Around 40 percent of all passengers experience some form of anxiety while flying. Whether it’s just a minor discomfort or something that points to larger psychological factors, finding ways to cope with uneasiness while flying is important.
But just like trains were a few hundred years ago, cheap flights are a relatively new phenomenon. Our brains and lifestyles aren’t adapted to the fast change in altitude and location. So, we must consciously look for ways to deal with aerophobia.
A phobia is an extreme and irrational fear of a certain situation, object, or activity. Phobias do not involve any real risk or harm to the person, or such harm is overstated to a large extent.
Aerophobia defines a specific type of phobia that relates to the activity of flying. It doesn’t necessarily need to involve commercial aircraft but can also be induced by other aircraft or only a visual or even a thought of flying.
In some cases, the activity itself does not need to be started, but the mere possibility of flying can cause a person to feel irrationally anxious.
Commercial flights are a complicated endeavor consisting of many smaller steps – from arriving at the airport to landing. Every part of the flying experience can be a potential cause for anxiety for a traveler. Such causes are commonly called triggers and can be formed by various life experiences.
Stress and traumas related to height or aircraft can be potential causes of aerophobia triggers. For example, fear of the plane taking off can trigger aerophobia-induced panic attacks if the person has experienced a sudden change of altitude in a negative way before.
Landing can also be a trigger, especially if you have ever fallen from a great height and experienced great stress because of it. Not having any control in both of these situations is why landing and take-off are the most common types of aerophobia triggers.
Some passengers experience an irrational fear once they see how far above the ground they are. In such a case, the visual confirmation of the altitude, for example, created by looking through the window, is a trigger in such case.
As with many phobias, aerophobia can also be interlinked with other anxieties. So, the triggers for these phobias may overlap. For example, a person with severe claustrophobia might also fear flying because he must spend time in a small space without immediate exit.
Another common example is the intertwining of aerophobia with megalopolis, where a person fears the plane simply because it is a large moving object.
Understanding the formation of triggers requires a consultation with a psychologist or psychotherapist, as the causes might be rooted deep down in your psyche. However, the formation of triggers is relatively easy to understand. It is also rewarding when trying to overcome your fears.
For example, if you know that your aerophobia is caused by seeing the plane itself before boarding it, you can only choose the flights that use closed aprons for boarding passengers. Such flights are usually more costly, but you’ll be less likely to face aerophobia.
Not sitting near the windows is what works for most passengers, as seeing the clouds or ground while you fly is a common aerophobia trigger. Aisle seats are also better for those feeling uncomfortable in closed environments as they give more freedom of movement.
Grabbing a book or putting on headphones is not just for comfort – it is a common way for passengers to block various triggers. Airplane sounds, for example, are a common source of anxiety, and simply putting on some music or concentrating on a book can distract you from this trigger.
Some passengers also prefer to eat while flying as this is a great way to distract themselves from the fact that they are some 10,000 feet above the ground. While this might be an effective way to avoid certain triggers, you should mind what you eat, as some foods are anxiety-inducing.
If nothing else works, and you need to travel by plane frequently, you should see a therapist. He will help you with all the above-mentioned methods, mostly focusing on understanding what triggers your anxiety.
Although therapy usually involves conversations with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, treating phobias is a bit different. It is common to use exposure methods, where patients face their fears in safe environments and gradually. It is also the case with aerophobia or other flying-related fears.
First, you might need to watch videos of planes taking off, flying, or landing. Often, a great idea is to also read some aircraft news and articles explaining how the modern aircraft industry works.
It’s also advisable to visit an airport and pursue planespotting. In some cases, patients are even encouraged to get pilot licenses themselves to understand how the plane works and no longer be afraid of them.
All of this is done in small steps to ensure that the phobia triggers can be controlled and eventually overcome. Valium, alprazolam, or similar anti-anxiety medications are frequently prescribed to ensure control for this purpose.
In some cases, the dosages are really small as it’s enough to give the passenger some notion of control so that they would be able to relax. Some patients, usually with other mental health issues, require large dosages of medication for flying.
However, it is a rare occurrence for someone to take strong medication before or during a flight. Most doctors forbid flying for mentally ill people as this can cause risks not only for the patient but for others too.
None of the methods mentioned here are guaranteed to work for everyone. However, trying out them will surely give you some insights on how to approach your fear of flying in the future. After some time, this fear, like any other, can be overcome.