Aerophobia is an abnormal fear of flying and is also called by other names such as aviatophobia, pteromechanophobia, or aviophobia. It is derived from the Greek words ‘avio’ meaning air and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. Aerophobia is an irrational or morbid fear of being on an airplane or helicopter or any other vehicle while it is in flight. This phobia seeks more attention than many other phobias because it is widespread. In the context of modern times, it is difficult to avoid flying; whether it is for business purposes or whether going on a vacation with the family.
Aerophobia in some people occurs as a distinct phobia, whereas in some others, it manifests indirectly due to other phobias such as claustrophobia, which is the fear of closed spaces or acrophobia (fear of heights). Agoraphobia or the morbid fear of not being able to escape from a place may also cause a panic attack. Fear of turbulence, fear of vomiting, fear of hijacking, feeling of losing control, etc., can also result in fear of flying.
Aerophobia: Fear Of Flying: Symptoms And Treatment Options
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A traumatic incident in connection with flying that may have occurred previously in one’s life can trigger a fear of flying. Most fears associated with flying relate to the safety of the flying machine. The publicity given by the media to plane crashes, inadequate knowledge of the principles of aviation, etc., all contribute to this fear.
Symptoms of Aerophobia
The aerophobia can trigger anxieties in a person that will keep them away from flying. Those who suffer from this phobia go to great lengths and manage their lives in such a fashion so as to avoid flying. Other manifestations include panic attacks, vomiting, and in very extreme cases, the mere sight of an airplane or mention of air travel can cause these symptoms to occur. People who suffer from aerophobia (also called white-knuckled flyers) experience severe sweating, rapid heartbeat, nausea, etc. Some go to extremes of using alcohol to deal with the experience of flying, others become abusive and get into fights with co-passengers or the crew, etc.
Psychological symptoms include confusion, impaired memory, and clouded judgment, among others. Some recent neurobiological research has also suggested that the fear of flying has resulted not because of a single traumatizing event but because of chronic exposure to events in childhood that led to poorly modulated emotional responses.
Aerophobia – Treatment Options
Educating people about the science and realities of air travel is seen to help. Many irrational fears can be overcome in this manner. Those who suffer from aerophobia can educate themselves or attend classes that are conducted for the purpose. Travel and airline companies sometimes conduct classes to help people overcome the fear of flying.
Hypnotherapy is used to uncover the initial traumatizing effect that gave rise to the fear of flying. The emotions around the event can also be unraveled. This helps the affected person understand the source of the fear. In the next stage cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used as a treatment option for aerophobia. The person having the phobia is systematically desensitized and taught to react to the situation in a more positive manner.
Research is going on in the field of Object Relations Theory which uses repeated viewing of imagery that establishes sequences in the unconscious procedural memory. It has been found that some intense fears can be lessened using this technique in a matter of a few hours.
Aerophobia is also treated with relaxant/depressant drugs and benzodiazepines. However, in some cases, it has been seen that these drugs caused more anxiety when flying though the medications were seen to reduce anxiety while on the ground.
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