Your question: Why do I have flight anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Fear or anxiety about flying is a very common problem, in fact, research shows (1) that one in six adults has a fear of flying. This can be a problem because in the fast-paced world we live in, using airplanes has become a necessity, whether for work or recreational purposes.

If you are reading this you are probably wondering how you can cope with the problem of air travel and the anxiety it generates, but first, it is necessary to look into the cause of your anxiety about flying, as well as what goes through your mind and body when it happens.

Although you may struggle with this thinking that it is irrational or “silly” for you to feel anxious about flying, the truth is that, in addition to being common, your anxiety about flying has a logic and background of its own.

Whenever you experience anxiety there is a reason behind it, even if it is unconscious, and it is important that you learn not to underestimate or ignore those reasons. If you experience anxiety during a flight it is possible that it is because you believe that something bad will happen to you.

Everything ends up relating to the thoughts and ideas you have about yourself and the world. Even if you feel overwhelmed by flight anxiety, there is a solution, and it doesn’t have to determine your life. Before coming up with strategies to cope with this problem, you need to explore its origin.

Why do you feel fear or anxiety when flying?

Since the 1990s (2) it has been studied how air travel can generate situational anxiety and physical health problems in people. Those who feel fear or anxiety when traveling experience tachycardia, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, muscle tension and, in general, an intense concern that an accident may occur during the flight.

There are several reasons why you may feel anxious about flying, and they are all related to the general fear of an in-flight accident.

Traumatic experience

If you have experienced a traumatic travel-related event in the past, such as a crash landing or terrorist threat, you may feel intense anxiety and fear the next time you take a flight, worrying that it will happen again.

Exposure to traumatic news

News stories about airplane crashes are reported with a great deal of sensationalism, even though they are infrequent. The shock of seeing news of a plane crash can generate deep anxiety in you, creating a worry that you will crash on your next flight.

Fear of enclosed spaces

Claustrophobia is the extreme fear of enclosed spaces. It occurs because people feel suffocated or suffocated by being in a place with restricted mobility, and feel a deep fear of being hurt by other people if there is a stampede. Fear of flying and claustrophobia are related, since an airplane is an enclosed, small space.

How to cope with your fear of flying?

There are several techniques you can use when you are on a plane to cope with your anxiety. However, it is also advisable to see a professional such as a psychologist if you feel that your anxiety or fear of flying is too intense.

Breathing exercises

When anxiety sets in, from your seat or while standing, you can do breathing exercises that decrease the tension in your body and the general feeling of anxiety. Rest your hand on your chest or abdomen, inhale for three seconds and exhale for three seconds. Keep a rhythm of breathing as you feel the tension gradually diminish.

Control your anxious thoughts

In addition to breathing, it is important to monitor your anxious thoughts at the airport, which are usually catastrophic and distressing. Fear of flying is associated with violent and tragic thoughts. You may imagine that the plane will crash or suffer a terrorist attack. In your mind, plane crashes happen “frequently,” but the reality is that it is very unlikely to die in a plane.

In fact, the probability of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million (3). It is more likely to die in a car accident than in a plane crash. When confronting your thoughts, you should say soothing things to yourself that help you feel that you are in a safe place and that you will arrive safely at your destination. It may help to do research on how airplanes and air safety work, and avoid reading news of airplane tragedies or catastrophes, especially before traveling.

Create a distraction

Mobility is limited on airplanes, so part of your anxiety may be due to feeling trapped and suffocated. It helps to distract yourself, either by reading a book, listening to music or striking up a conversation with the person next to you.

In my experience…

Fear of flying is common, and can paralyze a person to the point of panic. It is an annoying, unpleasant and frightening feeling, but it has its origin. Your thoughts and emotions are not facts, and they don’t have to control you. Once you learn to discern which things your mind tells you are true in terms of the logic of life and which are not, you allow yourself to feel freedom and security.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you have the capacity to improve, although sometimes your mind makes you believe that you have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you

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