Take a fear-of-flying course

Many airlines now offer a 1-day course to help people conquer their fear of flying. The course is aimed at people who are too frightened to get on board as well as those who suffer from anxiety while flying.

For some people, the opportunity to meet trained airline pilots and ask them questions about the airplane and their experiences of flying can help to put their minds at ease. For others, the chance to board a plane without the dread of a real flight helps them become more familiar and relaxed in the environment; it can prepare them for the real thing.

Plan your trip properly

If you are planning a trip, there are some practical ways to ensure it will go smoothly:

  • Fly direct (no transfers or stop overs), this will make the trip shorter
  • Fly in a larger plane, if possible, as they are less affected by turbulence
  • Try to reserve priority boarding to reduce queuing, as this can make some people anxious even before getting on the plane
  • Reserve a seat in the middle over the wings, this area has less turbulence

Man reading on plane

  • Choose the right seat:
    • Aisle seats have more space, allowing you to stretch out your legs
    • Window seats offer a nice view, and you are less likely to be disturbed
  • Bring a book to read; getting your mind off of flying can go a long way, especially on a long flight