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Aerophobia: Everything you need to know about the fear of flying

Indian Express 2019-08-23 10:42:44

As is the case in other phobias, there is no one single causative factor to which the etiological development of the disorder can be attributed to.

A part of the cluster of disorders, a specific phobia can be defined as a disorder which is characterised by an excessive and persistent fear of a specific object or situation, with the fear being out of proportion in response to the associated stimulus. Aerophobia is a type of a specific phobia, which is characterised by the phobia of flying.

It is extremely common for individuals to experience anxiety related to flying in an aircraft, be it due to the enclosed space, crowd, turbulence, or the experience of taking off and landing. But some individuals could develop an extreme fear of such flying experiences, to the extent that they would feel anxious when anticipating or preparing for a flight, and consequently would also end up avoiding any flights in the future as well.

In fact, such individuals who are experiencing an aerophobia also typically experience symptoms of a panic attack.

“As is the case in other phobias, there is no one single causative factor to which the etiological development of the disorder can be attributed to. In fact, there are multiple contributing factors which have been found to interact towards the development of such phobias, including an interaction between genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors,” explains Dr Samir Parikh, consultant psychiatrist, director of Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.

He adds, “For instance, the role of neurotransmitters like serotonin could be implicated in the causation of any anxiety disorder, or genetic factors, psychological and social stressors and other life-challenges can be a trigger for the development of a phobia.”

The symptoms for a specific phobia could include a combination of physical symptoms like breathlessness, sweating, tremors, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms of a panic attack, accompanied by other psychological as well as behavioural symptoms, including a fear of losing control, constant rumination, reduced levels of confidence and self-esteem, fatigue, restlessness, disturbed , irritability.

In terms of treatment options, the role of a professional expert is undeniable, as any anxiety disorder requires the intervention of a mental health expert. There is an increasing amount of evidence which indicates the effectiveness of using psychological approaches in significantly reducing the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Typically, the most efficacious approach includes a combination of psychopharmacology as well as psychotherapeutic techniques. While the former help in the regulation of neurotransmitters which are implicated in various anxiety disorders, the latter help in equipping the individual with techniques of relaxation, as well as cognitive and behavioural approaches to mitigate the anxiety, feel more confident of facing the feared stimulus (i.e. sitting in the flight), using techniques like systematic desensitisation, flooding, in-vivo exposure, etc.

What is important to remember is that any specific phobia is treatable. Which is why educating and informing people against ridiculing people suffering from a phobia is essential. “In fact, due to such stigmatisation, often people may choose to hide their symptoms, in fear of embarrassment, and may hesitate to reach out for help. We need to help them talk about their symptoms, reach out to a professional for help, as well as to bust the stigma and create a sensitivity towards mental illnesses, especially anxiety disorders, which are one of the most commonly experienced mental illnesses globally,” adds Dr Parikh.