17 Jun. 2022

Fear of flying

Fear of flying is an excessive or unrealistic fear of the situation of air travel and typically leads to avoiding flying altogether. If the fear significantly disrupts functioning, it can be classified as a phobia. Most individuals affected by the fear of flying avoid air travel. If they do fly, they often engage in various safety behaviors and neutralization, such as distracting themselves with music, taking medication, consuming alcohol, or choosing specific flying conditions (e.g., a particular type of aircraft, short routes).

Anxious thoughts in the fear of flying often revolve around the fear of the airplane crashing or being hijacked. Circumstances such as landing, turbulence, and noise on board intensify the fear. Sometimes, just being at the airport can be a source of intense anxiety. Individuals with a fear of flying also fear the physical symptoms of anxiety on board the plane – they worry about having a panic attack, vomiting, losing consciousness, or even dying from a heart attack. Additionally, they may be concerned about wanting to exit the plane at any cost during the flight. Occasionally, individuals avoiding flying do so because of a fear of heights or agoraphobia.

In cognitive-behavioral therapy for the fear of flying, exposure therapy is utilized, involving exposing the individual to situations related to the fear of flying. Through exposure, the patient habituates (becomes accustomed) to stimuli that trigger fear, leading to a reduction in the fear response. The therapy also focuses on changing the patient’s fearful beliefs, such as those related to the certainty of a plane crash.

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