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Defeat a fear of flying with behavior therapy

Jun 03, 2013

HOUSTON, Texas — A fear of flying does not have to hinder travel plans. Experts from Baylor College of Medicine said the problem can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.

“It is natural to have anxiety about situations you cannot control, such as flying which may be intensified with the occasional turbulence, sounds and feeling of being closed in,” said Dr. Jessica Calleo, an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at BCM and a clinical research psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

Calleo said people who are afraid of flying often think too much about the possibility of the negative rather than the probability, which is very low.

Those who avoid travel because of their fear of flying should seek out treatment which can reduce these fears, she said.

Cognitive behavior therapy helps you understand the relationship between thoughts, behaviors and emotions. This approach can help people confront this anxiety and deter some of those negative thoughts.

The advantage to the cognitive behavioral therapy is that it provides an individual with tailored guidelines of how to approach gradually exposing themselves to their anxiety or fears.

Calleo outlined some of the key tactics to this approach.

• Become aware of your anxiety

• Acknowledging your anxiety of flying and what exactly you are nervous about is the first step and can be very helpful, Calleo said.

• Education about airline safety

“It can be helpful to learn about airline safety, especially in comparison to safety when traveling by car,” said Calleo. “Try not to let yourself go down the road of negative thinking, focus more on the realistic and safe aspects of airplane travel.”

• Encourage positive thinking

“When flying think about the good things about the situation, such as the conversations you are having, a book you are reading or more importantly why you are traveling,” said Calleo. “Maybe you are going on vacation; that’s something happy to think about.”

• Continuously remind yourself of the positives or what’s going on in present moment, she emphasized.

• Reward yourself

It is always helpful to reward yourself, Calleo said. “Acknowledge that you confronted your fears and the flight probably even turned out better than expected.”

Calleo cautioned that taking anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax may be a temporary solution but over the long term, it will not be as effective as behavior treatment.


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