Monday, June 29, 2009

Fear of Flying

Aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia or pteromechanophobia (my personal favourite) is an anxiety disorder encompassing many different psychiatric disorders including claustrophobia, anxiety, fear of heights, concerns as to security, PTSD, and others.

Everyone has heard it, and the statistics on the safety of flying may not be comforting if your fear is not based on flying safety, but it is a good point to remind yourself of such unlikely probabilities when confronting your fear. From an article written by a flight attendant:

"Air travel is the second-safest mode of mass transportation in the world. This is second only to the escalator and elevator. Your chances of being involved in an aircraft accident are approximately 1 in 11 million. Your chances of being killed in an automobile accident are 1 in 5000. The most dangerous part of your flight is the drive to the airport.

You have more of a chance of dying from the food onboard than being involved in an accident."

In treating many other phobias, it is advised that when feelings of anxiety and discomfort reach intolerable levels, to retreat to a safe environment. Of course, when you’re on a plane, you can’t get off any time you want, which makes gradual exposure therapy difficult.

A review of the literature in a newly developed area of treatment examines the efficacy of virtual reality exposure (VRE) and found VR treatments to be effective, with or without cognitive-behavioural therapy.

One study found VRE to be superior to traditional exposure therapy with respect to overall decreased anxiety in potential flyers.

Another study did a long-term follow up and at six months, found there was no difference between VRE and placebo groups.

Pharmacologically, anxiolytics and sedatives may be helpful during pre-flight therapies and for the actual flying event.

For some self-administered exposure steps check out this site or refer to any phobia workbook.

Tips for the flight:

• Travel with someone who can support you. If this is not feasible, at least have someone take you to and wait with you at the airport.

• Know your seat preference (if you’ve never flown before, you might not know this); some people find looking out the window at the blue sky and white clouds comforting, others prefer to be near the aisle for more of a sense of being able to escape, and others might like the security of sitting between two other passengers. If you can not get your desired seat at check in, talk to one of the airline attendants upon boarding who will gladly help you find a comfortable place. As well, if you feel the need to change seats during the flight, don’t hesitate to ask.

• Bring a comforting object with you – a blanket, stuffed toy, stress ball, photograph.

• Bring distractions with you – a book to read, some notepaper to write on, favourite (calm) music, puzzle books, portable DVD player.

• Use other distractions. Keep an elastic band around your wrist that

• Remember, turbulence is normal. Think of these little bumps as nothing more than potholes on a road. Also, turbulence is supposedly less apparent if you sit closer to the front of the plane.

• Ask to talk to the pilot. Again, staff will likely be more than willing to make sure you are feeling comfortable. Leering about the pilot and how planes are flown may reduce your anxiety.

• Choose your flight plan accordingly; if your greatest fear is take-off, you may want to book a longer non-stop flight. But if you tend to feel claustrophobic, more shorter flights might be in order.

• Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. I don’t personally recommend alcohol, but if a glass helps you, then by all means, just don’t overdo it.

• Breathe.

[For those who are afraid of being afraid of flying, check out the many “Fear of Flying Phobia” sites.]

Additional References: 1, 2, 3

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