- Aerophobia refers to excessive fear and dread related to flying, particularly air travel.
- The flying-related anxiety is persistent, intense, and in most cases irrational.
- Aerophobia causes dizziness, breathing discomfort, and choking feelings.
- The patient suffers disorientation in thinking coupled with excessive fear responses.
- The ideal treatment methods are cognitive behavior therapy, exposure methods, and calming methods.
Many people suffer slight discomfort and unpleasant feelings in air travel. The air turbulence can make them feel dizzy and nauseous. This is a normal response in times of flying.
But there are many who have an extreme fear of flying that can actually make them feel sick and tired. This irrational and extreme fear of flying is known as Aerophobia.
This is a specific phobia that is quite common and affects about 25 million adults in the United States. A flying phobia is much more than fear. It is an extreme fear accompanied by feelings of dread and terror.
Continue reading to know more about the phobia of flying. Also, learn how it affects your mental health in everyday life.
Aerophobia – Meaning
Aerophobia is a persistent, intense, and disabling fear of flying. The person experiences anxiety that ranges from mild discomfort to full-blown panic episodes. The fear is uncontrolled, irrational, and causes discomfort that is harsh on the person.
Aerophobia refers to an abnormal fear of flying that occurs in a persistent manner. It is a specific phobia related to air travel, either in helicopters, airplanes, or any other flying vehicle.
The person suffers strong dread and fear related to different aspects of flying. Instances such as take-off, landing, air turbulence, using the washroom while flying, etc., create a lot of intense fear.
The person with aerophobia experiences emotional distress related to sitting inside a confined space with others. Aerophobia is much more than a fleeting uneasiness or discomfort.
The fear is continuous and leads to avoidance responses as well. Aerophobia is a severe form of dread and worry that doesn’t go away unless treated.
Self-help tips need to be followed always while you’re on board to control the discomfort.
All those who suffer from this phobia experience intense fear. They usually realize that flying does not pose the level of threat corresponding to the size of their fear.
In some patients, Aerophobia might be present along with another phobia like Claustrophobia or Acrophobia.
While Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces, Acrophobia is the fear of heights.
Close to 40% of the general population across the globe who travel by air transport has fear of flying. Out of this, about 2.5% have the clinical phobia known as acrophobia.
But the irony is, nowadays, flying has become a necessity for most people because of their profession.
The world of today is coming closer because of communication and technology. Hence, flying has become an integral part of life.
Sometimes, the anticipation of a worst-case scenario can cause aerophobia. Thoughts of a plane crash or aircraft door not opening, leads to a feeling of being stuck.
These irrational fears cause physical symptoms that are hard to bear.
The psychology behind Aerophobia
People do undergo a phase of mild anxiety before boarding flights, but the level of anxiety becomes serious when it gets to the stage of Aerophobia.
Under this situation, these individuals avoid going on family vacations, or they do not even hesitate to miss business meetings that involve flying to destinations.
Their minds start working strangely. Due to this reason, they might not stand on an aircraft stairs or feel shaky to get inside the flight through an aerobridge.
These tendencies can be quite irrational and hence restrict their lives to a large extent.
They fear that they could suddenly start floating in the air and put their lives at risk. Keeping themselves safe becomes a matter of prime importance to them.
They try to stay away from all kinds of instances which can even bring these thoughts to their minds.
Flying phobia symptoms
Flying phobia or Aerophobia makes people show different kinds of physical and psychological symptoms. They vary from one person to another
Both these types hamper the daily lives of affected people to a great extent. Let us look into the symptoms in detail –
The intensity of this phobia can go to such an extent for some individuals that they start showing several physical symptoms.
Leading normal lives can become a very difficult proposition for these individuals.
Following are some of the physical symptoms of Aerophobia:
Rapid Heart Rate
When you are anxious and suffer from anxiety, it can trigger a faster heart rate. Under this situation, the heart might struggle to pump sufficient energy to the rest of the body.
Hence, the tissues and organs may not receive sufficient oxygen.
It is a common symptom of anxiety disorder, in which you suffer from a choking feeling. You face problems swallowing food and thus, completely avoid this practice.
A person suffering from Aerophobia can face problems of disorientation or confusion.
He can lose his sense of identity, place, or time. You might struggle to share your feelings and emotions with others.
Anxiety due to Aerophobia can cause problems in your gastrointestinal tract. You might suffer from indigestion, vomiting tendency, bloating, heartburn, peptic ulcer, and abdominal pain.
Aerophobia can give rise to various psychological symptoms as well. They are those which adversely affect your emotional well-being.
You might start having negative thoughts and they can disturb your peace of mind.
This irrational fear can make you avoid flying either by plane or helicopter. It can also make you nervous while standing on the rooftop or on a bridge.
You always live under the fear of falling and then losing your life.
Following are some of the quick points of psychological symptoms of Aerophobia to be noted early for diagnosis and treatment:
- Brain fog or feelings of disorientation
- Unexplained fear that clouds thoughts
- Feelings of helplessness
- Stuck or confined feeling
- Much more than fleeting mental uneasiness
- Rumination of worst-case scenarios such as plane crash, plane falling from high with a big bang
- Plane doors not opening
- Feelings of emotional numbness
Let us now discuss few psychological signs in detail.
Aerophobia can bring forth a lot of irritation in your personality. You do not showcase the requisite amount of patience to tackle tough situations in your life.
Whenever life presents you with some challenges, rather than confidently confronting them, you get irritated.
Aerophobia is closely related to Acrophobia, the fear of heights. Hence, dizziness becomes a very common symptom in this situation.
As you stand up at an elevated position, your eyes cannot report the position of the ground accurately.
When the brain fails to match up signals from various systems, it has problems knowing which information to rely upon. Due to this reason, you might feel dizzy.
When you suffer from Aerophobia, it can disturb your clarity of thoughts. Thus, it even interferes with your decision-making process.
This symptom can even reduce your ability to concentrate on things that require attention.
Thoughts of Death
The fear of flying or Aerophobia can always make you feel as if you would fall to death. Hence, you shudder to stand at a place and look down from a great height.
These thoughts can be quite overwhelming and can prevent you from traveling in airplanes.
You always feel nervous whenever you think about looking at or being in higher places. There is a constant fear that something negative might happen in those places.
There is a sense that you might either fall or get trapped at a higher place. Hence, you always have the strong urge to escape from it.
Other types of specific phobias related to Aerophobia
Aerophobia or the fear of flying can occur or get worse if you suffer from other phobias, panic attacks, or anxiety disorders.
Some of them are as follows:
Claustrophobia is one of the specific phobias in which people suffer from the highly irrational fear of enclosed spaces.
The lack of personal space makes it quite common for these individuals to suffer from Aerophobia.
They fail to make up their mind about flying and feel as if it would only result in disaster.
Acrophobia refers to the fear of heights. You do not like to look down from a high-rise building, as it results in dizziness.
This problem can easily lead to Aerophobia. Hence, you refrain from traveling in a plane or a helicopter.
All sorts of negative thoughts inside your mind regarding death from falling, plane or helicopter crashes prevent you from boarding these modes of transport.
This is a very common phobia among people, who fear that there might be a spread of germs from other passengers.
It can result in the occurrence of various diseases and hence, cause this fear of flying.
People develop the problem of Aerophobia as they would need to spend long hours while traveling with passengers. Due to this reason, there will be increasing chances of germ transmission.
Physical issues during flight take-off and landing that can cause aerophobia
Apart from these fear responses, there are some physical problems that can be related to aerophobia.
- Sinus and blockage in middle air – this problem relates to intense ear pain, blocking of the ears due to changes in atmospheric air pressure during flight take-off and landing.
- Vertigo (feelings that surrounding areas or things are spinning) or problems with the spine can cause fear of flying. The discomfort inside the cabin leads to dizziness and weakness. The person feels body numbness, unsteady, and wobbly feelings.
- Patients with cardiovascular issues or respiratory illness may have mild to medium discomfort during flights.
What causes Aerophobia?
There is no specific cause behind the problem of Aerophobia. It rarely happens that people develop this fear of flight after undergoing a traumatic flight.
Still, some factors might play a significant role. A particular review found that this fear varies from person to person.
It’s subjective distress that causes more suffering to the patient than any objective threat looming around.
Other than this, a wide array of complicated psychological, physiological and social factors also triggers this phobia among people.
Let us take a look at some of the factors that can contribute to your fear:
1. News of plane crash
Watching extensive coverage of plane crashes is sufficient enough to trigger Aerophobia among people. They would think twice before boarding a plane.
A classic example in this regard was the after-effects of the twin tower attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Many people had felt at least a minimal fear of flying.
2. Turbulence during the flight
Inclement weather results in a lot of turbulence during the flight. This sort of situation can be quite scary.
The mind becomes occupied with all kinds of negative thoughts, including, if the pilot loses control of the plane, if there is a crash landing, which results in death, etc.
All these thoughts and circumstances culminate to make you fearful fliers.
The surrounding in which you grow up plays a massive role in the development of Aerophobia.
For instance, if your parents had this fear of flying, you could have developed this fear within your mind. It commonly happens in children but can also affect adults.
Even though you could get this fear of flying from some other relative, parents tend to have the biggest influence on different phobias.
4. Other circumstances
Sometimes aerophobia can develop in the minds of people from a different context altogether.
You might become afraid to fly right after receiving a promotion in your job that needs travel.
In this scenario, there could be concerns related to the job or the impact it will make on your daily life.
Another situation may arise when children have to fly over to some other place to meet their divorced parents.
They can develop aerophobia as a part of a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma of their parents’ divorce.
How to get over the fear of flying? (Self-help tips)
People can easily get rid of Aerophobia and in mild cases; you could even take care of your fear on your own by sitting back at home.
Following are some of the self-help tips to cope with this fear of flying –
1. Stay Informed
Mystery and uncertainty give strength to fears and anxiety. Knowing about the safety mechanisms in the aircraft can help a lot in managing your symptoms.
These include flight mechanics along with turbulence, seeking help from cabin crew if needed, which might help get rid of your anxiousness and fear.
You can even carry out extensive online research, watch videos on YouTube, read storybooks or even attend special classes for all those people who face problems with the fear of flying.
Several airline companies also offer these services and make you feel completely at ease while traveling.
2. Watch out when your thoughts become irrational
Put a sufficient amount of work to convert all your negative thoughts into positive ones. They would ensure that you relax and not give your mind any chance to breed ill feelings.
Rather, you must try and think of good things that you are going to experience in your place of visit.
Imagine the activities that you will indulge yourself in along with the food and other tourist attractions.
Hence, whenever you feel that your mind has started to entertain negative thoughts, immediately stop and shift your whole focus onto something positive.
You have to have complete control over your thoughts and never allow negative feelings to disrupt your peace of mind.
3. Identify your triggers
Whenever you feel as if your anxiety and fear are at their peak, look closely into the environment and your thought patterns.
See where things are going wrong and how they impact your life adversely. It would help you understand the things that are triggering this Aerophobia.
These triggers include certain sights, thoughts, smells, sensations, or even memories.
4. Undertake various techniques of relaxation
You might manage anxiety associated with Aerophobia better if you can implement techniques to calm yourself down.
Try out some breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization to help get relief from all your symptoms.
Some individuals find meditating, praying, or journaling helpful in getting rid of this fear of flying.
You must try these techniques at least two weeks before boarding a plane, as part of managing anxiety.
5. Distract yourself
Find ways to distract yourself from entertaining thoughts related to flying. They would ensure that you sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
You can bring along some relaxing elements to engage yourself in, such as a book by your favorite author, a playlist having the best collection of music, or a movie that can make you feel comfortable.
Either all or any one of the methods can be useful to change your frame of mind and make you feel comfortable.
Impact of Aerophobia
Aerophobia or the fear of flying can adversely impact your life.
It can come in the way of your life’s progress and also enable you to become a subject of mockery for others, especially in the professional circuit.
Following are some of the ways through which Aerophobia can impact your life:
- Your organization might need you to travel to a place and be part of a conference. Unfortunately, you have aerophobia. Under this situation, you might refuse to go and make a bad name for yourself in the company.
- It is also possible that your family will be flying to a place to attend a relative’s wedding ceremony. You become wary of traveling by flight due to the problem of aerophobia. This becomes a major hurdle and also a prestige issue in front of your family members.
- During summer vacation, it is quite common for youngsters to make plans with their friends for short trips. It will be tough for you to travel because of your fear of boarding flights.
- Aerophobia comes in the way of all your enjoyment, relaxation, and chilling out with friends and family members. You would miss out on all the fun and excitement. Exploring places happens to be a distant dream for you.
Fear of flying treatment
You can treat most cases of severe aerophobia with the help of therapies.
They include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Systematic Desensitization, as well as Medication.
When you consult a mental health professional, he shall either advise diagnosis or treatment for getting rid of your phobia.
A thorough diagnosis can help him identify if there is an underlying cause behind this fear. Otherwise, he can directly undertake the treatment procedures.
There are occasions when these treatments work on their own, while, at times the medical advice and diagnosis allow the professional to club them together for creating an effective treatment plan.
Let us discuss the treatment options in brief:
1. Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment procedure that helps people face their phobias, including Aerophobia.
It is recognized as the best form of therapy to take care of this fear of flying. The specialist executes this therapy through controlled exposure to flying.
This exposure happens through virtual reality, visualization strategies, actual flight, or flight simulations.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most frequently used therapies to treat patients who are suffering from Aerophobia.
The therapist makes use of conversation to assist patients and have a clear understanding of their negative mindset and fear.
Following this, it helps patients develop new ways to cope with their fears and also get a fair idea of the triggers behind flight anxiety.
3. Systematic Desensitization
Systematic desensitization refers to a form of therapy that uses classical conditioning principles. In this treatment method, the main aim is to get rid of the fear responses.
Once that happens, the professional implements a counter-conditioning method for inviting various relaxation responses.
Initially, patients learn a few relaxation techniques along with breathing exercises.
Once they become comfortable in executing these processes, gradually, they are exposed to their fear.
As the intensity of exposure increases, patients practice their relaxation techniques till they become sufficiently comfortable to move over to the next phase of intensity.
4. Group Therapy
People who suffer from mild Aerophobia having no physical or mental health problems can even attend group classes to get some relief.
During these, patients get to interact with pilots over three days. They learn a lot about planes and the measures that airlines take for ensuring maximum safety of passengers.
You could even get a chance to board a flight and confront your fears head-on. It can gradually improve your health condition to a great extent.
A psychiatrist or a mental health professional may even prescribe a few medicines to help get rid of symptoms including anxiety or nausea.
Some medications that are prescribed for patients include anti-anxiety medication in the form of medicines like Valium, Xanax, and the motion-sickness medicine, Promethazine.
Anti-anxiety medications should be taken only if it is prescribed by a certified mental health professional. It should be consumed in the right dose and the duration of intake should be strictly followed. Then only, the desired result will be obtained.
Facts about Aerophobia
We have so far discussed several aspects of Aerophobia. Now it is time to check out some interesting facts about this fear of flying.
They are as follows:
- Preference for air travel, affordable holiday packages, and easy access to countries have resulted in an increase in the occurrences of Aerophobia over the last three decades.
- It is not just the fear of flying or flights, but also of fresh air and breezes that result in negative symptoms physically and psychologically.
- All those who suffer from Aerophobia may even have fears of open spaces and claustrophobia. Any of these phobias can severely damage a person’s quality of life.
- Under extreme circumstances, they can lead to depression, thus greatly impacting a person’s day-to-day life.
- One can even use the term Aviophobia to describe this condition. It depends on the person and their place of origin.
- Aerophobia is a specific phobia as this phobia has a particular stimulus that elicits the fear response. The person has to focus on the condition and treat it accordingly.
- The anxiety of sufferers takes place due to various reasons including, a lack of proper knowledge and understanding about flights, previous traumatic experiences, or some wild imagination that involves disasters and accidents.
- Aerophobia is more common among women than men, even though children can also suffer from it as they learn behavioral patterns from their parents.
- Close to 1 among 5 people suffer from this problem, but one can easily treat the condition through different therapies and anti-anxiety medications.
Diagnosis of Aerophobia
There is no specific diagnostic test for Aerophobia.
The diagnosis of this specific phobia is done by following the diagnostic criteria of specific phobias as given in DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, edition – 5).
Your doctor will ask you several questions related to your fear response. They will review the symptoms and try to find out the root cause before planning treatment.
The diagnosis gets confirmed if you have the following symptoms:
- The thought of flying can send jitters down the spine.
- Avoiding response and physical symptoms of fear are present during air travel.
- The symptoms are persistent and are present for a minimum of 6 months or more.
- The person goes out of his/her way to avoid the feared object by any means.
- Difficulty in all walks of personal and professional life.
Prognosis of Aerophobia
The prognosis of the disease is promising because it is a treatable condition. Most people with aerophobia can recover completely.
Psychotherapy in the form of CBT and exposure methods can lead to overcoming symptoms. The person can resume normal functioning with a positive mindset and the right kind of treatment at the right time.
Prevalence of Aerophobia
Aerophobia is a common phobia. The fear of flying manifests itself in panic attacks, in its mild to severe forms. The aerophobia sufferer may experience great distress if immediate onboard help is not given to them.
The prevalence rates of aerophobia show that this is a common phobia for many people who take on flying due to personal or professional reasons.
- 40% of the general population has some sort of mild to moderate discomfort while flying. Out of which about 2.5% people have crippling fears of flying.
- 60% of people traveling in airplanes have reported generalized anxiety during the flight. But they could manage symptoms on their own.
- According to research reports, about 25 million adults in the United States suffer from Aerophobia.
- The National Institute of Mental Health reported that aerophobia prevalence rates vary from 2.5% to 6.5% of the population.
- Aerophobia is a common specific phobia to be found in the age group of 17 to 34 years.
- According to reports of YouGov, about 24% of the British population has fear of flying, more related to flight crashes.
Can someone with a fear of flying recover fully and take on flying again?
It is quite possible for a person suffering from Aerophobia to feel if he or she would recover from their problem of Aerophobia and resume traveling on flights again.
The good thing about Aerophobia, which everyone should know, is that the problem is treatable and the prognosis is good enough. So there is nothing to be scared about.
If you’re suffering from fear of flying, you need to know that you’re not alone in this journey. But, self-trust and patience to overcome the problem has to be present in you for complete recovery.
In this article, we have already discussed how Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, Desensitization Therapy, and Medication help you get rid of this fear of flying.
Even all these therapies and medicines cannot help you if you are not willing to take certain steps from your end.
Let us look at some of those steps, which can help you make a complete recovery from this problem and once again start traveling on flights –
1. Trust Your Feelings
- The first thing that you need to do to cure yourself of Aerophobia is to trust your feelings and face the truth.
- You must realize that your fear is nothing unusual. Numerous people travel in airplanes and even if you do not see others showing any kind of discomfort or fear, they have it deep inside.
- If you look closely, you might find your colleagues and friends suffering from Aerophobia and gradually they find ways to come out of this problem.
- Seeing their recovery can act as a source of encouragement and help develop the confidence that you can also fully recover fully and enjoy traveling on flights.
2. Gain Information
- We all know that knowledge has a power of its own. If you are unaware of certain realities of life, you will always suffer from fear and apprehension.
- Similarly, your fear of flying stems from half-baked news items, which do not disclose the truth, and the exaggeration of people while explaining minor hiccups they might have faced while traveling in planes.
- Moreover, this fear of yours is irrational. You can challenge them only with facts.
- If you fear turbulence, you can learn about the safety and science behind it to calm down. Watch videos on safe flying or even read a book that elucidates how a plane operates.
- For ensuring further relaxation of your mind, you can even check out flight safety guidelines and the training modules for pilots to challenge all your irrational fears.
3. Fix Travel Goals
- When you feel that the fear of flying or Aerophobia has put restrictions on your traveling, make sure to fix travel goals for yourself.
- Set a reminder regarding the place you wish to visit for meeting an individual. Once you do that, you would be bound to focus on your objectives of the meeting and forget about the irrational fear of flying.
- If you want to share your problem with a friend by going over to his place or fixing an appointment to consult a professional for getting rid of your phobia, set a target date.
- All these priorities would automatically make your mind shift its focus from Aerophobia and look forward to the execution of your plans.
4. Reach Out for Help
- There is absolutely no reason to feel isolated in your attempt to tackle the problem of Aerophobia. You can always reach out to health professionals. They can help get rid of your anxiety by making you go through various programs and fulfill your purposes only towards traveling uninterruptedly.
- You can gain a significant amount of confidence to focus on things that matter in life. Thus, it helps you to forget about your fear of flying.
- Professional assistance would also help you follow your goals. He would help develop the courage to make sufficient progress in your quest for recovering from Aerophobia.
Tips for patients to travel safely with Aerophobia
Every individual suffers from some sort of flying fear. You get inside an aircraft and have to trust a pilot to navigate the aircraft and take you to your destination safely.
On top of this, your mind is flooded with news of earlier emergency landings and airline crashes. All these add to your fear and make you completely avoid taking flights for journeys.
Like every cloud has a silver lining, there is hope for people to travel safely even while suffering from Aerophobia.
There are certain tips, which you can follow and get rid of all your negative thoughts and fears of flying.
1. Accept your fear of flying
Do not hide your fear from others. There is no point in feeling embarrassed, but speaking out about your Aerophobia will invite support from others.
They will play their part to make you feel comfortable.
2. Choose your seat beforehand
At the time of check-in, request aisle seats. Turbulence is usually far greater at the back of the aircraft.
If you have a severe problem with Aerophobia, try to take the shortest flight on the longest plane.
3. Do not panic
When you experience turbulence while being on a flight, do not panic. Treat it as bumps on the road. Just let your body sway along with the movements of the aircraft.
4. Distraction is a helpful tool
Try all possible ways to distract yourself. Watch a movie of any genre. Never mind, even if you have seen it before.
You can also read either a book or a magazine, or engage yourself in solving a crossword puzzle. Here, the only purpose is to shift your focus from all the tremors you have on your mind to flying.
5. Avoid caffeine
Avoid having coffee or other caffeine products as a severely hyper state of mind would further aggravate your fear and anxiety.
You must drink other liquids in the form of water or juice, as dehydration contributes to your fear.
Some suggest that a glass of wine can help calm your nerves, but you must not overdo it.
6. Tune in some nice music
You can even listen to some soothing music and keep all other noises away from your ears. Otherwise, you might feel scared hearing the usual flight noises or even listen to sounds that do not exist in reality.
7. Use mind-diverting tools
While traveling in a plane, wear a rubber band around your wrist. In case, you sense some mental agitation, you can snap up this band against your skin.
The pain you will feel shall keep your mind away from the turbulence.
8. Practice deep breathing and relax your jumpy mind
Deep breathing is also a very effective way to keep you free from the fear of flying. Hence, try doing it often and use the sick bag placed in front as a hyperventilating device.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Aerophobia feels worse and more real for the sufferer. It can impact normal life in various ways.
Sometimes, this condition leads to severe avoidance of flying, even if the person knows that they will have to take on a fight to reach their destination on time.
But, there is hope around the corner.
With adequate support from your mental health professional or clinical psychologist and the love and support of your family members and friends, you can overcome this fear easily.
Are you interested to know more about ‘Xenophobia’ then click here?
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.