Thursday, 25 September 2014

Feature article contributed by Emma Payne

Special Contribution by Emma Payne

Fear of Flying and Anxiety Disorders Often Linked
It is sometimes easy to dismiss one's fear of flying as nothing more than irrational thoughts based on a lack of experience when it comes to air travel. Yet this presupposes that those who fear flying are by-and-large infrequent travellers, rather than seasoned business people who hop on and off planes on a regular basis. The reality, however, is that a deep-rooted fear of flying -- also referred to as aerophobia -- can often be linked to anxiety disorders. As such, it is important to take these fears seriously and not simply dismiss them as the irrational reactions of inexperienced passengers. Some airlines - most notably Virgin Atlantic - have played an important role in not only raising awareness and speaking openly about these fears, but also in offering supportive programmes and courses to those who grapple with insecurity before they board their flight. When Virgin Atlantic launched this program in 1997, it was a pioneer in the industry. Today, a growing number of industry leaders are acknowledging the importance of dealing with aerophobia head-on.

Aerophobia is Similar in Symptoms to Other Phobias
Some readers may have never heard of "aerophobia," though this somewhat new term is accepted and recognised by the medical profession and it is also recognized that a fear of flying can manifest itself in the form of "severe anxiety." (1) Paul Tizzard, who helped establish Virgin Atlantic's Flying without Fear programme, notes that symptoms of aerophobia are nearly identical to the signs of other, better-known phobias. (2) According to the Mayo Clinic, the common symptoms of most phobias include a sense of panic or impending doom, both of which are seemingly impossible to control when this fear hits. A rapidly increasing heartbeat, profuse perspiration, clinging to nearby immobile objects (such as the armrests of an airplane seat) and the frustration that comes with knowing that there is often no rational basis for these fears, yet still being unable to quell them, are some of the major signs of phobias. (3)

Are Anti-Anxiety Medications the Best Way to Treat Aerophobia?
While there may be strongly differing opinions on whether anti-anxiety medications are a safe and effective way to treat aerophobia, there is agreement that turning to prescription drugs should not normally represent the first attempt at dealing with the fear of flying. Anxiety specialist Dr. J.T. Junig notes that anxiety medications can be strongly addictive and can often cause cognitive problems. (4) Additionally, medication does not allow people to tap into the mental healing ability of the human mind, which can be stimulated through relaxation exercises and counselling. 

More People Impacted by Aerophobia Than One Might Think
Severe aerophobia (sometimes also referred to as aviophobia) impacts over 6.5% of the adult population, while one in every four passengers deals with varying degrees of nagging nervousness and anxiety before or during a flight. (5) Researchers have found that it is rarely the fear of a crash or emergency landing that sparks anxiety, but rather the feeling of powerlessness and being trapped inside the aircraft for an extended period of time. In this sense, aerophobia can be related to claustrophobia and the anxiety that comes with confined spaces. Researchers in the UK continue to highlight that air travel is still far safer than nearly all forms of ground transportation, but this type of logical reasoning may not be enough to help a passenger tackle aerophobia when the fear is linked more to a sense of vulnerability than to the fear of an accident. (6) The problem with untreated anxiety, however, is that it often leads to clinical depression, which in turn can have not only a health, but also a financial impact, as it creates a debilitating situation for the patient and hinders his/her ability to maintain gainful employment. Additionally, the American Psychological Association notes that severe panic attacks during stressful situations are the result of untreated anxiety. Scientists at the University of Minnesota found that anxiety and depression together are the most serious and most prevalent mental health issues in both Europe and the US. These two conditions prove debilitating for over 350 million people worldwide. (7) Less than 50% of those who display the symptoms of anxiety disorders or depression seek treatment.  
Fortunately, however, as programmes and courses that deal with aerophobia become more common, the social stigma or the "silliness" that some may feel about being afraid of flying--even when they know deep down that this is among the safest forms of transport --may subside and passengers will obtain the help they need to sit back, relax and truly enjoy their next flight. 

Sources:
(1) Defining Aerophobia, Medicine Net.
(2) Aerophobia - The Fear of Flying, Mental Healthy
(3) Symptoms of Phobias, Mayo Clinic. 
(7) Anxiety and Depression, University of Minnesota. 
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Take care,
Paul & Richard
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Courses

Adult premium group course – £267 inc VAT
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