If you're suffering from an irrational fear of flying, it will certainly be a major obstacle to having a great far away vacation. Fear of flying, also known as Aviophobia or Aviatophobia, is surprisingly common, with up to 18% of the adult U.S. population having it. This is according to a Boeing study done in 1980. From the same study, we know that another 12% or so experience anxiety when flying.
Fear of flying gets somewhat more attention than other phobias since air travel is often difficult for people to avoid, especially in work settings contexts, and because the fear is widespread. A fear of flying may prevent a person from going on vacations or visiting family and friends, and it can cripple the career of a businessperson by preventing her from traveling on work-related business.
What is fear of flying?
Without getting very technical, we can classify the fear of flying as an anxiety disorder. It can make itself known during a flight, or even a long time before a person even arrives at the airport. Commonly, the fear and anxiety has more to do with elements of flying that have little or nothing to do with the real risks of flying. Fear of flying can include one or more of the following elements:
- Fear of heights
- Fear of being over water
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of the dark (flying at night)
- Concerns about accidents or from deliberate attacks
- Being idle for long periods of time
- Being in an enclosed or crowded space
- Loss of control, or being dependent on technology or people
- Loss of personal freedom
- The security screening process
- Concerns about turbulence and other weather conditions
- Not understanding the activities associated with a normal flight
- Underlying issues from past psychological or physical trauma
Curing a fear of flying
Curing aviophobia, or fear of flying, is like curing any phobia. It's really a matter of re-training your cognitive patterns to cease associating the flying experience with uncontrollable danger and fixated thoughts. You have a conditioned response to the whole business of taking a flight - thankfully there are ways to remove that conditioning.
One very successful method to do that is what's called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), essentially a scientific application of hypnosis, or hypnotherapy. This works by subconsciously programming your brain so that flying is seen as a safe, enjoyable activity. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how that works, but I've seen it work on a colleague, and work quite well. This is the favored method of therapists such as JP Richards of GoGetter Jetsetter.
This program can be very quick working as well, with some patients experiencing strong improvements within only 18 minutes of hypnotherapy.
Further methods are Cognitive behaviour therapy and Systematic desensitization, both of which work on the princible that an earlier initial sensitizing event (ISE) has caused the feelings of fear. Eventually, those feelings have become entrenched in the aviophobics psyche. Some doctors can also prescribe anti-anxiety medication for fearful flyers, but those can have some serious downsides so only go down this route if it's absolutely critical that you fly.
Do you have a fear of flying? Know anyone that does? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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