Aerophobia: When anxiety takes flight
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Many people dislike flying on planes. Getting to the airport hours early, going through security and waiting to board just to be stuck in the middle seat on a four-hour flight is not many people’s idea of a good time. However, the annoyance many feel does not compare to the severe anxiety expressed by others at the thought of having to board an airplane.

The media’s sensationalism of the rare plane crashes only serves as fodder for aerophobics, or people who fear flying. Aerophobia is closely related to other specific phobias and anxiety disorders. For example, claustrophobic individuals often struggle with fear of flying since it means being in a confined space for an extended period of time. People with panic disorder, who the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports make up approximately 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, often avoid flying out of fear of having a panic attack mid-flight.

Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., the founder of Anxiety Disorder Treatment Program, states that there are many potential triggers facing those with aerophobia. He explains, “The list of triggers is long: turbulence, take-off, landings, terrorism, crashes, social anxieties or being too far from home. Some people fear fire, illness spread through the air system, using the toilets or violence on a place. Others have a ‘bad feeling’ about their flight, afraid that their anxieties will somehow predict a catastrophe.” Dr. Seif grappled with extreme aerophobia for decades before overcoming his fear and committing himself to helping others do the same.

There are many forms of treatment available to those coping with a fear of flying or intense anxiety surrounding airplanes. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be tailored to address aerophobia. As with all phobias, exposure therapy is also highly effective in combating the disorder. Flight simulators can be used for exposure therapy while educating the individual on what to expect during a normal flight with regard to turbulence and other potential triggers.

Many who fear flying end up canceling flights or finding reasons not to make it to the airport. This indicates that reducing anticipatory anxiety is half the battle. The implementation of relaxation techniques can do just that, as mindfulness and the acknowledgment of fear and anxiety can help manage the symptoms of aerophobia. People often self-medicate using alcohol or prescription drugs pre-flight, which specialists caution can do more harm than good.

Some people try to help friends or family with aerophobia overcome their fears by showing statistics on airplane safety but, like other specific phobias, rational thinking will not make someone’s anxiety dissipate. If you or a loved one has crippling fear or anxiety surrounding flying, airplanes or travel, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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