For those who are afraid of flying, boarding an aircraft for even the shortest of flights can be a terrifying experience. There are, however, a number of simple ways you can reduce the chances of spending the entire flight gripping the chair in front of you.

Also known as aerophobia, fear of flying is the fear of being on an aircraft when in flight. The condition can be a phobia in its own right or a combination of phobias, such as acrophobia (fear of heights) or claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). Commonly, however, the fear is of crashing resulting in death or injury.

A significant proportion of the population suffers from some form of fear of flying. Statistics show as many as one in three adults experience anxiety when flying. While many people suffer from anxiety over flying, this anxiety is not normally considered fear unless it affects the ability of a person to fly or causes them great distress if they are compelled to fly.

Fear of flying can interfere with a person’s ability to work, should they have to travel for business, or can prevent them from seeing family or friends who live far away for extended periods of time. Those who suffer from fear of flying may experience panic attacks or vomiting, sweating or rapid heartbeat, if compelled to fly, or in extreme cases these symptoms may be experienced at the mere mention of aircraft or flying.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways people can combat fear of flying so that they can cope with travelling by air. The most common means of treating fear of flying is through cognitive behavior therapy, such as hypnosis or systematic desensitization, so that the patient can rationalize their fear and begin to fly without experiencing high levels of anxiety.

There are several recommended ways you can try to combat fear of flying:

  • Don’t try to avoid air travel.
  • Educate yourself about aircraft and how they work to help you overcome irrational fears. By disproving misconceptions, you may feel safer next time you fly.
  • Take a fear of flying course designed to help participants deal with overcoming fear of flying.
  • Undergo behavior therapy such as systematic desensitization or cognitive behavior therapy to reduce anxiety over flying.
  • Avoid reading media hype about air disasters and instead focus on airline safety statistics.
  • As a last resort, consider taking psychoactive medication, such as benzodiazepine or antidepressant drugs, to reduce fear of flying (however, consult a doctor before taking any medication).

If you are unsuccessful in combating your fear of flying yet have to travel by air, here are some tips to help you get through a flight:

  • If you have a panic attack, try to take deep breaths to increase oxygen to your brain. Breathing into a paper bag (use the airline’s sick bag provided in the seat pocket) is effective for some people.
  • Take a benzodiazepine or antidepressant drug before boarding the flight to reduce anxiety caused by fear of flying. (remember: consult a doctor first)
  • Control your thoughts during the flight and stop your mind from having ‘what if’ thoughts.
  • Fly with a supportive friend so you have someone to comfort you if you experience anxiety or a panic attack.

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