What is Aerophobia? (A guide)

What is Aerophobia?

Aerophobia is an irrational fear of flying, that incapacitates the person suffering from it. It is also a fear of planes in some cases and the person develops intense fear even at the droning of a flying aircraft.

Aerophobia: An irrational fear of flying that is persistent and stressful, although no real threat is present. It instils high levels of anxiety in the sufferer and inhibits his normal functioning. Aerophobia is treatable and an eclectic approach works best to alleviate the symptoms. Sana Ayaz, 9 May 2020

Aerophobia is an anxiety disorder and the symptoms resemble those of a full-blown panic attack. It can also co-exist with claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces). It is extremely difficult for the person to even board a plane. In extreme cases there has been an aversion to airports and anything related to flying. Researches suggest that 20 million Americans suffer from Aerophobia.

Causes of Aerophobia

Aerophobia affects 1 in every 3 people and the most common etiology of Aerophobia is witnessing a plane crash or losing a loved one in it. The psychological burden of the intense fear and the subsequent emotions coupled with flying and airplanes is so magnanimous that the impact is life long unless treated otherwise. 

The Biological Model states that if a family member suffers from a mental or psychological disorder, then there is a predisposition genetically. What is Aerophobia? (A guide)

The kids whose parents or older siblings show fears or reservations to flying may also develop Aerophobia. This is a learnt behavior brought on through modeling. 

The psychological Model points to traumas inflicted to the person that are embedded in the unconscious mind. The sufferer may have witnessed a plane crash, is a survivor of a plane crash or has seen such incidents either in a movie or read in books. 

The fear of flying is also emanated from a loss of control in a situation. People who suffer form Aerophobia or any other type of phobia have a sense of ‘helplessness.’ They are afraid if something happens, they might not be able to regulate the situation. Travelling on land is found less threatening and less dangerous by people generally. 

Aerophobia is also caused by a fear of being hijacked and harmed in the process. People usually start their air journey dreading either a crash or a hijack. It could also be that during turbulent weather conditions this kind of phobia might have taken its roots. 

Acrophobia (fear of heights) may exist in the person who suffers from Aerophobia as well, or someone in the family might be suffering from it. There can also be some symptoms of Agoraphobia (fear of public places) present in the individual where he seems to panic when exposed to crowds or places with more people, like in airplanes.

Flying itself poses a threat globally. The thought of being thousands of feet up in the air, with no land in sight, most people prefer other modes of transportation, if the distance allows. People usually dread that if some technical fault might occur in the plane, then no immediate help will be available.

Symptoms of Aerophobia

The symptoms of Aerophobia resemble those of a panic attack and can be so drastic that they compel the person to either hide this fear or distance themselves from any aviation related activity. Most of the symptoms resemble those of a panic attack.

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Profound sweating
  • Sensation of choking
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Gastrointestinal irritation
  • Dread of flying
  • Dread of airplanes 
  • Vertigo 

The presence of at least 3 symptoms should be present for a diagnosis of Aerophobia. These should be present and evident at the sight of the feared stimulus. When the person is exposed to either the intent of flying even a panic like condition arises. 

He might even gasp for breath or go into a meltdown. It has been researched that if Aerophobics are even forced on board, their symptoms resemble those of a heart attack and they had to be taken off board. 

Treatment of Aerophobia

  1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) What is Aerophobia? (A guide)

According to CBT psychological distress like phobias are maintained by cognitive factors. This form of treatment was pioneered by Beck (1970) and Ellis (1962). They were of the view that maladaptive cognitions give rise to emotional distress and behavioral complications. 

According to Beck, the maladaptive cognitions include schemas and beliefs about the self, the world and the future in general. These gives rise to thoughts (automatic) and if these maladaptive cognitions are altered then behavior itself can be altered.

This therapeutic model includes coming to terms with irrational thoughts that lead to the phobic behavior and symptoms. The therapist gets involved in the therapeutic process as a listener, motivator and a caregiver. Whereas, the client expresses his concern, learns to rationalize his irrational thoughts and implement the learned behavior in real life situations.

The goal of the treatment is the reduction of symptoms. In CBT the patient is an active participant who consciously strives to alter his maladaptive cognitions so that his maladaptive behavior is modified. The entire treatment is a collaborative problem-solving process.

After CBT the patients become self-aware and gain a positive outlook on life.

  1. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This is another kind of behavior therapy that strives to augment the client’s competences. It includes mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. The following skills are taught in DBT.

  1. Mindfulness 

Is to be aware of all the faculties and experience them to their full extent. Texture, sights, odor, sounds all should to being sync with the other.

  1. Distress Tolerance

The client is taught how to bear pain during a difficult situation.

  1. Interpersonal Effectiveness

Enhancing relationships with people once the distress has been lowered. 

  1. Emotion Regulation

Learning how to modify or change emotions that are causing phobia.

  1. Systematic Desensitization (Exposure Therapy) 

This therapy includes exposing the client to the feared stimulus in either a simulated flight or a real one. Relaxation techniques coupled with deep breathing exercises are taught and gradually the intensity of exposure increases.What is Aerophobia? (A guide)

 If this therapeutic strategy is implemented to the best of its potential then the aerophobia symptoms will be markedly reduced and finally diminished. The more the client will be exposed to planes and flight like situations, more his symptoms and fear will reduce. 

  1. Meditation

Meditation involves relaxation exercises with deep breathing techniques to calm the taut nerves of clients. It is taught so that the client learns to focus on a non-volatile stimulus rather than the stimulus invoking fear. Breathing is one such activity that can be focused on because the various sensations attached to breathing can be physically felt by the client. 

Focusing on breathing and the subsequent inhalation and exhalation enables the person to distract his mind away from the airplane or the flying itself. This can be done while the person is boarding the aircraft or during flight if and when the need arises.

  1. Exercise

Nelson Mandela says, “Exercise is the key not only to physical health, but to peace of mind.”

It boosts the body to produce sweat and all the good hormones that facilitate the brain into activity, thus springing the mind into action. A daily work out ranging from 10 to 30 minutes is essential to elevate the mood and bring on a positive attitude. A good round of running, jogging, skipping, swimming or even playing tennis or the like gives the mind positive energy and a ‘feel good’ stance.

  1. Medication

Some types of anxiety disorders are also treated by certain psychiatric drugs. Therefore, if the symptoms persist vigilantly and any amount of psychotherapy alone is not working then refer the client to a psychiatrist. As Aerophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, so anti-anxiety medication proves beneficial. But other therapies should be continued for better treatment results. 

In some cases, antidepressants have also seemed fruitful. But always keep in mind to consult your doctor before any sort of medication is initiated. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes Aerophobia?

Aerophobia is caused by a traumatic experience during a flight, either in the form of a turbulence or a crash. The sufferer may have witnessed or experienced to form this fear of flying. Media exposure also plays a vital role in instigating this kind of fear. It can also be hereditary or a learnt behavior.

  • How can Aerophobia be prevented?

Aerophobia can be prevented by rationalizing the irrational thought that instils this fear. Meditation before a flight can also help.

  • Can Aerophobia be cured?

Yes, Aerophobia can be cured with therapies and medication (if required).

  • Who gets affected by Aerophobia the most?

Aerophobia can affect anyone who has gone through a trauma that concerned flying in a plane or witnessed a crash either on media or live. People who have Acrophobia (fear of heights) can also develop Aerophobia.

  • What is the difference between Agoraphobia and Aerophobia?

The difference between Agoraphobia and Aerophobia is: Agoraphobia is a fear of public places and Aerophobia is a fear of flying.

You are welcome to revert to us for any queries related to Aerophobia.

Titles to read

  1. Flying without Fear: Effective Strategies to Get You Where You Need to Go

by Duane Brown  | Oct 1, 2009

  1. Crash Course: Get Rid Of The Fear Of Flying! by Fawzi K
  2. Comfort flying…by Denis Verneik
  3. FLY WITH NO FEAR: Stop with Aerophobia! End Panic, Anxiety, Claustrophobia and Fear of Flying Forever! Overcome Your Anticipatory Anxiety and Develop Skills to Have a Confidence & Relaxing Flight by Ryan Mc Bunn | Apr 26, 2020

Citations

  1. Evaluation of a Wellness-Based Mindfulness Stress Reduction Intervention: A Controlled Trial – Kimberly A. Williams, Maria M. Kolar, Bill E. Reger, John C. Pearson, 2001
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/treatment/
  3. http://www.abct.org/Information/?m=mInformation&fa=fs_PHOBIA
  4. https://coggle.it/diagram/WTFNuiIjogAB9cw_/t/the-behavioural-approach-to-phobias
  5. Aerophobia: Fear of flying – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment |Healthtopiawww.healthtopia.net

What is Aerophobia? (A guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.