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Sky-High Anxiety: How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying

Do you suffer from a fear of flying? If so, your fear and/or anxiety could be causing you to miss out on exciting travel opportunities. First of all, understand that it is not uncommon to experience some fear or feelings of anxiety while flying; in fact, about one in three Americans is either anxious about flying or afraid to fly altogether.

However, when fear of flying becomes severe enough to prevent you from traveling, it may be time to seek out help in overcoming your fear. Perhaps your fear of flying has kept you from taking on career opportunities that involve travel—or maybe it’s keeping you from seeing different parts of the world.

The good news is that you don’t have to deal with your fear of flying forever. There are plenty of resources available to help you overcome your anxiety and board a plane with confidence. By having a better understanding of what causes a fear of flying and what actually makes airplanes one of the safest forms of travel, you can begin taking steps to overcome your fear and begin traveling the world.

Understanding Aerophobia

Aerophobia (also known as aviophobia) refers to the fear of flying. In most cases, aerophobia is manifested through refusal or inability to fly on an airplane. However, it can refer to a fear of flying in any type of aircraft (such as a helicopter).

Common Causes of Aerophobia

There are many potential reasons that a person may suffer from aerophobia. For many, aerophobia stems from the perceived loss of control that occurs when boarding an airplane. When you get on an airplane, you are inherently putting your trust in the pilots and flight crew, as well as the mechanics of the aircraft itself, to get you to your destination safely. It is understandable that this may make you uncomfortable. This “loss of control” is the same reason many people are afraid of amusement park rides, such as roller coasters.

Another possible contributor to aerophobia is a fear of confined spaces. Airplanes are designed to hold as many passengers as possible, which often means that seats are packed very close together with little room to move or stretch out. Aisles and airport restrooms also tend to be small and cramped. If you’re the type of person who already gets uncomfortable when in close quarters with strangers or when in a relatively confined space, then being on an airplane can cause anxiety to skyrocket.

For many people with aerophobia, a combination of loss of control and feeling “trapped” results in severe anxiety or fear. This fear may prevent them from flying altogether or leave them prone to panic attacks or other episodes of serious anxiety on a flight (or even prior to boarding at the airport gate).

Symptoms of Aerophobia

Do you suffer from aerophobia? It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between feeling a little nervous before/during a flight and suffering from full-fledge aerophobia. Remember that up to one-third of Americans experience some fear of flying—but a smaller fraction (about 15%) are afraid to fly altogether.

You may have aerophobia if any of the following symptoms apply to you at the airport or on an airplane:

  • you become extremely irritable
  • you experience sweating or increased heart rate
  • you experience intrusive thoughts about death
  • you’re unable to think clearly
  • you become dizzy or disoriented

And of course, if your fear of flying is so pronounced that you’re unable to even book a flight, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from aerophobia.

Overcoming Your Fear of Flying

There are many reasons you may want to overcome your fear of flying. Maybe you’d like to explore a new career or job opportunity that requires regular travel. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of traveling overseas and seeing the world. Or maybe a close friend is hosting a destination wedding and will be crushed if you’re unable to attend.

No matter what your reasoning for wanting to get past your fear of flying, there are many resources (both free and paid) available to you.

Learn About How Airplanes Work

Because many people who are afraid of flying are worried about mechanical issues occurring on their flight, one of the best ways to calm your nerves is to learn more about how airplanes work. While it may seem completely unnatural for an object as large and heavy as an airplane to stay in the air, the truth is that they’re designed to do just that. Gravity, lift, thrust, and drag are all working in your favor during a flight to keep the plane in the sky.

As you become more familiar with the basics of how planes work, you may also like to know that airplanes are designed to be able to fly and land safely even if an engine fails. And while it is extremely unlikely that more than one engine would fail on an airplane, you should also know that planes are designed to fly and land safely without any engine power at all.

Turbulence is another aspect of flying that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. However, turbulence is not only safe while flying but unavoidable in many cases. In fact, turbulence is simply something that occurs when a plane flies through an area of changing the pressure in the sky. In most cases, this occurs when the plane passes from a low-pressure area to a high-pressure area; in doing so, the plane hits a “bump” in flight. It’s no bigger of a deal than hitting a small bump while driving in your car, and airplane pilots even have the technology to help them steer away from areas of very high turbulence.

Even if your plane does hit heavier turbulence (which does happen from time to time), you can take comfort in knowing that airplanes have been designed to handle extremely violent and intense turbulence (more than you would realistically ever encounter on a flight). Note, you don’t have to worry about your luggage or carry-on getting damage during turbulence as they are safely stowed in the cabin compartments and in the storage areas under the plane.

Understand the Facts About Airline Safety

In addition to simply learning about how airplanes work, you may also be able to slowly overcome your fear of flying by researching some facts about airline safety. Plane crashes are extremely rare to begin with—and even in the unlikely event that you were involved in a mishap, your chances of survival are high.

There are all kinds of reassuring statistics out there about flying on an airplane, so check them out for yourself. The infographic published on FlyConfidently.com’s website is especially helpful and compares your chances of dying in an airplane crash to other possible perils, such as falling off a ladder or simply crossing the street.

One fact to keep in mind, perhaps above all else: you’re 100 times less likely to die in an airplane crash than you are in a car crash.

Enroll in the SOAR Fear of Flying Program

If simple facts and statistics aren’t enough to quell your fear, have you thought about enrolling in a class? Believe it or not, there is an online course specifically designed to help people overcome their fear of flying. The SOAR Fear of Flying Program has been around since 1982 and has helped many people get past their fear of flying and become more confident airline travelers.

The course is run and developed by a pilot and licensed therapist and can be completed from the comfort of your own home. The class itself is divided into four segments, which include:

  • Psychology of Flight Anxiety
  • How to Control Anxiety
  • How Flying Works
  • Tips to Use at the Airport

In addition to the course, you also have the option of purchasing a counseling session with the developer, Captain Tom. As a licensed therapist and pilot, he can provide you with one-on-one guidance to help you overcome your fear of flying.

Consider Seeing a Counselor or Therapist

If you’d prefer to meet with somebody in-person to help you work through your fear of flying, then you may also want to consider scheduling an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Here, you can discuss your fear of flying in a safe and confidential environment; your therapist or counselor can also provide you with tips and exercises you can complete to work past your fears and anxieties.

If you think you may need medication to help control your anxiety, you might also want to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. These professionals are also trained medical doctors, so they are able to prescribe medications that could assist with your symptoms. For example, a psychiatrist may be able to prescribe you an anti-anxiety medication you can take before or during your flight to control symptoms as they arise. Keep in mind that a traditional therapist or counselor is not a medical doctor and thus will not be able to prescribe medications.

Next Steps: Time to Book a Flight

Once you’re feeling confident enough to book a flight, there are some additional steps you can take to help keep your fear and worries at bay in the days leading up to your flight and after you board the plane.

Choose an Aisle Seat

If at least some of your fear of flying stems from being in close quarters with other people, then you may be better off choosing an aisle seat as opposed to a middle or window seat on your flight. Be aware that not all airlines allow you to choose your seat ahead of time—but many do at the time you check in your checked luggage. If this option is available to you, take advantage. If not, you may be able to ask another passenger to switch seats with you on the day of your flight.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Any anxiety or worries you may be feeling about your flight can be compounded by stress in other areas of your life, which is why it’s so important to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and board your plane. If you’re already stressed out about running late or being stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, there’s a good chance those negative feelings are going to continue as you board your plane.

Bring a Distraction

If you’re worried about how you’ll feel once you get on the plane, plan some activities to keep you occupied during the flight. It is not uncommon for people to feel perfectly calm and collected at the airport, only to experience fear and anxiety once they’ve taken their seat on the plane.

Some examples of distractions to consider for your flight include reading a book, playing a game on your phone, or even listening to music on noise-canceling headphones.

Practice Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can also be effective at helping you relax if you’re feeling stressed or anxious on your flight. There are all kinds of great breathing exercises, but one of the easiest to remember is to inhale slowly through your nose for three seconds before exhaling slowly through your mouth for the same amount of time. By repeating this breathing exercise for a few minutes, you may find that your heart rate has slowed down and you’re able to clear your mind of any intrusive or worrying thoughts.

Take a Sleeping Pill

If you’ve met with a psychiatrist, he or she may have provided you with an anti-anxiety pill to take before or during your flight as needed. If you’re feeling anxious, there is nothing wrong with relying on this medication to get you through your travels. Just be sure to avoid drinking any alcohol or caffeine, as these can have negative effects when combined with medications.

Another option to consider is that of taking a sleeping pill or sleeping supplement (such as melatonin) before or during your flight. You don’t need a prescription to take a sleeping pill, and doing so can help you fall asleep so that you can snooze through the majority of your flight. Just keep in mind that sleeping pills should be taken according to the instructions. For example, most will not recommend that you take the pill unless you have several hours to commit to sleeping; if you’re only going to be on a two-hour flight, you may want to skip the sleeping pill because you may find yourself too drowsy to function once you land.

Ready to Fly?

It is extremely common to experience a fear of flying, but there are so many ways to get past that fear and become a confident airline traveler. Once you do, you’ll find that you’ve opened up the doors for new travel experiences and opportunities. We hope these tips are useful to you as you embark on the path to stress-free flying!

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