Fear of flying (aviophobia) – what to do?

About 15 percent of Germans suffer from a fear of flying (aviophobia). As the name suggests, the fear of flying is the pathological  fear  of flying. This fear is so pronounced in those affected that it has a major impact on their lives: Some people’s hearts start racing just at the thought of an airplane, and symptoms such as shortness of breath,  diarrhea  or panic reactions can occur shortly before take-off. We give you tips on how to fight and overcome your fear of flying.

Fear of flying originates in the mind

Statistically speaking, an airplane is the safest means of transport – safer than a car, bus or train. Nevertheless, many people are afraid of flying. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that flying is less commonplace for many people than driving a car. On the other hand, different fears collide on the plane: you feel cramped and imprisoned (clous phobia), you are afraid of the height and feel at the mercy of the pilot and the crew.

Our own (negative) imagination is responsible for the emergence of the fear of flying: Even before or at the latest during the flight, one begins to imagine what catastrophes could occur. These scenarios are played out vividly in the head, you can already see the machine crashing on the ground or sinking into the sea.

Causes of fear of flying

But why does the thought of an airplane cause such a negative mental cinema? The fear of flying itself can have various causes. For example, you may have had bad flying experiences yourself: you may have caught a flight with severe turbulence or had to wait longer before you were given permission to land.

If you have never flown or have had no negative experiences so far, you probably have a general anxious disposition. You feel at your mercy on board, locked in and completely overestimate the dangers of the flight: You consider harmless noises or normal operational procedures to be dangerous, even though they are not.

In addition, a bad experience by another person or their strong fears can also be a cause of fear of flying. Although you didn’t have any problems flying yourself before, you suddenly don’t feel safe on the plane anymore. This process is called imitation learning – imitating the behavior of the other person.

Typical symptoms of fear of flying

Those who suffer from a fear of flying usually feel uncomfortable in their own skin days before departure. When entering the aircraft or at the latest when taking off, stronger symptoms then occur. However, not everyone who does not particularly enjoy flying suffers from the same fear of flying. Fear of flying is only spoken of when typical signs such as the following appear:

  • They avoid traveling by plane and prefer to use other means of transport – even if it makes the journey more complicated.
  • You experience anxiety symptoms even at the thought of a planned flight.
  • As you board the plane, you feel panicky and paralyzed. You are afraid of dying.
  • They are irritable, nervous and aggressive. You are particularly sensitive to noises and smells.
  • You feel tense, tremble and  sweat . They suffer from  tachycardia , difficulty breathing, ringing in the ears and  dizziness .
  • You behave differently than usual: you drink too much alcohol and take tranquilizer pills, you bite your fingernails or drum your fingers on the table.

Combat Fear of Flying

Fear of flying only affects people who consider a flight to be dangerous. With them, the body shows a completely normal reaction to a dangerous situation. With a few tricks and a little practice, most people can control their fear of flying. However, you can only overcome your fear of flying when you no longer perceive the flight as dangerous.

Above all, it is important that you build trust in the technology of the aircraft. Some airlines offer special seminars on fear of flying, in which special attention is paid to the technical aspect. In the seminar, a pilot will provide you with detailed information about the technical processes during the flight. In addition, various relaxation techniques are rehearsed in such a seminar. At the end there is usually a small test flight on the program.

9 tips: How to overcome your fear of flying

Not only a fear of flying seminar, but also a few small tips and tricks can help you to overcome your fear of flying. If possible, start fighting your fear of flying a few weeks before departure:

  • Deal intensively with the subject of airplanes and flying. Get some literature or drive to the nearest airport and watch planes take off and land there.
  • Do regular relaxation exercises or autogenic training. Select specific relaxation exercises that you can also practice on the plane.
  • If your fear of flying is extremely pronounced, you should consider attending a fear of flying seminar. If you suffer from severe anxiety in general, you should consult a psychologist. Anxiety therapy may be able to help you.

If you have missed a long-term preparation for your flight, there are still some things you can do shortly before and during the flight to combat your fear of flying:

  • Make your way to the airport as stress-free as possible: check in online and leave early to avoid unnecessary  stress  .
  • Avoid alcohol and  coffee on the plane .
  • Concentrate on something positive during the flight: read an exciting book or listen to an audio book – this will distract you from smaller noises. Try to enjoy the good view and the service of the stewardesses.
  • Turn on the air vents on the plane. A little fresh air will do you good, especially if the confinement on the plane is bothering you.
  • If you  find yourself panicking  , try to stop the negative thoughts with a conscious ‘stop’. Instead, focus on a particularly beautiful event.
  • Relax and control your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Imagine the air flowing into your body. After exhaling, pause for at least six seconds.

Overcoming the fear of flying with medication?

In general, it is not advisable to fight fear of flying with medication or alcohol. On the one hand, this does not actively combat the fear of flying, and on the other hand, taking medication can make the loss of control on the plane even worse.

Those who want to   resort to medication should prefer herbal sedatives such as valerian or St. John’s wort. These drugs should be taken before the flight over a longer period of time in order to be able to develop their full effect. If you really want to take a sedative, you should talk to a doctor about the dosage beforehand. However, taking tranquilizers during the flight should not be a long-term solution.

If medication is taken on board, it should be noted that the mechanism of action may change due to the altitude. Since you usually drink more than usual due to the dry air on an airplane, the medication is also excreted more quickly.

Many people who suffer from fear of flying turn to alcohol before or during the flight. But be careful: Alcohol is not only twice as strong due to the altitude when flying, but can also cause those affected to panic. Anyone suffering from a fear of flying should stay away from alcohol and fight their fear of flying professionally instead.

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