Fear of Flying in Adults and Children

Everyone knows that flying is safer than driving. In fact, in the next article about turbulence, we lay out the facts. But suffering from fear of flying is more deep, more organic and can’t be resolved be accepting that aviation statistics are on your side. The fear of flying is an anxiety disorder, a phobia. And what’s a phobia?   A phobia is an intense fear that is out of proportion to the danger.   As an anxiety, the “fear” of flying is more concerned with what might happen than with what actually is happening. Studies claim that 20% of passengers have some level of anxiety when they fly.

  • The Things that Drive Fear of Flying

    There is no single fear that drives the fear of flying. It could be a combination of several phobias and a different set for different people. A list of common culprits that act as triggers includes:

    — Heights
    — Enclosed spaces
    — Not feeling in “control”
    — Not understanding all the foreign sounds, and sensations
    — Worrying about the dangers of turbulence
    — Being dependent on unknown mechanical things to maintain your safety
    — Being dependent on an unknown pilot’s judgment
    — Crowded conditions
    — Having to wait passively
    — The possibility of terrorism

    The common component is that all these things lead to a sense of vulnerability. That we are out of control and that our safety response is threatened. We worry that we will “lose it” on the flight. Our bodies physically react and we can suffer with the following symptoms:

    — Tense muscles, quivering
    — Holding your breath or the opposite, labored breathing
    — Dry mouth
    — Dizziness or feeling light-headed
    — General weakness
    — Heart palpitations or tightness in the chest
    — Intestinal discomfort
    — Sweating, dry mouth
    — Looking flushed or pale
    — Confusion and forgetfulness

  • How to Treat Fear of Flying

    Nobody wants to be experiencing any of this so what can you do?? The accepted practice for overcoming phobias is exposure to feared triggers. More exposure not less exposure. If you fall off the horse get back on. Address the triggers head on. The more you face them, the less the impact as you gradually normalize the experience. Most significantly you need to know that avoidance keeps your phobia alive and intense. So, if you suffer extreme symptoms that actually keep you from flying or it feels overwhelming to you, treat yourself to a course in addressing the fear. It will be money well spent. Additionally,   not only is there the fear of taking the flight but also the fear while you are waiting for the flight called anticipatory anxiety. It can be distracting at best and paralyzing at worst even resulting in cancelled plans. Any treatment should also address this.   Education helps calm anxiety so you can talk your way through stressful moments. Learn how a plane flies, facts about turbulence, and the meaning of the routine sounds and bumps during a normal flight.

    Fear of flying s something parents don’t want to pass along to their children. Some children have no fear at all while some will cry from beginning to end. How can you calm a fearful child? First, present yourself as fearless and confident. Kids will model parental behavior. Just like for yourself, preparing ahead is key. Read with your child some books about flying before the trip (see Market Place). Talk to them prior to the trip about what they’ll experience so when it actually is happening they can recall what you told them. Make takeoff and landing the most fun parts. Bring a snuggly blanket or stuffed animal and special treats. Use distraction techniques. Teach them how to buckle the seat belt themselves like a “big kid.” Let them press the buttons for the light and air and adjust their own preferences. Take a lot of time discussing what’s out the window and engross them with engaging questions. Many airlines today allow you to keep electronic devices on at takeoff so turn on a favorite movie such as Pixar’s Planes or Jay Jay the Jet Plane.. Minimize the possible inner ear discomfort at take off with a bottle or pull out the gum. Be sure to time it for the actual takeoff when the air pressure changes! As a last resort, you can discuss medications such as Benedryl with your pediatrician. If you decide that may be an option, try it at home before departure day as some children get more active not less active with certain medications. The idea is to calm your child, not drug your child! I tried it once on a ten hour flight and my child slept comfortably and was a much happier, rested child at arrival. Granted, as an option it’s not for everyone! No matter what keep calm yourself and your child will eventually follow your lead.