What is fear of flying?

As humans, our relationship to flight has changed dramatically in the last century. Air travel has developed from a fantasy into a common and widely used mode of transportation. There are about 100,000 flights in the world every day, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It estimates that 3.7 billion passengers worldwide will fly during 2017. In the United States, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports that an all-time high of nearly 718 million passengers flew on 8.6 million flights during 2016.

Air travel has increased in recent years in both frequency and overall safety. The 2016 accident rate of 2.8 accidents per million departures is the lowest airline accident rate in recent history, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

According to a report in the journal Research in Transportation Economics, air travel is safer in terms of fatalities than any other common mode of transportation, including:

  • cars
  • ferries
  • subways
  • trains
  • buses

Still, there are moments that make even a seasoned traveler a bit uneasy. When the wheels start running down the tarmac or you hit a bad patch of turbulence, it’s not uncommon to grasp the armrests a bit tighter.

These moments of feeling jostled or unsettled are usually short-lived, and they pass once the moment is over. That is, unless you have an actual fear of flying, known as aviophobia. People with aviophobia have a deep-rooted, continual fear of flying that’s much more than a fleeting feeling of uneasiness.

There are several possibilities for what contributes to your fear of flight. It could be caused by a single direct influence or a combination of factors.

A direct influence might be a particularly bad flight you experienced or a connection to someone who experienced a traumatic flight incident or aviation event.

Feeling out of control is a common anxiety trigger, and it’s a common influencer of aviophobia. Being way up high is certainly one way to recognize that some things in life are out of your hands!

Claustrophobia is another condition that can trigger aviphobia. The cabin of a plane is a tight, crowded space, and it can feel especially confining during boarding, when emotions are already heightened.

If you experience fear of flying, the following tips may help lessen your discomfort on your next flight.

  1. Stay centered. Breathe deeply for four counts, and then release for six.
  2. Find a focus. Cross your ankles and cross your hands in front of your chest. Breathe deeply while resting your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  3. Eliminate stressful distractions. Lower the window shade so you’re not distracted with moving elements.
  4. Anticipate your anxiety. Do mindfulness and meditation exercises daily a week or two before a flight.
  5. Be prepared with soothing elements. Find things that help you stay focused and less anxious. Find music that is soothing. Pack snacks that you enjoy but also make you feel good. Stay away from things with sugar, which is a stimulant.
  6. Remove other influencers. Aviphobia may increase when general anxiety is heightened. It may be helpful to remove additional anxiety-inducing elements, such as caffeine, energy drinks, and any other stimulants.
  7. Locate your fear. Do you fear a loss of control? Is it a fear of death? Is it claustrophobia? Different triggers require different things to help soothe them. If facts about aviation safety will make you feel better, read up on those before boarding. If claustrophobia is a trigger, talk to your airline about boarding early or getting an aisle seat.
  8. Release the fear. Many people with flight fears also have control issues. Think about releasing control of the situation to the pilot, a trained professional with thousands of hours of flight time.

Many people deal with anxiety on a daily basis. According to the Institute of Mental Health, 40 million American adults deal with some form of anxiety.

If your fear begins to take a hold of your life in a way that feels unmanageable, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional. Professionals will be able to help you identify what’s causing your flight fear and find effective ways to manage it. They can help you find treatment to restore your mental and physical well-being.

Treatment for fear of flying usually involves either medications or therapy. Doctors may suggest antianxiety medication. There are generally two types: one you take only when you encounter triggers for your stress, and another that you take on a regular basis.

Doctors may also suggest psychotherapy, including:

  • exposure therapy
  • hypnosis
  • modeling
  • talk therapy

Relaxation and breathing exercises may also help.

Though flying isn’t the only way to travel, it is one of the safest and fastest ways. If you wish to move through your fear of flying, there are many different options to help manage the triggers and stress that come along with it.

A fear of flying doesn’t have to curb your ability to see the world or visit family and friends. Various tools, such as medications and therapy, can help you manage a feeling that may seem uncontrollable.