Afraid of flying? Terrified of turbulence? You’re not alone.
Back in 1980, the Boeing Company published a report that revealed that one out of every three adult Americans was afraid of flying. Among the fearful fliers, 73% were frightened of in-flight mechanical difficulties, 62% of bad weather flights, and 30% of flights over water. Not much has changed since then.
My own fear of flying took me completely by surprise. Back when I traveled for business, I never gave aviation safety a second thought. Turbulence was no problem, and I used to sleep through take-off and landing more often than not.
Fast forward a few years. I had a couple babies and a couple of really turbulent flights. According to experts, either the babies or the bad weather could be the culprit. September 11 and the shoe bomber probably didn’t help either.
Causes and symptoms
The brain of the expectant mother is flooded with hormones that cause her to become obsessed with safety shortly before delivery—anything that she perceives as a risk has to be controlled or avoided. Apparently the hormones go away after delivery, but the patterns of protective behavior can persist.
A traumatic experience (severe and prolonged turbulence on a flight home from Hawaii, in my case) can be the trigger too. Some flying phobias begin with an initial sensitizing event that creates the feelings of fear. Neurons get used to firing sequentially and pretty soon every bump you feel takes you straight to terror.
Very few people I know are comfortable traveling at 500mph 30,000 feet above the earth’s surface, but fear of flying goes way beyond discomfort. Symptoms include rapid breathing, pounding heart, confusion, tension, and sweating. In extreme cases, there may also be vomiting and panic attacks.
Conquering fear of flying
Fear of flying may be a distinct phobia or combination of other phobias related to flying. Some people are afraid of small places (claustrophobia), while others are afraid of heights (acrophobia). Fear of places where escape is impossible is a bad one (agoraphobia), and many people fear being out of control or being hijacked or blown up.
And now some good news: you are statistically safer when you are flying on a modern jetliner than when you are at home asleep in your bed. The trick is making yourself feel safe. Check back next week for the next post in this series about choosing the right treatment.
This is the first in a five-part series about conquering fear of flying. Topics will include:
Too busy to read all that? Flying very soon? The online video-based fear of flying program I tried (and highly recommend) has recently published a book called SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying. It’s available on Amazon for much less than the cost of the full program.