Fear of Flying: Why do I have it?


Photo by: J W Foster

The Fear of Flying Dilemma: You need to get on an airplane for a business trip or vacation. Maybe someone you love is waiting to see you in some far off place. No matter what the reason, the thought of stepping on a plane triggers all the alarms. No thinking required–just instant panic. You don’t want to tell anyone because whenever it comes up, people just don’t understand how bad the fear is. They start telling you about the statistics of dying in a car crash and how they’re higher than dying on an airplane.

But the fear center in your brain doesn’t want to hear any of that.  It’s only job is to keep you from dying. It screams, “Don’t confuse me with facts!” and “I don’t have wings! I should never be up that high without a parachute.”
Personally, I like to say that if God had wanted us to fly, he have made it easier to get through Airport Security.


Why are those of us with a fear of flying so different? All the other passengers boarding the airplane don’t seem to have a care. While I’m scraping the ground with my nervously bitten fingernails, trying to hold on to my last moments of safety at the terminal, they’re doing the 100 meter dash trying to be the first to get their carryon up in the overhead bins.


Can I blame my parents? 
Of course you can!
Turns out, there really is a genetic component to our flying phobia. A number of studies have been done on parents who suffer from “simple phobia” and the genetic link is undeniable. If you have a parent who suffers from an intense, panic-like, fear response to a specific object, aka phobia, your chances of having your own phobia goes up by 25%-59%. It seems to be related to genes specifically. For instance, a genomic study (Gelemter, 2003) suggested there may be a marker on chromosome 14 linked to simple phobia.


After I’ve experienced the satisfaction of blaming my parents for faulty genes, is there anything else I can blame them for?Are you kidding? Here’s two more. Let ‘er rip!1. Modeling fear behavior. If your parent had a fear of flying, or fear of rats. or heights, or snakes, or spiders…I think you get the picture…they most likely displayed that fear when you were with them.
I remember asking my mother, “Why are you standing up on that chair?” “Rats!” she screamed. To this day, I can’t be anywhere near a rat.2. Children who are not exposed early to specific events, in this case flying, have less exposure and therefore a greater chance of feeling scared when they have to get on a plane as adults. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If your parents took you on airplanes starting when you were an infant, and you took a trip every year, you probably would feel more comfortable on a plane than someone who starts traveling at age 30.Maybe that will help us feel more compassion for those parents with crying babies on the next flight we take. Oh, and we will be taking that flight–it’s our new commitment to one another!


Now that you’ve discovered, just as you suspected, that your fear of flying isn’t your fault. What can you do about it? There are three main treatments. Behavioral therapy, medicines, and the latest treatment known as “Virtual Reality” (VR) therapy. For VR, you don’t actually get on a plane but the simulated ride is so close, it’s the next best thing to being there. I’ll discuss more about each treatment in greater detail over the upcoming coming weeks.

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