From a Teen’s Perspective: Aviophobia and me

by Dylan Lanier on June 12, 2023

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, aviophobia is “intense fear or dislike of flying.” However, I beg to differ. As my grandpa once aptly put it, “You’re not afraid of flying. You’re afraid of falling.”

Up to 40% of Americans experience aviophobia, and I’ve been one of them for as long as I can remember. I can vividly imagine that feeling of takeoff, fingers wrapped around the armrests while I try to smile through gritted teeth. At this point, even though I’ve learned that there’s a much higher chance of a car crash than a plane crash, and that only two people have died on U.S. air carriers in over 10 years, I still can’t shake the anxiety.

I know there are many ways to deal with aviophobia. Personally, my fear of flying is rooted in a deep need for control, so self-medication — taking my experience out of my own hands — would just cause more stress. However, I’ve tried numerous other coping mechanisms to ease the worries. I’ve used breathing techniques, positive self-talk, and a slew of other Internet tips (look up “fear of flying advice” and you’ll get the gist).

Today, I don’t want to talk about coping. Like I said, there’s plenty of articles on the subject already. Instead, I want to explore what my fear of flying has taught me about handling anxiety.

I am extremely fortunate to get to travel multiple times a year. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, and, of course, trying delicious new foods. That being said, I still dread the flights.

When I was younger, my fear was certainly more intense. Everytime I stepped onto the plane, all I could think about was the “what if?” What if there’s turbulence? What if I want to leave? The man-made fragility and even moreso the inescapability of the winged metal tube haunted me.

I used books, electronics, and card games with my family to distract myself, and I was typically fine by the time we hit our cruising altitude. However, every jolt of the plane re-directed me towards my perceived plight once more.

My parents handled my fear in the best way possible — largely ignoring it. While they would help distract me on the flights and always comforted me when I was getting scared, they never gave me a way out. If we were travelling, I was flying, end of story. I was forced to face my fear over and over, which, as any therapist knows, is often the best way to deal with it.

Exposing myself to the uncomfortability may not have made me completely comfortable on a plane, but it did make me completely comfortable with being uncomfortable. Once I had plenty of successful flights under my belt, I could easily counter the anxious thoughts by bringing out the data — every time I’d worried about flying, nothing had gone wrong.

As I grew older, the more familiar I was with the butterflies in my gut, and soon enough I understood my worry as just another part of traveling — nothing to pay any extra attention to. And as I stopped paying attention, it stopped popping up in the first place. I learned that giving into anxiety only makes it worse.

Everyone has worries at some point in their life. The sooner you recognize that anxiety is a temporary and surmountable feeling — despite how it feels in the moment — the sooner you can work through your fears and build a mental muscle for handling them in the future.

Every now and then, my aviophobia re-emerges like an old friend, and while I acknowledge it, I have faith in my ability to remain calm and overcome it. I’m grateful to have had an early education in managing my anxiety, and I now know that no matter what life throws at me, I have the strength and skills to succeed and maintain my peace of mind.

From a Teen’s Perspective is a weekly column contributed by Dylan Lanier who will be a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School in August.

Stock photo for illustrative purposes

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