It has been a difficult few weeks for air travel. Not the cost of fuel or ticket sales, but the air crashes that have been so publicly scrutinized. The recent flight that crash landed successfully in the Hudson River was a miracle. After birds flew into the engine, the pilot made an expert landing right in the river and not a single person was killed or even severely injured.
Unfortunately we have also seen a deadly and very saddening crash this week where the entire passenger and crew population lost their lives near Buffalo, NY. A person on the ground was also killed.
And 9/11 is never really far from our minds, especially has we navigate our way through security at airports, removing our belts and shoes and paying a 9/11 tax when we fly.
Because these stories garner so much publicity, it can exacerbate phobias like a fear of flying even more. I don’t have a real fear of flying but my heart often skips a beat during turbulence and I always make a mental game plan on how I’ll deal with my children in the event of an emergency. But many people do have a real fear of flying – technically known as aerophobia (or aviatophobia).
Those who have this condition seem to seem almost rooted to these stories, knowing they shouldn’t be watching them, knowing that flying has a very safe track record (we have a 1 in 70 million chance of dying in an air crash) but also knowing that these stories somehow validate their fears. And who can blame them? The crash scenes can be very frightening.
Yet some with a fear of flying find themselves immersed in the visual displays of the crash sites and watching detailed stories of the incident, often imagining themselves as the victims. And some of these aerophobics also suffer a panic disorder that causes them to have a serious reaction to something like turbulence or bad weather during a flight.
The American Psychological Association believes the number of Americans who experience aerophobia is anywhere from 10 to 25%.
There are many other common phobias like agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) or claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) but there is help.
Therapies like relaxation and meditation techniques have worked for many. Others have found that hypnosis, or behavioral therapies like exposure therapy or systematic desensitization work well. Others have a glass of wine or take an anti-anxiety pill before a flight in lieu of facing the phobia and trying to eliminate it.
Therapies for phobias usually work best because they allow a person to relax, to stop panic before it starts and to take control of the situation. One very successful option is “Virtual reality therapy” where a person simulates a flight (or exposure to whatever their phobia is like snakes or spiders or enclosed spaces) by wearing a helmet and experiencing the root of their phobia in a safe and controlled environment.
And in general, once the phobias are under control, they tend to stay that way.
Do you have a phobia – what is it? How do you deal with it when a situation arises and your phobia is triggered?
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