Here is my latest piece in Valley Scene.

It is notably doubtful that there is a single human alive who has not experienced fear. Maybe it was that spider in the bathtub making it’s way to your foot. Perhaps it was the loud backfire of the neighbor’s van. Or possibly you have a fear which is profound and lasting. If so, this may be more of phobia than just a "Yikes, that freaked me out" kind of fear. Phobias are typically a specific, intense and irrational fear. And phobias are under the umbrella of anxiety disorders.

The real difficulty with phobias is when they disrupt your life or the lives of those around you. If Mary has a fear of dolphins and she lives in Indiana, this phobia is likely not going to cause much disruption for her. But if Jim has a fear of flying and he is a Traveling Sales Manager for a Fortune 500 company, then poor ole Jimbo has got himself an issue.

The fear of flying, also known as aerophobia, is fairly widespread phobia which can have some devastating consequences. Edmund Bourne, PhD. stated in his Anxiety and Phobia Workbook that this fear is so common that approximately 10 percent of the population will avoid planes all together and another 20 percent will experience significant anxiety while flying. A person with aerophobia in all likelihood is afraid of the plane crashing. But there are also could be many other components such as, heights, enclosed spaces, turbulence and maybe the most common contributor – the lack of control. The anxiety that arises from a specific phobia such as a fear of flying does not only occur when a passenger is belted into her flotation device, but the anticipatory anxiety usually reeks havoc for sometimes long periods prior to the event itself.

According to Bourne there are several ways to treat a fear of flying: Relaxation Training, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or Exposure Therapy.

Relaxation training is just what it says – training a person how to relax. Not only the mind, but the body must learn how to intentionally and consciously relax itself. Mindful relaxation or even meditation is not only very helpful in anxious phobic situations, but practicing these exercises can be quite beneficial to a person’s overall health. When learning to relax oneself, the practitioner will coach to the patient on the uses of abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation.

Cognitive behavior therapy sounds fancy and complicated, but it is really just a matter of replacing negative and irrational thoughts with realistic and calming thoughts. With many anxiety disorders, Catastrophic Thinking is a huge part of the problem. "The plane is too heavy, it will certainly crash." "I know I will flip out in the plane and embarrass myself completely." "I am flying to New York; there will probably be a terrorist on the plane." These are examples of catastrophic thinking. With cognitive behavioral therapy, the patient will learn how to replace these thoughts with ones which are more supportive and healthy by challenging the negative statements with facts. "Have I ever devastatingly embarrassed myself in public before? No. So, what are the chances of it happening this time? Little to no chance." "Hundreds of flights into JFK a day and how many terrorist situations have you heard about? One. Then what are the chances it will happen to THIS flight TODAY? Little to no chance."

Exposure therapy can sound scary in itself, but it is an extremely effective long term tool to eliminate the fear completely. We hear all of the time, "It is best to face your fears." And essentially, that is what exposure therapy is all about. However it is done in a way that is more controlled and on a gradual scale. For example: A patient and his therapist may tackle the fear of flying by slowing exposing the patient to all of the steps to flying. They may first simply drive to the airport. A few days later they may actually walk into the airport. And next, get onto a plane only for a moment without actually going anywhere. While reassurance is slowly gained and confidence is being built – the fear begins to fade.

Most of us probably know someone who has a fear of flying. Many celebrities have admitted to this fear. Whoopi Goldberg (who takes her bus everywhere – even over seas), Aretha Franklin and Bob Newhart are just a few. Unless one has Miss Goldberg’s kind of cash flow, this fear may need to be dealt with in order to get through life more comfortably. Avoidance is not always possible – nor healthy – and being panic stricken is no way to live. So, know there are ways to get past this dilemma and even the most fearful fliers may just one day pocket their very own pilot’s license.


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