What Is Aviophobia?
Aviophobia (from Greek word avio, air and phobos, fear) is an unwarranted, irrational and extreme fear of being on an airplane (aeroplane), or other flying vehicle, such as a helicopter, while in flight. It is also sometimes referred to as aerophobia, aviatophobia or pteromechanophobia.
Aviophobia can be a distinct phobia in itself, or it may be an indirect combination of one or more other phobias related to flying, such as claustrophobia (a fear of enclosed spaces) or acrophobia (a fear of heights). It may have other causes as well, such as agoraphobia (especially the type that has to do with fear of open spaces). It is a symptom rather than a disease, and different causes may bring it about in different individuals.
The fear receives more attention than most other phobias because air travel is often difficult for people to avoid—especially in professional contexts—and because the fear is widespread, affecting a significant minority of the population. A fear of flying may prevent a person from going on vacations or visiting family and friends, and it can cripple the career of a businessperson by preventing him or her from traveling on work-related business.
Commercial air travel continues to cause a significant proportion of the public and some members of the aircrew to feel anxiety. When this anxiety reaches a level that significantly interferes with a person’s ability to travel by air, it becomes an aviophobia.
Causes Of Aviophobia
The causes of Aviophobia varies from individual to individual, and whilst no two individuals are the same, most fall into one or more of the following categories:
- A Single Traumatic Incident:
A highly stressful or frightening real event at which, instantaneously Aviophobia is created. Similar to, say, a child being bitten by a dog and developing an immediate phobia, a single traumatic incident is a one-time experience at which there is such extreme fear – even if only for a moment – that the nervous system ‘learns’ to associate fear to help the individual avoid such situations in future.
The initial fear, by the way, may be nothing to do with flying. We often hear from clients that the problem started at a time when they were under extreme stress for something completely unrelated, but the mind somehow associated the negative feelings to flying anyway.
- An Associated Traumatic Experience:
This is where the individual does not directly experience the fear, but ‘associates’ to someone who does, either in a real situation, or, more rarely, when watching someone in a movie – or even a dream – experience a traumatic event.
- A Slow Build:
A slow build occurs when a mild case of Aviophobia escalates over time to become a severe one. What is happening here is that the individual is ‘accumulating’ fearful associations to flying, so that the evidence used by the mind and nervous system is becoming increasingly irrefutable that fear is the appropriate emotion.
Sometimes Aviophobia can simply be developed from seemingly harmless experiences, or seem like ‘its always been like this’. The truth is it hasn’t always been that way (there’s no such thing as a new born baby with irrational fears and phobias) but it may have started way back in an early childhood, possibly school, experience.
- Associated Phobias:
Aviophobia may be an indirect combination of one or more other phobias and fears related to flying:
* a fear of closed in spaces (claustrophobia), such as that of an aircraft cabin
* a fear of heights (acrophobia)
* a feeling of not being in control
* fear of vomiting, motion sickness can make the person vomit, thus making flying hard.
* fear of having panic attacks in certain places, where escape would be difficult and/or embarrassing (agoraphobia)
* fear of hijacking or terrorism
* fear of turbulence
* fear of flying over water or night flying
* the result of hormone release during pregnancy
* the result of difficulty with the regulation of emotion when not in control due to developmental issues
* fear of crashing resulting in injury or death
Symptoms Of Aviophobia
Aviophobia is a level of anxiety so great that it prevents a person from travelling by air, or causes great distress to a person when he or she is compelled to travel by air. The most extreme manifestations can include panic attacks or vomiting at the mere sight or mention of an aircraft or air travel.
How people react to aviophobia is as diverse as the reasons why people have anxieties around the flying experience. A common reaction is to avoid flying as much as possible. There are a number of celebrities who go to great lengths to arrange their personal and professional lives to avoid flying. Other reactions include the kind of physical effects associated with a white knuckle flyer, such as sweating, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and nausea. Other reactions can be more dangerous for the passenger and other on the aircraft, such as using drugs or alcohol deal with the experience, or being abusive to other passengers, the cabin crew, or to airline representatives.
Generally, people who experience aviophobia report two basic kinds of symptoms.
- Physiological reactions to fear and stress include muscle tension and tremors, heavy labored breathing, heart palpitations, chest pain, abdominal and intestinal discomfort, sweating, weakness, dizziness, prickly sensations, dry mouth, and flushed or pale face.
- Psychological symptoms include impaired memory, narrowed perceptions, poor or clouded judgment, negative expectancies and perseverative thinking.
Treatment For Aviophobia
In some cases, educating people with aviophobia about the realities of air travel can considerably diminish their fear. Learning how aircraft fly, how airliners are flown in practice, and other aspects of aviation can assist people with aviophobia in overcoming its irrational nature. Many people have overcome their fear of flying by learning to fly or skydive, and effectively removing their fear of the unknown. Some people with aviophobia educate themselves; others attend courses (for people with the phobia or for people interested in aviation) to achieve the same result. Some airline and travel companies run courses to help people get over the fear of flying.
Education plays a very important role in overcoming the fear of flying. Understanding what a certain sound is or that an encounter with turbulence will not destroy the aircraft is beneficial to easing the fear of the unknown. Nevertheless, when airborne and experiencing turbulence, the person can be terrified despite having every reason to know logically that the plane is not in danger. In such cases, therapy—in addition to education—is needed to gain relief.
Therapy treatment for Aviophobia
Behavioral therapies for aviophobia such as Cognitive behavior therapy and Systematic desensitization rest on the theory that phobia is due to an initial sensitizing event (ISE) that has created the feelings of fear. In other words, the initial sensitizing event was the first time that the person felt those intense feelings of fear.
Hypnotherapy generally involves regression to the ISE, uncovering the event, the emotions around the event, and helping the client understand the source of their fear. It is sometimes the case that the ISE has nothing to do with flying at all.
Recent neurological research by Allan Schore and others using EEG-fMRI neuroimaging suggests that fear of flying is not the result of a single sensitizing event, but – like other affective disorders – is the result of chronic exposure to emotional dysregulation in childhood which hindered development of the right prefrontal orbito cortex, rendering it unable to carry out its executive role in the regulation of affect.
When there is no history of panic attack, Cognitive behavior therapy may be useful. But methods based on cognition are of limited value when there is a history of panic disorder. When the ability to regulate ones emotional state is dependent upon means to escape, fear of panic can be extreme when flying.
Research on effectiveness of virtual reality therapy as a treatment for aerophobia has been disappointing. Research by Smith and Rothbaum showed virtual reality therapy to be only as effective as sitting on a parked airplane and thinking about flying. Panic often develops rapidly through processes which the person has no awareness of. Thus, techniques based on conscious intervention may not connect with – nor equal the speed of – unconscious processes involved in causing panic. The need to control panic when flying led to the development of an intervention based on Object relations theory which is intended to operate unconsciously, establishes a sequence in unconscious procedural memory through repeated viewing of video which links potentially threatening flight situations to feelings associated with empathic interactions
Often even intense fears can be alleviated through the use of imagery in just a few hours, without needing to give therapy “in vivo” – (on the plane itself).
- Medication For Aviophobia
Aviophobia may be treated by the use of psychoactive medications. For individuals experiencing anxiety due to a phobia, the standard psychiatric prescription might be any of a number of different psychoactive medications such as benzodiazepines or other relaxant/depressant drugs. Psychiatrists are sometimes reluctant to prescribe any medication for the treatment of fear of flying due to the need for patients to medicate irregularly. Though benzodiazepines effectively reduced anxiety on the ground, research indicates higher anxiety and sharply increased panic when flying versus placebo.
Some individuals with fear of flying may self-medicate with other psychoactive substances—particularly alcohol, which is served in many commercial airline cabins—in order to deal with their anxiety. Most mental health professionals would advise against consuming alcohol as a medication both due to the strong risk of dependency (alcoholism) and due to the particular physiological effects on the body of air travel. In a pressurized cabin, the lower-than-normal oxygen content of the air will cause an alcoholic beverage to have a significantly enhanced effect on the body—resulting in a perhaps surprising level and rapidity of intoxication from only one or two drinks. On the other hand, some professionals believe that if an individual is capable of controlling his or her drinking—i.e. is not an alcoholic—and consumes only a small amount at a time, that an alcoholic beverage before or during a flight may be beneficial as a short-term treatment of mild fear of flying. Most would still advise a more long-term strategy of therapy.
More resources for Aviophobia
Fear of Flying: Symptoms, Medical Issues, and Treatment
Fear of flying – Wikipedia
Fear Of Flying Basics