Summer has arrived and for many, that means taking a well-deserved holiday in a foreign country. For lots of people, thinking about their summer holiday fills them with excitement, and they cannot wait to get away. But for those people who have a phobia of flying, the prospect of getting on a plane can fill them with dread and anxiety, and can make it difficult to relax and enjoy their holiday.
Roughly 20% of people report that they are afraid of flying. For around 2.5% of people, this fear is extreme and may prevent them from being able to go on family holidays, business trips with work or visit family abroad (sometimes called Aviophobia; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21050826).
There are many reasons why people may have an extreme fear of flying. Some people worry that the plane might crash due to a technical fault or collision with another aircraft. Others are afraid of being trapped, losing control or having a panic attack.
The good news is that there are many ways to remove, or reduce, a fear of flying. Some people find that self-help techniques are helpful enough to give them the confidence to fly. Others find that the help of a professional, such as a cognitive-behavioural therapist, is needed to reduce their fear of flying.
Many people find that learning more about the physics of flying, and the actual dangers involved, is a useful first step to reducing their fear of flying. For example, some estimate that the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million (http://www.ibtimes.com/after-air-algerie-ah5017-incident-statistical-look-probability-chances-dying-plane-crash-1638206), and flying is thought to be between nineteen and 100 times safer than driving your car (http://anxieties.com/flying-howsafe.php#.WUlAtVG1uUl / http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161121-how-to-beat-the-fear-of-flying). In other words, you are much more likely to be involved in an accident whilst driving to the airport, than you are whilst flying to your holiday destination.
As with many anxiety-provoking situations, exposure is one of the most effective ways of reducing your fear of flying. That means doing what you fear – getting on a plane and flying. This can be difficult to do, as flying can be very expensive. When facing your fear of flying, it is important not to do things that you usually do to make you feel safe, such as drinking alcohol or sitting next to the emergency exit on the plane. Carrying out these “safety behaviours” will prevent you from learning that flying is safe, regardless of what you may do whilst on the plane.
Relaxation techniques can also be helpful for reducing anxiety in the build up to the fly or during the flight. Many people also find that mindfulness is helpful (http://cognitivepractice.com/what-is-mindfulness-good-for/). There are many relaxation and mindfulness phone apps and tracks that you can download to your phone or MP3 player. If you are particularly frightened during take-off and landing, you may benefit from printing a relaxation sheet off, as many flights do not allow for electronic devices to be used during this time.
Finally, caffeine and energy drinks can increase levels of anxiety, so it is best avoiding these before flying.
When to seek professional help
For many people, these self-help techniques may not be useful and they may avoid flying altogether, or may suffer from panic attacks when they attempt to fly. For these people, they may benefit from professional support and guidance.
Your GP may be able to provide you with medication which can help reduce anxiety during the flight. Although many people find this helpful, it is only a temporary fix and will not reduce your fear of flying long-term. Medication can sometimes have some negative side-effects; these can be discussed with your GP.
An alternative option is cognitive-behavioural therapy, which many people find helpful for reducing their fear of flying (http://cognitivepractice.com/is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-right-for-me). Working with your therapist, you will begin to challenge some of your inaccurate or negative thoughts towards flying. Eventually, with the help of your therapist, you will begin to expose yourself to planes and to the act of flying.
To find out more about CBT, please click here and speak to one of the therapists at Cognitive Practice (http://cognitivepractice.com/contact/)
Writer for Cognitive Practice