• Emily Mendez

How To Overcome the Fear of Flying

Fear of flying

When you board a plane, do you suffer panic attacks centered on visions of the plane plummeting to Earth? As a therapist, I've heard many people say that they are afraid of flying. It's understandably a pretty common phobia. For most people, flying does not feel natural. After all, humans aren't meant to fly. So, it makes sense that you would feel anxious when being confined in a small, overcrowded cabin 30,000 feet in the air. Flying is a reminder of one’s vulnerability.  

If you are afraid of flying, then you are not alone. According to ABC News, as many as 25 percent of all Americans are nervous about getting on a plane. Approximately 6.5 percent of the population, or 20 million people, suffer from a more severe fear of flying called aviophobia.

Aviophobia can be a real problem if part of your job description involves travel. You might go to extreme lengths to avoid flying—such as pretending that you are too sick to get on the flight.

If you do get on the fight, you may experience shortness of breath, nausea and sweating—all things that can make you feel tired and ruin your trip. The good news is that it is possible to overcome your fear of flying. Here are some expert tips to help you feel safe and confident in the sky.

Change Your Thoughts

You’ve probably heard that flying is one the safest form of transport. However, a fear of flying is not fueled by facts. Irrational thoughts that involve catastrophic scenarios is behind this type of phobia. These beliefs make it impossible to feel that flying is safe. These worst-case scenario thoughts are so powerful that they even produce physical symptoms. It can be tough to keep them from occurring.

One method that cognitive behavioral therapists use to combat anxious thoughts is called cognitive restructuring. Most of the time, thoughts are automatic. So, you have them without thinking about it. To use cognitive restructuring, you learn to identify automatic thoughts that are irrational and replace them with more realistic ones. So, for example, you might take the idea “If I have a medical emergency on board, there is no way to get help” and change it to “Airline personnel are trained to handle medical emergencies. They routinely practice what to do if a passenger has a medical problem and will make sure that I get the medical treatment I need.” The key with cognitive restructuring is to practice the technique. It will not work if you wait until you are on the plane to try it. Instead, write down your thoughts on a regular basis and challenge ideas that you identify as irrational. By doing this exercise consistently, you’ll feel less anxious when it comes time for your flight.

Demystify Flying

The average flight passenger is not very knowledgeable in aviation. It is natural to feel afraid of the unknown. However, the truth is that almost no other mode of transportation is as safe as flying. Plus, airplanes are getting safer each year, thanks to advancements in design and engineering. As a result, you are less likely to die from flying as from anything else.

Airplanes are carefully designed to withstand emergencies. Engine failures do not result in the plane plummeting from the sky as most people imagine. All commercial airliners are designed to fly with just one engine. Even if both engines fail, an aircraft can glide for more than 70 miles before it needs to land. This provides the pilot with plenty of time to safely land the plane.

Although turbulence feels scary, planes are built for it. Most of the time, jets only rise and fall a couple of feet during turbulence. Even if the bumpiness is severe enough to cause your drink to spill, there is nothing to worry about—the plane will not crash.All of the flight crew are well-trained on how to manage emergencies, as well. Pilots and co-pilots are required to frequently update their skills. All flight crew are carefully selected based on their ability to communicate with others, work well under pressure and manage multiple streams of information.

Taking the time to learn about aviation can go a long way towards alleviating fears. When you step on the plane, you can sit back and relax knowing that you are safe.

Talk to a Therapist

A therapist can help you develop coping skills to manage your anxiety about flying. Therapy can help you identify triggers that cause your anxiety and safely confront your fear using treatments specifically designed for anxiety. Treatment may include:

  • Exposure therapy – You are gradually exposed to flying until you are no longer anxious.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – This involves identifying, confronting and changing thought patterns that cause anxiety.

  • Relaxation skills – Relaxation skills such as deep breathing and visualization are effective ways to manage anxiety.

Don’t let fear keep you from traveling. The world is waiting!

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