about flying anxiety

Fear of flying (aerophobia or aviophobia) is one of the most common phobias, and flying anxiety unduly affects an estimated 20-40% of people at some time. On the face of it, such anxiety is irrational as statistics prove that flying is one of the safest forms of travel. In fact, 2017 was the safest year ever with a record low total of 14 airliner accidents resulting in only 59 deaths. Given that traffic exceeded 34 million flights, the fatal passenger accident rate was one per 5.8 million flights!

What are the effects of a fear of flying?

For those affected, however, such fear severely limits their lifestyle, leisure and business opportunities as flying becomes more of an essential part of our lives. There are many aspects of flying that can cause anxiety, such as dreading an accident, claustrophobia, relinquishing control or fearing a panic attack. Even the early stages of booking a ticket can create a mild anxiety, which rises to abject terror when the plane becomes airborne. Feelings of anxiety, claustrophobia and panic manifest automatically in the subconscious mind. Such feelings are caused by high levels of stress hormones released by signals from the amygdalae – a primitive area of the brain responsible for our fight/flight/freeze response and designed to keep us safe in the event of danger or unfamiliar occurrences. Symptoms include sweating, dry mouth, panic attacks, high heart rate, hyperventilation, nausea, blurred vision and muscle tension. If you think about it, being ‘trapped’ on a plane removes our most fundamental mechanism for regulating anxiety – the ability to flee. Flying also entails us relinquishing our sense of control by handing over the operation and safety of the aircraft to pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, security staff and manufacturers. It may be over one hundred years since the advent of powered flight, but evolution has not caught up!

Who is affected by flying anxiety?

Fear of flying can affect anybody, regardless of age, education, intelligence, gender or professional status and is not a sign of weakness or necessarily lack of accurate information about safety statistics. It can also manifest in people who have been unconcerned when flying for many years. Luckily, help is at hand that can allow sufferers to reduce their fears to a manageable level and in some cases even enjoy flying!

How can our programme help a flying anxiety?

A good fear of flying therapy programme should engage both the conscious and subconscious aspects of the mind. The Executive Function is a high-level system within our conscious mind that can override our urge to flee and implement a more helpful plan of action. This is where some technical knowledge about aviation matters can help by bolstering the resources of the Executive Function (after all, pilots don’t tend to suffer from a fear of flying). CBT can also be useful, although progressive desensitisation is not a practical or cost-effective strategy when dealing with a flying phobia). Fear of flying programmes run by the airlines do well in covering the technical aspects but are of necessity more superficial in dealing with the psychological factors.
We can use hypnotherapy to make change at the subconscious level in a number of ways. Firstly, self-hypnosis can simply be used to access a more relaxed state that can be of benefit in quelling anticipatory anxiety and used as a tool when actually on a flight. We are familiar with the use of hypnosis as an ‘uncovering’ method by which we can discover and then resolve the initial sensitising event that has caused the phobia. If a trauma was responsible then NLP techniques such as ‘rewind’ have been shown to be particularly effective. The fearful flyer is characterised by years of negative rumination about the dire consequences of flying – hypnotherapy is a great way to replace this mindset with positive rehearsal scenarios (remember, what the mind can conceive reality will achieve).