How to Support Someone with Fear of Flying

by guest blogger Psicoline

Sometimes people are afraid of situations but can’t quite figure out why. These fears crop up at certain times, and since people may not know how to identify them, they don’t know how to manage them, and this makes them feel insecure. Even after identifying the situation, it still sometimes causes fear because some people are not able to calm down just by using reason. A situation like this can be defined as a phobia, an uncontrollable and sometimes irrational fear that takes over and is hard to get a grip on. 

In this situation, because of the phobia itself or by trying to avoid it, people tend to change their behaviour or their way of acting and relating to it. Avoidance is clearly not a long-term solution; not talking about the problem is not going to make it disappear and on the contrary, can extend and deepen it. So if you’re travelling with someone in the grip of aerophobia – that is, fear of flying – the key words are understanding and empathy. And here are several pieces of advice:

Listen and Empathise with the Situation 


Active listening is listening to everything that the person with aerophobia wants to say, such as how they feel, how they experience the fear, what happens inside them, and so forth. This provides a lot of information, so you can create a comforting space to help them manage the insecurities they’re feeling and empathise with their anxiety and fear. Validate everything they feel. Don’t make light of it so that the person tries to cover up or run away from the problem. Sometimes talking about it helps rationalise the process more, and they may be able to work through it. 

And if you see someone showing phobic behaviours in a certain situation, don’t wait for them to tell you, take the initiative and ask. This can be of great help since not everyone expresses themselves in the same way or talks about it openly. 

Learn What to Do When Panic Strikes


First off, the most important thing to do is stay calm. Don’t let yourself be affected by the panic that person is experiencing, and never leave them alone; the person needs to feel that you’re not going to abandon them, and your physical presence can help transmit peace and tranquillity. You should also never minimise what they’re feeling and going through; this would only fuel their fear and make the situation worse because they don’t feel understood. And while it’s important to ask them how they are and what they feel, don’t get too insistent, as repetitive questions can lead to increased anxiety. 

Introduce Controlled Exposure to Phobic Environments 


You need to be aware that phobias occur in specific situations. In this case, aerophobia would occur throughout the entire flight process, from the moment the person buys the ticket, then packs their bags, then at the airport and of course during the flight itself. Accompanying the person while they go through controlled exposures can be a great help to them in learning how to manage their phobia. It’s recommended that these exposures/processes are proposed and supervised by a psychologist so that they can guide you in how to make the exposure gradual and measured.  

Set Goals 


Please be aware that a phobia can be overcome, it is possible. It’s also necessary to understand that it’s a slow process – but even so, one which will provide the person with the tools to deal with it. As they progress, they’ll build on solid foundations that will give them the necessary security to face phobias or fears.  In the case of aerophobia, the goal is overcoming it by learning to manage the nervousness of packing a suitcase, buying tickets, and getting on the flight. It also means evaluating, with the support of a professional, which moments generate the most fear and learning how to manage them.  

Attitude as a Tool of Understanding 


Attitude is a key part of dealing with a situation like this. But you don’t have to take on more than necessary. You shouldn avoid being overprotective, and not  become overly responsible, involved, and must set certain limits so the person who suffers from aerophobia also understands that it’s their responsibility, their fear, and that they must work on it themselves. You can be there to listen to and support them, but they have the last word.

Lastly, and cruicially, you should value and celebrate the advances that the person achieves, no matter how small they may seem. Respect their timing and encourage them to keep it up. You can also be a great support when they falter and want to give up; when they see no way out, remind them that they can do it, that it is possible to overcome their phobia.