Fear of flying is a ‘phobia’

The phobia of flying

In order to deal with fear of flying effectively you acknowledge to yourself that it is not just a matter of your ‘nerves’, of developing determination or will-power, or of ‘pulling yourself together’.

Fear of flying is a phobia. It may be a quite mild phobia or a severe one. But it is a phobia – an irrational fear

To be precise, it is a mainly irrational fear. Because most phobias do have a degree of realism.

And fear of flying is a partly rational and partly irrational fear. Yes, planes do crash and the one you’re on, or thinking of travelling on, could conceivably crash.

But the likelihood is very small indeed. If you have a fear of flying you probably know this already. And you know that, statistically, it is more dangerous to walk around any town or city. Or travel by car.

You know these facts but this does not stop you dreading flying.

Because a phobia is not a rational process. So facts and statistics do little to calm your fears. Neither does information about how safely planes are engineered. Or how well the staff are trained.

A phobia is a mainly irrational fear and is not the result of weighing up the pros and the cons and coming to a reasoned conclusion. It is a learned emotional response in which your imagination causes a powerful surge of fear.

The culprit: your own imagination

A flying phobia is a ‘gut reaction’ of anxiety that is triggered by being in a plane or, in some cases, by even thinking about flying.

Once triggered the phobic response is fuelled by runaway imaginings that occur very quickly and can be very intense.

These produce anxiety symptoms that can range from mildly uncomfortable to almost overwhelming. These symptoms further intensify the fearful imaginings leading to a powerful desire to be somewhere, anywhere, else.

The key issue is that, although the situation triggers this train of events, it is our imagination that fuels it, maintains it, and makes us dread the next time. And if we do avoid travelling again this, in turn, intensifies the phobia of flying.

In a nutshell: all phobias are the result of not knowing how to manage our own imagination. And to successfully overcome phobias we need methods to successfully manage our own thoughts so that they do not produce the phobic feelings.

I know it’s silly but…

Most nervous flyers try to avoid flying. Some do fly because of work or family pressure. They all find the condition distressing, inconvenient, and embarrassing.

But, for everyone, the real cost of having a flying phobia is the loss of self respect and self esteem through not being in control of one’s own responses – through knowing it’s irrational but not knowing what to do about it.

The Phobia Dilemma

Avoidance strengthens the phobia. Each time you avoid flying it adds to the intensity of the phobia. Yet using your will-power to force yourself to ‘face your fear’ and get on a plane usually strengthens the phobia!

That’s the dilemma that someone with a phobia of air travel constantly struggles with.

Fear of flying is a ‘complex’ phobia

Simple phobias involve one fear – such as wasps, lifts, etc. Complex, such as fear of flying, involve a number of fears such as fear of being in a confined place, fear involving the safety of the plane, fear of falling, and fear of panicking and losing self control, not being in control of the plane, etc.

‘Complex’ in this context does not mean difficult to deal with or to resolve – it means that a different approach is required than would be used with a simple single-issue phobia.

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