If you have a fear of flying, just scheduling travel by air months in advance may cause uneasiness. Known by several names (aerophobia, flying phobia, flying anxiety, and aviophobia), fear of flying may cause severe anxiety. Identifying the triggers beforehand may help diminish the discomfort that traveling by plane, or other forms of air travel, may cause.
By applying coping strategies learned in therapy, you may be able to manage aerophobia.
Fear of flying is considered an anxiety disorder.
Flight fear or anxiety about flying can begin in anticipation of and during air travel.
It is common to experience a fear of flying. Usually, people can manage flight fear independently if signs are mild and short-lived. Some people experience an extreme fear of flying to the point that they will avoid air travel because of hazards or risks inconsistent with air travel dangers.
Explaining the fear of flying
The earliest mention of "aero-neurosis" was during WWI when flight personnel experienced flight anxiety. In the 1950s, with flying becoming commercialized, the subject emerged again. In the 70s, behavioral and cognitive approaches addressed the fear of flying.
Fear of flying usually doesn't stem from one specific cause but rather the idea of a possible threat from any phase of the flight process. A person with flying fear may already suffer from other phobias, such as:
- Claustrophobia (fear of confinement)
- Agoraphobia (fear of feeling trapped and helpless)
- Acrophobia (fear of heights)
Frontiers in Psychology reports that up to 59% of individuals with a specific phobia of flying will meet the criteria for another anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Any stage of flight, from initial planning to the final landing of the trip, may trigger symptoms of anxiousness and fear, like racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, or vomiting.
Treatment options for flight anxiety
Acknowledging your fear of flying and knowing the source of the distress is a good beginning towards conquering this specific phobia. A phobia is an anxiety disorder causing intense fear and panic over something that poses little or no danger.
Depending on the severity of the signs and symptoms described, your healthcare provider may recommend counseling with a psychotherapist. Therapies most commonly offered for aerophobia consist of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, medications, or a combination of treatments.
- CBT. This therapy encourages new adaptations of thinking toward air travel. It may include learning about turbulence and why it's an expected part of flying. They may offer coping tools and tips to help when nerves start to feel frazzled — such as deep breathing, listening to soothing music, and replacing scary, negative thoughts with a reassuring mantra.
- Exposure therapy. This treatment method encourages familiarizing yourself with aspects of air travel — for example, an airport's environment. Exposure to the hustle and bustle of planes flying in and out and learning the layout will offer some confidence on the day of travel.
- Medications. Prescribed anti-anxiety medication is another option in addition to psychotherapy treatments.
Tips to overcome fear of flying:
- Give yourself time. Arrive with plenty of time to acclimate to the airport environment. Take time to collect your thoughts and prepare for the flight travel process.
- Know your triggers. Use coping tools and tips to help lessen the apprehension.
- Redirect your thoughts. Acknowledge you are safe and there is no immediate danger. You are in command of your thoughts.
- Focus on your breathing. Take slow, easy, deep breaths.
- Do something you enjoy. Read a book, listen to music, or people watch while waiting for your flight.
- Fly more often. The more you are exposed to flying, the better you'll get at traveling by air.
Things to avoid if you have flight anxiety
Arrive at your best with a clear mind and abled body. Keep away from tendencies that will impair your judgment or heighten your anxiety. For instance:
- Avoid the news. Steer clear of news coverage regarding airplane disasters. Remember, most flights reach their destinations safely.
- Moderate your drinking. Too much alcohol may compound feelings of anxiety. Drink water instead.
- Don't eat too much. Overeating may make you feel bloated and uncomfortable, not to mention gassy.
- Kick the caffeine. Avoid the jitters by staying away from stimulants like coffee and sodas.
- Stay organized. Being unorganized will cause frustration and clumsiness. Know and have easy access to any boarding information on paper and phone.
- Stay upbeat. A negative disposition will bring your spirit down. Anticipating chaos but staying in a good mood will help you go with the flow.
Extreme fear of flying can keep someone from enjoying all that traveling offers. It may keep you from sharing vacations with friends and family. It can hold one back from accepting a promotion or new job. There is hope, though. It's not a condition someone has to accept and live with. If one is willing to get help from a doctor or mental health professional and implement a treatment plan offered, one may be able to manage flight fear.
- Frontiers in Psychology. Processes Contributing to the Maintenance of Flying Phobia: A Narrative Review.
- Cleveland Clinic. Aerophobia (Fear of Flying).
- WebMd. What to Do if You're Anxious About Flying.