CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for Fear of Flying

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Fear of flying can be a crippling phobia, limiting personal freedom and professional opportunities.

However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has emerged as a powerful tool in combating this fear.

CBT is an evidence-based psychological treatment that helps individuals challenge and change the thought patterns that lead to distressing feelings and behaviors.

In the context of fear of flying, CBT involves identifying irrational fears, gradually exposing oneself to the source of fear, and learning effective relaxation techniques.

This therapeutic approach has been shown to significantly reduce the anxiety and discomfort associated with flying, enabling individuals to manage their fears and regain control over their lives.


Anxiety Therapists in Colorado

Susan Taylor, LPCC

Susan Taylor, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Heather Comensky, LPC

Heather Comensky, LPC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Alex Wiley, LPC

Alex Wiley, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Shannon Hamm, LPC, CCTP

Shannon Hamm, LPC, CCTP

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Vanessa Dewitt, LCSW

Vanessa Dewitt, LCSW

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Noah Suess, MA, LPC

Noah Suess, MA, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Kelsey Motley, LPCC

Kelsey Motley, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Margot Bean, LCSW

Margot Bean, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Kristen Yamaoka-Los, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Melvin Lee, LPCC

Melvin Lee, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Julianna Miller, LPCC

Julianna Miller, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121

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Cognitive Techniques

A. Identifying Negative Thoughts

Recognizing fear-inducing thoughts about flying is the first step towards overcoming your aviophobia.

These thoughts often manifest as vivid mental images or worst-case scenarios, such as imagining the plane crashing or experiencing a panic attack mid-flight.

Other common negative thoughts might include worrying about losing control, fearing claustrophobia, or experiencing a fear of heights.

Understand, that these are just thoughts and not predictions of future events.

They are your brain's way of trying to protect you, but they are not based on reality.

To keep track of these fear-inducing thoughts, consider keeping a thought diary.

Every time you have a negative thought about flying, jot it down in your notebook along with the situation that triggered it and how it made you feel.

This practice will help you identify patterns in your thinking and become more aware of when these thoughts are most likely to occur.

Simply notice when you have a negative thought, acknowledge it, and then let it go without allowing it to affect your emotions or behavior.



B. Challenging Negative Thoughts

To overcome the fear of flying, it's crucial to challenge the accuracy and helpfulness of your negative thoughts.

This can be achieved through cognitive restructuring, a technique where you identify and dispute irrational or negative beliefs.

For instance, if you find yourself thinking "The plane will crash," question this thought with facts like "Statistically, air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation." Similarly, replacing these negative thoughts with more balanced ones is essential.

If you think, "I'll panic during the flight," replace it with "I might feel anxious, but I've handled anxiety before, and I can do it again."

This way, you're not denying the possibility of discomfort, but reminding yourself of your ability to cope, creating a more balanced perspective.


Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment that helps reduce fear and anxiety by gradually exposing individuals to the object or situation they fear, in this case, flying.

The idea behind this therapy is to create familiarity and comfort through repeated encounters, thereby reducing the fear response.

The process begins with less intimidating exposure, such as imagining a flight or watching videos of planes taking off and landing.

As comfort increases, the exposure becomes more direct, such as visiting an airport, boarding an empty plane, and eventually, taking short flights.

This gradual exposure allows individuals to confront and handle their fear in controlled, manageable increments, ultimately leading to significant reductions in fear and anxiety associated with flying. 


Step-By-Step Exposure Hierarchy

  • Identify Your Fear: The first step is recognizing that you have a fear of flying. This self-awareness is essential to address the issue.

  • Rate Your Fear: On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being the least fearful and 10 being the most), rate different situations related to flying.

  • Start with Low-Fear Situations: Begin with situations that cause you the least anxiety. For example, looking at pictures of airplanes or watching movies that feature flight scenes.

  • Gradually Increase Exposure: Once you're comfortable with this level, move on to slightly more anxiety-inducing scenarios such as visiting an airport or watching planes take off and land.

  • Try a Flight Simulator: Before boarding an actual plane, try using a flight simulator. This can help you become accustomed to the sensations of flying without leaving the ground.

  • Visit an Airplane: If possible, visit an airplane when it's not in flight. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the interior of a plane without the stress of actual travel.

  • Take a Short Flight: When you feel ready, start with a short flight. Choose a destination that requires only an hour or two of flight time.

  • Gradually Increase Flight Time: As your comfort level increases, gradually extend the duration of your flights.

  • Practice Coping Techniques: Throughout this process, use coping techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or other relaxation methods to manage your anxiety.

  • Repeat as Necessary: Remember, overcoming a fear takes time. Don't rush the process. Repeat steps as needed until you feel comfortable with each level of exposure.



Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can be highly effective in managing anxiety during exposure exercises and real-life flights. Here are two widely used techniques:


Deep Breathing

This technique involves taking slow, deep breaths, which can help calm your nervous system and reduce anxiety.

How to Use: Find a comfortable position and gently shut your eyes. Inhale gradually via your nose, counting to four. Pause and hold your breath, counting to seven. 

Then, slowly release your breath through your mouth, counting to eight. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes until you feel calmer.

Practice this technique regularly so you can use it effectively when anxiety strikes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)


This method requires you to tighten and subsequently loosen each group of muscles in your body. By doing so, it aids in dissipating physical stress and fosters a state of relaxation.


How to Use: Start by finding a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. 

Begin with your toes, tensing them for about five secondsand then releasing the tension for 30 seconds. Move up to your feet, your calves, and so on, working your way through each muscle group in your body up to your head. 

As with deep breathing, regular practice will make this technique more effective.


Tips for Maintaining Progress and Preventing Relapse

  • Consistency is Key: Keep practicing your exposure exercises and relaxation techniques regularly, even after you've achieved your initial goals.

  • Stay Positive: Celebrate your victories, no matter how small they may seem. Every step you take towards overcoming your fear is a big achievement.

  • Self-Care: Make sure to take care of your physical health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can all help reduce anxiety levels.

  • Seek Support: Don't hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. They can provide encouragement and guidance throughout your journey.

  • Mindfulness Practices: Incorporating mindfulness practices like meditation into your routine can help manage stress and prevent relapse.

  • Avoid Avoidance: It's important to keep exposing yourself to the fear stimulus (in this case, flying) to prevent your fear from returning.

  • Plan Ahead: If you know you'll be flying in the future, start your exposure exercises well in advance.

  • Patience: Overcoming fear takes time. Don't get discouraged if progress is slower than you'd like. Patience and persistence are key.


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Conclusion

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be a highly effective method for overcoming the fear of flying.

By systematically confronting and managing your fears through exposure therapy and implementing relaxation techniques, you can gradually build your tolerance and change your response to flying.

However, it's important to remember that there's no shame in seeking professional help.

Therapists who specialize in CBT can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the process, tailoring interventions to your specific needs.

Don't let fear limit your life – with patience, persistence, and the right strategies, it's entirely possible to conquer your fear of flying.

 

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July 13th, 2024

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