Psychologie peur de l'avion


And what if the fear of flying wasn’t only related to… planes? According to psychologists, air travel is above all the trigger for certain specific and non-specific fears and phobias – which can be treated separately once they have been identified. By interviewing Thierry Merle, the Fofly Method’s official psychologist. This article discusses what the psychology of fear of flying says and how it can be treated.

Psychology of fear of flying: a complex phobia  

According to psychologists, fear of flying is rarely a “simple” phobia, i.e. one that is solely related to flying. Flying in an airplane can reveal many other anxieties and worries, sometimes even a few other phobias.

For Thierry Merle, psychologist specialized in fears of the plane: “the phobia of the plane is a complex phobia: it is not so much the fact of seeing the plane that is frightening as the fact of flying in it, therefore to be faced with specific conditions (turbulence, mechanical fears, weather, etc…) but also with non-specific phobias which exist in other environments but which we find in flight like claustrophobia, agoraphobia, etc…”.

For most people who suffer from the thought of air travel, the airplane is first and foremost a revelation of associated disorders that pre-exist the flight experience. Whatever your degree of anxiety about flying, it is necessary to identify exactly what your fear consists of, in order to cure it by applying the appropriate treatment.

What psychological disorders make up the fear of flying?

Disorders related to the fear of flying

Fear of flying may involve the following psychological disorders :

  • Agoraphobia, or fear of not being able to escape from somewhere
  • Fears related to air flight: turbulence, fears of mechanical failure or weather-related fears
  • Claustrophobia
  • Fear of vomiting
  • Fear of flying over the ocean
  • Social phobia
  • Fear of losing control of events
  • Guilt for endangering loved ones
  • Etc…

Each person concerned can experience several of these fears to different degrees. To heal the fear of flying, one must first identify which of these disorders are at stake, in order to treat them with a tailor-made treatment for each of them.

Discomfort, fear or phobia of flying: what is your degree?

Fear should not be mistaken for phobia. Fear is a reaction to a situation of real danger. If I am facing a deadly risk, fear is the emotion that will allow me to face it and survive. Phobia is a maladaptive fear in which the risk is grossly overestimated and makes the person believe that he or she is in mortal danger. Most of the time people are fully aware that their fear is exaggerated. Phobia is not an appropriate reaction because it does not protect the individual: someone with a phobia of flying will prefer to drive for a whole day rather than fly for an hour. He will therefore take infinitely more risk of having an accident…

There are degrees. For example, there are those who can fly but with intense discomfort. Most of the time they compensate this with medication or alcohol. There are those who can only fly in cases of force majeure or when it is imposed and there are those who are simply unable to do so. For example, it has happened that when boarding a plane, a phobic person refuses to get on the plane, leaving his family to leave without him…

Why can’t our brains stop thinking about the worst in an airplane?

For psychologists, the fear of flying comes from a conditioning from which it is possible to escape. It can be explained by a faculty to imagine the worst and to interpret an insignificant event as a threat: “this strange noise is probably a problem with the landing gear…”. Whereas in reality, the landing gears are extremely secure and have 3 alternative deployment mechanisms. So why does our brain “fill in the blanks” by imagining the worst in a plane?

Heuristics, the “shortcuts” of the brain

In neuroscience, heuristics is a well-known mechanism. It consists of executing automatic, fast and intuitive mental operations. This allows the brain to react very quickly, taking shortcuts, but at the cost of errors in judgment.

The heuristic mode is less trustworthy than the logical mode, which is slower but more consistent with reality. It’s like reading a book diagonally: you’re bound to miss essential elements for understanding. For some people, in an airplane, the heuristic mode will take over the logical functions and cause feelings of fear.

How to regain control of your mind in an airplane

Difficult to fight, but not impossible, as Thierry Merle explains: “we cannot stop the brain from making automatic interpretations of situations because these functions do not depend on our consciousness. When we are aware of it, the brain has already completed all its calculations. We can only create other interpretations that will replace the old ones, create new automatisms. Hence the fact that healing a phobia is based on repetition.”

The solution to fight against fear of flying is therefore to overcome these combinations of negative ideas by replacing them with more positive ones based on logic. This is what most training courses and courses against fear of flying permit, by creating new automatisms of thought and by using relaxation exercises to avoid activating the “alert” mode of the brain.

How to treat fear of flying with psychology

As opposed to popular belief, there is no fate! It is never too late to heal the fear of flying, whatever its degree. From the experience of the trainers of the <a href= » »>stages</a>, patients who have developed a fear of flying are those who respond best to therapies, either face-to-face or at a distance.

To overcome fear of flying, it is vital to start as early as possible. It is a fear that is self-feeding and that grows stronger with time, especially if one is looking for all the information on (extremely rare) air accidents.

To get out of it, Thierry Merle underlines the fundamental contribution of CBT: “Cognitive-behavioral therapies are complementary to help cure fear of flying. The cognitive aspect allows the acquisition of technical knowledge about the plane and air safety. The behavioral part proposes a progressive exposure through videos, a soundtrack or virtual reality. “

In all cases, the backing of a professional is key. Many different options exist, from consulting psychologists specialized in fear of flying to courses and e-learning distance learning, which are more accessible and can be consulted at your own pace. Everything is possible to regain control of your brain and discover the pleasure of flying!