Aerophobia- Flight Anxiety

When you hear the word “flight”, do you immediately feel fear, a sense of danger, lack of control, and unpleasant emotional and physiological sensations, that almost immediately lead to a series of excuses why you do not have to fly?

Thoughts and excuses such as: “a local vacation is more convenient and safe”, “the kind of work that involves traveling abroad is too difficult for me, even if it leads to a promotion”, etc. These excuses that emerged simply by thinking about flying and resulted in paralyzing fear and worries are what is referred to as Aerophobia.

Aerophobia is one of the known anxieties and it is very important to treat it.

What is Aerophobia?

Aerophobia is a state characterized by a great fear before or during a flight which leads to a significant reduction in functioning. Before the flight, it can be expressed by the anxious person wishing to cancel the flight as a result of an excess of fears and worrying about the worst possible situation. When the anxious person boards the plane and the doors are closed, he or she feels a debilitating fear, accompanied by physiological sensations of shortness of breath, stomachache, tremor, a dry mouth, etc.

Flight anxiety is regarded as a phobia, which requires treatment.

What are the reasons for Aerophobia from the perspective of those who suffer from it?

  • They have no control when they are so high in the sky.
  • They fear the weather: strong winds, air pockets, rain, and snow.
  • Fear of mechanical faults during the flight.
  • Fear of an aerial accident and of the pilot’s lack of professionalism.
  • A deep fear of flying above the ocean.
  • Debilitating fear during takeoff and landing.
  • Additional fears that cause Aerophobia: fear of heights, Claustrophobia.
  • A feeling of helplessness due to the lack of control during a flight.

How does Aerophobia affect us?

The mere thought about flying gives rise to reactions of stress and anxiety, which become more extreme during the flight. Aerophobia affects us in the following ways:

  • Aerophobia and its physiological effect: accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, a dry mouth, over-perspiration, headaches, pressure in the ears, stomachaches, a feeling that one is about to faint.
  • Aerophobia and its psychological effect: negative, persistent thoughts that raise the level of fear of the bad result that might happen. Thoughts that may influence decision-making (that at times are not the right choices for this person): the psychological fear of the flight might lead the anxious person to take too high of a dosage of pills prior to boarding the flight.

How can one cope better with this anxiety?

  • Above all else, do not avoid flying. Avoidance simply keeps the fear active and lets it manage our lives and our decision-making regarding our conduct.
  • During the flights, it is recommended to focus our thoughts on activities that require concentration and thinking, such as completing crosswords, watching a movie, reviewing and reading work-related or academic material. This focus on thinking will help reduce the fear and its negative effects.
  • Use breathing techniques as a tool to treat Aerophobia, before boarding the airplane and during takeoff and landing: breathing from the diaphragm-stomach makes us aware of our breathing and enables us to control it- we fill the stomach with air while counting to three (as we would do when inflating a balloon) and then slowly shrink the stomach’s muscles, while counting to six, and we blow the air out.
  • A guided imagery exercise can also be a tool for coping with Aerophobia: you close your eyes and imagine a serene and safe place, where you feel relaxed and not intimidated. Thus, instead of focusing on the fear of the flight, you direct your consciousness to the safe, open place, and then begin to relax the muscles. When the positive thought entered our mind and the breathing is relaxed, imagine every organ of the body in a pleasant and safe place. You should start by relaxing your arms and legs and keep thinking about each of the tensed organs with your conscious mind.