Aerophobia is the fear of flying and/or the fear of planes. Someone suffering from aerophobia may find it painfully difficult if not impossible to fly on a plane. For some, simply looking at a plane in the sky or hearing a plane’s engine is enough to evoke full-blown panic attacks within the person suffering from aerophobia.

The intense fear of flying is actually a quite common phobia, as opposed to pornophobia (fear of pornography), sesquipedalophobia (fear of long words), or pupaphobia (fear of puppets).

In fact, it is estimated that around 6.5 percent of Americans experience aerophobia. This number may sound miniscule, but taking into consideration that the US is home to over 325 million people, that measly 6.5 percent of Americans suffering from aerophobia actually turns out to be about 20 million people.

One of the most notable celebrities who allegedly has this condition is NFL personality John Madden. He has been known to ride a bus around the country to do commentary for football games while the players and coaches flew in planes. However, in his defense, it has been said that Madden is merely claustrophobic.



David Ropeik, who is a Risk Communication instructor at Harvard University, found (in 2006) that the odds of dying in a plane crash is about 1 in 11 million. [1] On the other hand, the probability of dying in a car accident in the capital city of the US is 1 in 32,322. [2] So, if John Madden only knew that the statistics where very much against him, perhaps he would have changed his mind about not flying in planes. Be that as it may, people who suffer from aerophobia may ignore facts and probabilities due to their intensely deep fear of flying.

For some reason, there is a stigma attached to aerophobia where people are embarrassed to say that they are afraid of flying in planes. When sharing such information to people the typical reaction is that of humor, confusion, or disbelief. The stigma surrounded around aerophobia may make it even more difficult for the individual as they may find little to no compassion from their peers.

Symptoms of Aerophobia

There are many different symptoms of aerophobia that may make life more difficult for the person experiencing it. People suffering from aerophobia may become extremely anxious when they see a plane in the sky or if they drive near an airport.

They may even drive out of the way and take longer routes so to avoid airports. Their aerophobia may also force them to travel long distances by car, boat, or even by train, that is if they aren’t siderodromophobic. There’s no question that taking a plane is the fastest way to get somewhere that’s very far away. However, for those suffering from aerophobia, such a convenience merely comes off as white noise to them.

Below, you will see some of the most common symptoms of aerophobia:

  • Intense fear being on or near a plane
  • Feelings of dread when thinking of planes
  • Irrationally concerned with plane safety
  • Anxiety when looking at a plane in the sky
  • Anxiety when hearing a plane’s engine
  • Avoiding airports, regardless of inconvenience
  • Taking a car, boat, or train due to fear of planes

Causes of Aerophobia

There are many different causes of why someone would develop aerophobia. Genetics and one’s environment are likely play very significant roles in the development of this condition. If you have a family history of mental illness, especially anxiety disorders, then you may have an increased risk for developing aerophobia. It has been shown that phobias may actually be genetic and can be inherited through DNA. [3] So, for example, it is not implausible to think that you may have been genetically predisposed to develop aerophobia due to your ancestor’s fear of heights.

Other reasons as to why someone may develop aerophobia is that they themselves are survivors of a traumatizing plane crash or perhaps they know someone who was killed in a plane crash. Besides being afraid of a plane crashing, there is also the fear of the plane being hijacked. Though the odds of being on a plane that was hijacked by terrorists is approximately 1 in 10,408,947 [4], it is still a prominent fear among those living in numerous countries.

Another cause as to why someone may develop aerophobia is that unlike driving a car or a boat, you have absolutely no control of the plane. You are 100% at the mercy of the pilot’s skill level, the weather conditions, the durability and efficiency of the plane itself, and other potential “freak accidents” that could occur. This vulnerability may be a very significant reason as to why some people develop aerophobia. Even though planes may be safer than cars statistically, the mere fact that people are unable to control or direct the plane in any capacity in the instance of an emergency leads many people to experience aerophobia.



Aerophobia Treatments (abridged)

There is no known treatment for this condition. However, talk therapy and/or anti-anxiety medication may be able to help minimize symptoms. Talk therapy may be able to help uncover some of the underlying reasons as to why their fear of planes is so intense and out of touch with reality. Exposure therapy may be able to help treat aerophobia as well. This would be done by having the patient become slowly exposed to planes more and more in an attempt to “desensitize” them from their fear of planes.

If you are unsure as to whether or not you have aerophobia or if you already know that you have it and you are wanting to get treated, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so you can get properly treated. Your doctor may request that you see a specialist such as a cognitive behavioral therapist, psychologist, or a psychiatrist to help treat your symptoms.

Treatments (expanded)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Aerophobia

DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like aerophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.

One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with aerophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.

Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with aerophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.

Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with aerophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your aerophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.

Yoga for Aerophobia

There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from aerophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with aerophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.

There are many different types of yoga that someone with aerophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with aerophobia.

If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of aerophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Aerophobia

CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with aerophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.

CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with aerophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with aerophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.

Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with aerophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Aerophobia

MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from aerophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with aerophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.

Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of aerophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.

Exposure Therapy for Aerophobia

As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as aerophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with aerophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.

The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with aerophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their aerophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with aerophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.

Reducing Caffeine for Aerophobia

It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with aerophobia to experience panic attacks.

So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.

Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with aerophobia.




Psychiatric Drugs for Aerophobia

Antidepressant Drugs

These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as aerophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of aerophobia.

These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of aerophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.

Anti-anxiety Drugs

These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe aerophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.

These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their aerophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Exercise for Aerophobia

Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including aerophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.

According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of aerophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.

There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of aerophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with aerophobia over time.

Meditation for Aerophobia

There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from aerophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.

Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from aerophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.

For someone with aerophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.

To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of aerophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.

Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with aerophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.


References

1) “After Air Algerie AH5017 Incident, A Statistical Look At The Probability And Chances of Dying In A Plane Crash.” International Business Times. http://www.ibtimes.com/after-air-algerie-ah5017-incident-statistical-look-probability-chances-dying-plane-crash-1638206
2) “BUCKLE UP: ALL 50 STATES, RANKED BY HOW LIKELY YOU ARE TO DIE IN A CAR ACCIDENT.” Thrillist. https://www.thrillist.com/cars/nation/how-likely-you-are-to-die-in-a-car-accident-in-every-us-state-the-most-dangerous-roads-in-america
3) “Parents can pass their fears onto their children.” Anxiety. https://www.anxiety.org/phobias-genetics-hereditary-dna
4) “The Odds of Airborne Terror.” Five Thirty-Eight. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/odds-of-airborne-terror/