Okay truth time. I confess I am a victim of aviaphobia and it’s a pretty severe case. It developed on 9-11 after I flew in and out of the Newark airport one week prior to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
I figure one or more of those guys was on my flight for one of their “test runs.” It causes me to hyperventilate every time I think about it.
Whatever. I still want to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. I don’t even like taking elevators and wigged out at the football stadium the other day when I let someone steer me into a crammed elevator. I almost passed out.
So I guess you can add “elevatoraphobe” to my list of maladjustments. Oh, and bananaphobe – I have an unexplained fear and distaste of bananas. Do you think I could qualify for one of those handicapped parking spaces?
But back to my main problem – Aviaphobia is the disabling fear of flying that prevents people from traveling. Among celebrities suffering from the fear are Jennifer Aniston and Whoopi Goldberg.
“There are many different types of fears of flying,” says Martin N. Seif, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City and Greenwich, Conn., who runs a six-week workshop called “Freedom to Fly” that helps people conquer their fear of flying.
One person may actually be claustrophobic, while another is afraid of heights, and someone else may truly be afraid of crashing, notes Seif. I have all three problems.
“You have to recognize what underlies the fear.” Getting educated about flying, understanding your particular anxiety, and learning relaxation techniques to ease anxiety can all help overcome your fear of flying.
Anna Jones of Brevard, N.C. always knew she suffered from some anxiety, but after years of flying, she developed a full blown phobia and no longer wanted to board a plane.
“I had been flying probably since I was about 6 weeks old, several times a year with no problems whatsoever. Then when I got to be about 15 years old, I started getting uneasy on planes. If there was any sort of turbulence at all, that exacerbated the problem,” says Jones. “Then, I just didn’t want to go.”
Jones also suffered panic attacks in high school. Finally, her anxiety reached the point where Jones backed out of a vacation her family had scheduled overseas, rather than confronting her fears or telling her family about them.
“It was never a fear of dying. It was more a fear of not being in control of the situation and not being able to change or in any way extract myself from the situation of being on a plane,” she says.
Fear of Flying: Steps to Conquer the Phobia
Jones worked with a therapist and overcame her fear of flying through therapy and use of anti-anxiety medications. “Finally, I’m getting to the point where plane travel doesn’t fill me with terror,” she says.
A lot of people fly with an anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax or Valium, which is an appropriate approach because it still exposes them to their fear, says Seif. “But there are a large percentage of people who won’t fly no matter what they take.”
I would have to be unconscious to get on a plane again. My girl friends are flying to Naples, Florida, next summer and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to get on the plane.
If your anxiety is at the point where it’s consistently disruptive to your schedule and you find yourself avoiding or canceling trips, it’s time to get help, says Seif. Here are some tips to help manage a fear of flying:
- Understand what it is that you are afraid of. That way, says Seif, you can start to deal with that fear. I’m afraid of flight attendants, barf bags, that the wheels won’t come down – shall I go on?
- Try reading self-help books. Books that focus on the fear of flying can be very helpful in dealing with and managing that fear, says Seif.
- Understand that fear is normal. Seif says it’s very normal to be afraid of something that you don’t do very often, particularly something that seems as unnatural as flying.
- Visualize flying. Imagine yourself walking into an airport and boarding a plane. Try to simulate your anxious feelings and learn how to manage them with relaxation techniques.
- Try taking a class or getting exposure therapy. There are many different courses that deal with the fear of flying and offer therapy that can help acclimate you to flying. Seif’s class meets at an airport and boards a plane for the experience. This allows for an even better simulation of what it’s like to really fly on a plane and teaches participants to manage that anxiety.