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Are you afraid of flying in an aeroplane? Does it affect your quality of life so that you don't dare to go on holiday, for example? Then you may be suffering from a fear of flying. Here we explain what it means and how to get help.

What is fear of flying?

Fear of flying, or aviophobia, is a strong fear of flying in a plane. It can include concerns about plane crashes, claustrophobia inside the cabin, fear of heights, feeling out of control, fear of turbulence, or anxiety about not being able to leave the plane. These fears vary in intensity and in severe cases can prevent people from flying at all. It is possible to get help.

Why do people get a fear of flying?

Fear of flying can be caused by a variety of factors such as negative past flying experiences, fear of heights (acrophobia), claustrophobia, feeling out of control, concerns about flight safety, or broader anxiety issues. It can also be affected by seeing others with a fear of flying. It is not known currently in Ireland how many people have this phobia. It is treatable and at Lavendla we have psychologists and therapists who can help.

What set our therapist apart was her genuine empathy and personal insight. Not only did she possess a deep understanding of neurodiversity, but she also shared personal experiences that resonated with us, creating an instant connection and fostering a sense of trust!

Benedetta Osarenk

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How common are phobias?

According to research in the field, approximately 7-11% of the population suffer from one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).

Symptoms of a phobia of flying

The symptoms of photophobia, or fear of flying, can range from mild worry to intense anxiety and panic. The most common symptoms include:

  1. Anxiety and worry: Feelings of anxiety, nervousness or intense worry about flying, which may begin days or weeks before departure.
  2. Panic: The experience of panic attacks at the thought of flying or during the flight itself, including heart palpitations, sweating and shortness of breath.
  3. Physical symptoms: symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, shaking, rapid pulse and sweating when thinking about or being on an airplane.
  4. Avoidance behaviors: Active avoidance of air travel, which may involve refraining from travel or choosing alternative modes of transportation. This can affect family relationships, for example when going on vacation.
  5. Excessive safety concerns: Concerns about the safety of the aircraft, weather conditions, risk of terrorism, or fear of a crash.
  6. Feelings of loss of control: Fear of not being in control of the situation, which can lead to feelings of helplessness.
  7. Sleep problems: Difficulty sleeping the night before a flight due to worry or anxiety.
  8. Claustrophobia: Fear of being trapped in the cabin of an airplane.

These symptoms can be severe enough to cause significant discomfort and affect a person’s quality of life.

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Treatment for aviation phobia

The treatment for aviation phobia can include different techniques depending on the severity of the phobia and the specific needs of the individual. Often cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps manage negative thoughts about flying, is used along with exposure therapy, which involves gradual approach to flying to reduce anxiety.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can also relieve stress. Information and education about flying and flight safety can also be helpful in reducing fear. Virtual reality (VR) can be used for controlled exposure in a virtual environment, if it is available in the clinic where you seek medical care. If necessary, medical treatment such as anti-anxiety or sedative medication can be provided.

It is important to remember that treatment is individualized. It is also important to seek help from a qualified health professional to get effective treatment for your phobia.

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How therapy can improve your life

Seeking professional help can significantly improve your quality of life. As it gives you effective tools to manage phobias, it can change the pattern you have developed that causes anxiety. Seeking help for psychological problems can be embarrassing, but talking to a psychologist can be extremely liberating and helpful if you are living with a phobia that is hindering your daily life.

Take the first step to booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therefore, therapy is a step in the right direction to help you live a full and rich life. If you or someone you know is living with phobias, professional therapy can make a real difference. Our therapists and psychologists offer a confidential and safe environment to explore and treat your phobias.

12 common questions and answers about fear of flying

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. It is estimated that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one form of phobia.

What is a phobia of flying?

Fear of flying, or aviophobia, is a strong fear of flying in an airplane. It can include concerns about plane crashes, claustrophobia inside the cabin, fear of heights, feeling out of control, fear of turbulence, or anxiety about not being able to leave the aircraft.

What are the symptoms of aviation phobia?

People with a fear of flying may experience panic attacks, anxiety and physical reactions such as heart palpitations, dizziness and nausea. This can lead to avoidance of things that trigger the symptoms. Treatment is available to help with this.

How is aviation phobia treated?

Flight phobia is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and, if necessary, medication.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of in a systematic and safe way.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Yes, untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders. A phobia of flying can also affect quality of life by preventing you from doing things you would like to do, such as going on vacation.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist.

What causes a phobia of flying?

The causes of aviation phobia are not fully understood but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.

How common are phobias?

Approximately 7-11% of the population experience one or more phobias in their lifetime. These can range from common phobias like fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones like trypophobia.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the hard things easier.

Treating fear of flying with cognitive behavioral therapy

This is what treating a fear of flying can look like and it can feel overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available and here is an idea of what treatment might look like:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviors and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. This will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. Together with your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Medication (if needed)

In some cases, doctors may suggest medication to help with anxiety symptoms. This is something you and your doctor can discuss if appropriate.

Follow up and evaluate progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.