Fear of Flying
Estimates vary about how common the fear of flying is. Some suggest it might be as high as 25% of the (American) population, but it’s difficult to know for sure because most people don’t need to fly in their daily lives, so the actual numbers might be much higher.
What Causes the Fear of Flying
Several different types of events can cause a person to become afraid to fly.
- The fear of flying can begin when something dangerous happens to you or someone you know. We all learn from experience and use that knowledge to protect ourselves the next time we encounter that same situation or object. We can also learn from someone else’s experience. If a person tells you a certain movie wasn’t worth the money, you might decide not to see it, even though you might have enjoyed it. The same thing happens with the fear of flying: If a person you know tells you their flight was uncomfortable, you might conclude that your own flight will also be uncomfortable and begin to fear it.
- The fear of flying can also start when something that’s uncomfortable happens, even when it isn’t dangerous. For example, many of the people who take our flying phobia treatment program tell us the only ‘bad’ thing that happened when their fear of flying started was that they had a scary thought, like “What if this plane crashes?” or “My kids would be so sad if I died on this flight.” Thinking scary thoughts causes the body to feel scared feelings, just like thinking about food can make you feel hungry. Just thinking about scary things and feeling fear doesn’t mean you are in actual danger, but some people can make the mistake of believing that those feelings are proof of an actual threat and begin to fear flying.
- The fear of flying can also start when we make negative associations between flying and discomfort. For example, most people dislike having to go through airport security because it can be unpleasant. Who wants to have to take off their shoes at the airport, or risk having to be frisked? Long flights can also feel uncomfortable when we have to sit in one place for several hours, sit with strangers and leave our familiar comforts.
Even though none of those situations are dangerous, they can all feel uncomfortable and contribute to a person developing a fear of flying.
Can the Fear of Flying be Cured
Absolutely! There are many things a person can do to overcome the fear of flying. Coping with that or any fear can be as simple as learning more about how the human body keeps itself safe. Because we’re only made of skin and bone, the body protects itself by being finely-tuned to detect any possible dangers — even when those dangers only exist in our imagination.
When we encounter something unfamiliar, risky or just plain different from what we’re used to, the body reacts immediately with a burst of arousal to help us get away or fight our way to safety. This happens even when we’re just imagining the threat. Most people have had the experience where they’re lying in bed, safe and warm, yet their heart is pounding and they’re feeling real fear because they had a thought about some upsetting thing that might be happening the next day. Realizing that this is a very common and natural process that just happens — sometimes multiple times a day — can help some people to begin to cope more effectively when it happens on airplanes or when thinking about air travel.
How to Get Over the Fear of Flying Quickly
We offer individual treatment sessions for the fear of flying, as well as weekend group treatments, if you want to get over your fear of flying quickly. Our Non Flyer group treatment program is a very popular option that participants rank very highly.
Visit us at AfraidtoFly.ca to learn more about how to how to overcome claustrophobia in an airplane and get rid of anxiety symptoms naturally, without medication.
In the meantime, …
5 Things You Can do to Overcome Your Fear of Flying
- Learn more about how your body reacts to stress so you can recognize it for what it is and not continue mistaking that harmless arousal as something dangerous.
- Learn to calm your fear so you can think your way through situations that look or feel scary. Feeling afraid shuts off the thinking parts of the brain, making it more difficult to view situations rationally. Use slow, belly-breathing to calm a hyper-aroused body and ‘ground’ yourself in the here-and-now by tuning into the information coming from your five senses.
- Learn to mind your mind! Practice paying attention to those moments when your mind wanders into fantasy and away from whatever is actually happening in your real life in that time. Come back to the present! It’s probably not as bad as your imagination wants you to believe.
- Plan ahead! Pre-plan what you will want or need if you start feeling afraid when you’re on a flight later. Write your ideas down and take that sheet with you as a reference. Your frightened brain doesn’t think as clearly as your calm and rational brain. It will appreciate the help!
- Take the weekend workshops we offer in the spring and fall each year. We offer small-group treatments for flight anxiety and claustrophobia in the Toronto area that really work to help you overcome your fear of flying.