Fear of Flying
Air travel is by far the fastest means of reaching your destination; however the mere thought of flying can panic some people. Fear of flying is also known as pteromerhanophobia, aerophobia, aviatophobia or Aviophobia. It can be related to traveling in planes or helicopters. It is a situational response, in other words, it occurs when a person thinks of flying or when a person is about to start their flight journey. This phobia could have severe implications on your personal and professional life as you would want to put off air travel as much as possible.
The fear of flying could trigger a plethora of emotions ranging from mild panic attacks to palpitations and downright refusal to board the plane. These attacks can be extremely intense and can leave a person disturbed or disoriented until they are assured that they won’t be flying.
Early instances of this can be traced back to 1918, when military officers showed intense reactions to the idea of travelling in a plane. According to a study by the National Institute Of Health, almost 6.5% of the US population suffers from this fear. Several other independent studies also state that around 20% of the Australian population combats Aviophobia, 36% of the Swedish population would try and avoid air-travel to their best, whereas 28% of the Dutch population has never travelled by air. Women are more prone to it as compared to men. This phobia often triggers off in early child hood or youth.
A glance at these statistics would help you to realize that the fear of flying is far more extensive than what we perceive it to be.
What causes Aviophobia?
s response to the mere thought of being airborne. The fear of flying is sometimes triggered by hearing stories about plane crashes which causes the fear to multiply in the brain. This causes the brain to associate air travel with the high probability of a crash. Even the smallest and most routine flight turbulence will often flood the mind with unpleasant memories, stories and/or visuals associated with a plane crash which will most likely trigger a panic attack.
Aerophobia is common among individuals who cannot hand over control to someone else. This type of individual generally feels indisposed in any situation they feel is beyond their control. Such individuals often exhibit low confidence in people or systems around them. Characteristically, they exhibit extremely confident personalities; however, the mere thought that a situation is possibly beyond their span of control is likely to trigger involuntary biological responses such as anxiety, nervousness and palpitations.
Fear of heights can also trigger Pteromerhanophobia. A person who suffers from fear of heights (vertigo) tends to associate heights with the risk of falling and hence a plane journey could stimulate their vertigo response and lead to Pteromerhanophobia.
Claustrophobia, or fear of enclosed places, could also be one of the underlying causes of Pteromerhanophobia. Similarly, individuals who lead stressful lives tend to react to the slightest turbulence or irregularity during take-off or landing and start imagining the worse. Overactive imagination leads to increased fear of plane crash, death, uncertainty and much more.
Individuals combating the fear of flying often exhibit a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms could be extremely mild that an onlooker may not even notice them or sometimes, these symptoms may be so prominent that they could be easily identified. The most prominent symptoms for the fear of flying are as follows:
- Sweaty palms and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Mild to severe disorientation
- Numbness in your hands or legs
- Sharp wrenching pain in your chest
- Hot or Cold flashes
Some individuals may exhibit these symptoms just before starting their journey, while waiting at the airport, when faced with a flight delay or during inflight turbulence.
How to control the fear of flying
Studies show that the fear of flying can be controlled. Since the fear of flying occurs purely due to emotional and mental factors, it can be altered or eliminated. Aviatophobia can generally be regulated by training our brain to switch off its fight or flight response when you travel by air. Training our mind to logically evaluate any situation before pushing the panic button will help combat this response.
How to alter your fear of flying
Combat cognitive disorientation: A fear of flying is usually deep rooted in the subconscious. Most individuals associate flying with a series of threatening events which they have read, seen or heard. Images and videos related to these events flood the mind and trigger a surge of negative emotions which alert the brain and create a confused or disoriented state of mind. This confused state of mind is termed as cognitive disorientation by psychiatrists.
First step in overcoming the fear fear of flying is to stop our mind from jumping into the disoriented state. Since most individuals associate flying with numerous risks, it is important to create awareness about safety statistics. Once an individual starts looking at air travel as another journey without magnifying risks, he or she can successfully overcome the fear flying creates.
Listed are a few of the more popular ways to aid one in controlling aviophobia.
Use of Statistics: Statistics can play an important role in changing an individual’s mindset about risks associated with flying. A recent study revealed that flying is comparatively safer than driving because the probability of death is 1:20000 when you are flying as compared to probability of dying due to cardiac arrest which is 1:5. Probability of death in road accidents is 1: 100, which is extremely high when you compare it with flight causalities.
- Individual counseling: You can contact a medical counselor who could assess you and help you in fighting this as well. Simple techniques that help transfer control or shift focus can help you to avoid panic attacks and anxiety.
- Virtual reality or simulated environments: Sometimes turbulence or vibration during takeoff or landing can trigger anxiety. In such cases, it is best to use virtual reality or simulators. Some training courses often use simulated environments, where the participant is seated in a chair that vibrates, while sounds replicating turbulence are played in the background. Many of the courses provide an environment similar to that of a plane. Initially, participants get into fight or flight mode during the simulation based trainings, however with regular sessions, they learn to calculate and differentiate normal flight vibrations. This helps them in slowing moving out of a disoriented state of mind while travelling on flights.
Simulators can easily transform the environment from day to night or vice-versa. Your counselor should have the ability to introduce different scenarios such as a thunderstorm, lightning or turbulence. Many simulation based trainings also involve checking and boarding procedures to combat unknown fears about safety during these procedures.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy is one of the most recent additions to treatment of this condition and should be conducted by a certified medical expert. Under this therapy, the medical expert optimizes the participant’s Alpha state of mind. The Alpha state refers a state of heightened awareness. The expert then helps the participant to examine his or her fears in a peaceful state of mind. Participants show positive response to hypnotherapy because it invites clarity and progressively distances the fight or flight response. Deep introspection allows the participant to combat fears with relative ease; however, you may be required to undergo several sessions before you notice any visible changes .
The treatments mentioned above for the fear of flying should always be administered by trained and licensed medical professionals.
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