Aviophobia, or fear of flying, may be related exclusively to air travel, or may be related to other fears such as claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), agoraphobia (fear of going out in public, especially when they cannot escape), acrophobia (fear of heights), or a fear of vomiting, terrorist attack, impending death, drowning, or simply a loss of control. Nearly three million passengers fly every day worldwide. It is estimated that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population suffers from fear of flying at least once in their lives.
Judyth: Being afraid of flying is different from having an actual panic attack, which I experienced first-hand. I was flying to a homeopathic education conference in Minneapolis about twenty years ago. In fact, a homeopathic colleague, Dr. Dean Crothers, was seated further back in the plane. I had mixed feelings about leaving home in the first place because we had just purchased a new home that was about to close that weekend. It was a sweltering summer day, and my Northwest flight was stuck on the runway for an hour. As with many traumatic events, I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Next to me, spilling over onto my seat, sat an obese woman. For the first time in my life, I began to experience a panic attack: shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and anxiety. I was overtaken with only one overwhelming desire: to get out of the plane! When the symptoms became even more intense, I alerted a flight attendant. She asked me to take my seat and assured me that it would hopefully pass soon. Another fifteen minutes passed, it got even hotter internally and externally, and I felt sweating running down my brow. Definitely not better! I felt even more desperate to exit the aircraft. Jumping out of my seat, my desperation must have been quite compelling. I mumbled something about being sure to let Dean know what happened (which they failed to do and he was left puzzled as to what became of me).
The next thing I new, the pilot turned around the plane and dropped me off at the departure gate with my checked bag. My embarrassment was superseded by my fear and discomfort! That part of the drama is a bit of a blur. I do remember calling Bob from a pay phone (remember those days?) and his responding, “You WHAT?” Bob and I spent the weekend furniture shopping, which was great fun. Dean kindly wrote me a prescription for Xanax, which I never used. Although I have never again experienced anything to that degree, I did, for a period of time, fear that I might. We routinely take one- or two-day long international flights which, fortunately, have never been a problem.
When I did travel alone a couple of years ago from Chile to Germany to Egypt, Bob was kind enough to record a 10-minute relaxation exercise for me on iTunes. Fortunately I didn’t even think about using it. I was tested again on a recent ninety-minute flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile. Patagonia is well known for intense, even violent, weather that can change in a moment, especially very high winds and storms. Fifteen minutes before landing, the captain announced matter of factly, “Due to extremely high winds in Punta Arenas, the plane will either land or turn back to Puerto Montt.” Thankfully, we landed without incident. I only turned a plane around once, but we recently met someone who persuaded pilots to turn the plane around for her THREE different times! Now that is impressive!
Here is the case of a patient whom we treated for airplane anxiety:
Get Me Out of Here: Anyplace but an Airplane
Sally, a thirty-four-year-old public relations consultant, sought out homeopathy for relief from her panic attacks. British and very accustomed to transcontinental air travel, she had become more and more nervous over the past few years about flying. Her anxiety had increased considerably following a stillbirth a year earlier. The night before the delivery, after she and her husband learned their baby had died, she shook all night. These shaking fits recurred several times after that but were now associated in her mind with flying to Europe. The panic attacks were characterized by extreme anxiety and violent heart palpitations from which Sally felt as if her heart would jump right out of her chest.
Prior to her daughter’s death, Sally experienced occasional panicky thoughts, such as wondering what would happen if her car plunged off a bridge, but she could dismiss them. Now she felt forced to work through in her head the entire scenario, such as a flight, in order to cope. If the thought of her car falling off the bridge entered her mind, she felt compelled to imagine the car sinking into the water, being unable to open the doors, trying to figure out how to open the windows, and having only seconds to save her own or her husband’s life. Sally’s feeling was sheer terror. What if she couldn’t escape? What if she made the wrong decision and one or both of them died as a result?
Sally’s greatest fear about flying was the anticipation of the crash — knowing that something was wrong and waiting for it to happen. She became extremely edgy if the plane experienced any turbulence or if a bell was supposed to go off but did not. The only way she could become calm was to remind herself that she had absolutely no control over the situation.
Her fears had begun to multiply. Riding in the passenger seat of a car, Sally replayed the bridge scenario. If she had to stay in a hotel she worried about a disastrous fire. Concerns about her health had also become magnified. What if she suffered a heart attack? Or breast cancer? No one could tell her why her daughter died. Maybe she, too, had something terribly wrong with her and no one knew. Since the stillbirth, Sally had lost confidence in doctors.
Sally was plagued by a deep sense of failure since the baby’s death. Having a child was what she had planned for her life and it didn’t happen even though she thought she had done everything right. She lived in fear of others asking her if she had any children. “I’m wondering if the grass is greener. I have a good marriage, I enjoy my life and my job, but I’m great at living for tomorrow. When we travel, I drive my husband crazy. He makes the arrangements with the travel agent. Then I go over the whole list, one by one, to make sure he’s made the best connections. I like to check it all out.”
Fortunate enough to have had a happy childhood on a farm in the English Lake District, Sally had a very stable upbringing. But despite her carefree beginnings, Sally was forever worrying about one thing or another. If it was not fear that something terrible would happen to her husband, it was concern that she might die in a future childbirth, as did a family friend. “My imagination just goes wild. I tend to take little things and blow them way out of proportion.” Sometimes Sally’s anxiety caused her to wake every hour on the hour. She frequently awoke in the middle of the night, thought she heard a strange sound, then convinced herself that a robber was breaking in and would kill the family. Then she quickly imagined herself racing to the phone, dialing 911, and running to the door. She admitted to a having a dreadful fear of her own mortality. Physical problems included periodic rashes and herpes on the face. Also troubling were her menstrual periods, which had become considerably heavy and clotted and lasted longer. She was bothered also by a persistent vaginal discharge. She loved coffee, chocolate and bread.
Sally’s symptoms matched the picture of Argentum nitricum (silver nitrate). This is a medicine for people with anticipatory anxiety of all kinds. They often have claustrophobia and a fear of heights and bridges. Those needing this medicine have a perpetual tendency to imagine disasters and catastrophes and, therefore, are likely candidates for phobias and panic attacks. Sally’s five-week follow-up report was very positive. She felt much less anxious about flying and had flown from Seattle to Chicago without incident. The thoughts about driving off a bridge were gone as were the palpitations. The insomnia was somewhat alleviated. Sally had a small patch of ringworm for the first time in twenty years. Since she had it all the time as a child, we understood that this symptom was part of her healing response and that it would resolve over time.
Over the following three years Sally has continued to feel extremely well. She needed six doses of the Argentum nitricum during that time.
Self-Care Homeopathic and Natural Recommendations for Fear of Flying
In addition to the Argentum nitricum, which benefited Sally, here are a number of other practical tips to help you fly calmly and coolly. If it is a chronic problem, like Sally’s, rather than an acute one that occurs infrequently, we recommend constitutional care with a homeopath.
- *Aconite (Monkshood): Fear of planes and crowds. Sudden fright and emotional shock about the flight. Terrified of impending death. Great anxiety and restlessness. Rapid heartbeat. Violent palpitations. Profuse sweating.
- *Argentum nitricum (Silver nitrate): Anticipatory anxiety and apprehension before the flight. Fear of heights, being trapped. Worried about making the flight on time. Impulse to jump out of the plane. Fear of elevators and bridges.
- Arsenicum album (Arsenic): Tremendous pre-flight anxiety. Fear of dying when the plane crashes. Extreme worry about health. Insomnia after midnight. Cold.
- Calcarea carbonica (Calcium carbonate): Anxiety about safety and natural disasters in general: fear of flying, heights, earthquakes, storms, security, mice. May be overweight, flabby. Calf cramps. Sweat on scalp. Loves eggs.
- Watch YouTube videos and other free online courses to free you of your fear.
- Take the indicated homeopathic medicine four hours before your flight.
- Allow plenty of time to travel to the airport, check in, proceed through security, and even have a meal or a snack, if that relaxes you.
- Book a seated chair massage for half an hour, they’re now available in many airports.
- Pack lightly so you have less to worry about. If you check baggage, label it well and make it a different color than black so it will stand out. If you do need to put carry-on luggage overhead, try to board early so that it will be less stressful.
- If you are traveling to a new destination, bring a travel book to keep you busy until you arrive.
- If it makes you feel better, research the safety, on-time arrivals, and seating configuration of the plane alternatives and choose what puts you most at ease.
- Bookmark:? Know what to expect, understand why flying is safe, sit on the wing and breathe fresh air
- Have your travel documents and money organized and easily accessible so you will not need to worry about them.
More Natural Tips
- Deep breathing exercises, even without the yoga, are very relaxing. Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly through both nostrils, do alternate nostril breathing, or inhale and exhale only through the left nostril (a calming breath).
- Skip the alcohol and caffeine, drink plenty of water, and eat as healthily as possible on the plane. Becoming hypoglycemic or dehydrated will only make you more anxious. Take along healthy, delicious food or snacks.
- Thought not a matter of life and death, plane anxiety may feel that way at the time. Remember, you can always get a prescription for a mild sedative such as Xanax. It may be enough to only keep it in your pocket!
- Organize beforehand your travel toiletries to satisfy the U.S. Transportation Security Agency or TSA and to decrease last-minute stress.
- Take Rescue Remedy as often as needed during the flight.
- Bring engaging reading materials, either in book, magazine, or Kindle format, to occupy your attention.
- Book an aisle or exit row seat in order to have more legroom and ability to get up and walk around during the flight.
- Travel with a buddy. If alone, strike up a conversation with your seatmate(s). You may or may not want to share with them that you are nervous, depending on who they are and what makes you feel best.
- Make a personal connection with the flight attendants so you feel they are on your team.
- On long flights, watch entertaining, non-suspenseful movies to pass the time more quickly.
- Bring along a recorded deep-relaxation tape or music tape, either standard or recorded just for you, to relax mind and spirit.
- Meditate, sing to yourself, or sleep— whatever is most calming.