Sportscaster and former coach John Madden has a fear of flying. If this big tough guy is afraid of flying then anyone can be. Fear of flying for Madden is especially difficult because he has to go all over the country to broadcast football games. He has made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by outfitting and traveling in a very luxurious motor home. However, this isn’t an option for most of us and some of us would like to go where a motor home can’t like Hawaii, Europe, Antarctica.
Fear of flying or aviophobia affects an estimated 20 million Americans so if you have a fear of flying, you have lots of company. It is more difficult to treat than some simple phobias because it includes many fears such as:
Closed in spaces
Flying over water
Being out of control
Trusting the integrity of the plane
Note that fear of crashing is only one fear and it is probably not the greatest fear. A person who fears flying can be given all the statistics about how safe flying really is and he will still fear flying even though he does not fear driving which is much more dangerous. The basic fear seems to be a fear of being trapped and out of control. People who have fear of flying are often very imaginative and a trait that is usually positive gets them into trouble when flying. They imagine themselves screaming, crying and “crazy”; they see the bottom of the plane drop away beneath their feet; they imagine that the man across the aisle is an armed terrorist. People with fear of flying have an inability to manage their own imaginations.
Avoiding flying adds to the phobia by so does forcing oneself to fly and white knuckling it. The person who fears flying is between a rock and a hard place.
Fortunately there is help and treatment for fear of flying is quite successful. There are three types of treatment: 1. Systematic desensitization 2. cognitive therapy 3. medication. Some treatments combine these although therapists who practice the first two tend to frown on medication.
Systematic desensitization first teaches relaxation and breathing techniques to control physical symptoms like:
Muscle tension, tremors
Heavy, labored breathing
Heart palpitations Stomach problems
Then the person is gradually introduced to increasingly more difficult assignments. For example first just imagining flying, then visiting an airport and so on until she takes a short flight with her therapist. Each step aims for minimal discomfort and further steps won’t be taken until the person has mastered the previous step.
Cognitive therapy teaches the person to change the thoughts that produce anxiety. For example “I’m going crazy” is replaced by “I’m calm and in control.”
Many airlines have programs to help people get over their fear of flying. In these programs people will learn about airplanes, pilot requirements, etc. in order to feel more confidant and more in control through knowledge. These programs may or may not have adequate therapy components.
A new tool is being used by some therapists. There are some very good virtual reality programs that allow the person to experience all the components of flying without the time and expense of having a therapist to the airport. Both behavioral and cognitive therapists use it.
If you choose to see a therapist make sure that she is well trained and experienced in treating phobias. You do not want to spend two years talking about your troubled childhood while you are still not able to fly. You should be flying within two to three months at most.
The third treatment is medication. Taking an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax will probably eliminate your fears or at least make them manageable.
Try taking it before you actually fly and then imagine yourself flying. This will give you an idea of how you will react to the medication.
Fear of flying is a very treatable phobia so, if you have aviophobia and want to fly, get some help.