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Fly without Fear: How Virtual Reality Therapy Can Help You Overcome Anxiety

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Have you ever felt a knot in your stomach before boarding a plane? Have you ever canceled a trip or missed important events because of fear of flying? If yes, you are not alone. Fear of flying, also known as aviophobia or aerophobia, affects about 2.9 to 6.5 percent of the world's population (Barlow, 2002). This phobia can be a significant source of anxiety and stress, but with the right tools and resources it can be overcome.


"I was once one of the many people who struggled with aviophobia. The idea of being in a metal tube flying above the clouds filled me with dread. I would get panic attacks at the mere thought of getting on a plane." confesses John, 46, oVRcome user. "My fear of flying was so strong that it affected my personal and professional life. I was missing important events and opportunities because I was too afraid to fly.


However, I was determined to overcome my fear. I started by informing myself about the causes of aviophobia and ways to manage it. I learned statistics and facts about air travel safety, which helped me realize that flying is actually much safer than driving (National Safety Council, 2019). I also talked to a therapist who specializes in treating phobias, and together we worked on developing strategies to manage my anxiety while flying."



Taking Off: How Fear of Flying Affects Your Mental Health and Well-Being


Fear of flying can have a significant impact on a person's mental health. It can lead to feelings of panic, anxiety, and stress, not just while flying but also in the days and weeks leading up to a flight (Barlow, 2002). In some cases, the fear of flying can become so intense that it interferes with daily activities and causes significant distress.


The Causes of Fear of Flying


Many things can make someone scared of flying. Sometimes it's because of something bad that happened on a previous flight, or maybe someone close to them had a bad experience flying. Other times, people are scared because they feel like they don't have any control over what's happening when they're up in the air. And then there are people who just don't like the idea of not knowing what's going to happen when they're flying. These are all normal reasons to be afraid of flying, and lots of people feel the same way (Barlow, 2002).


Overcoming Fear of Flying: Tips and Strategies


If you're someone who's scared of flying, don't worry, there are ways to manage your anxiety and overcome your fear. Here are a few strategies you can try:


  1. Talk to a Mental Health Professional: Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be a great way to work through your fears. They can provide a safe space for you to talk about your worries and teach you coping techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach that helps you identify negative thoughts and behaviors related to flying and teaches you how to replace them with positive ones. Your therapist can also teach you relaxation techniques and breathing exercises that you can use during flights.

  2. Try Gradual Exposure: Gradual exposure involves slowly exposing yourself to your fear. For those afraid of flying, start by taking short flights and then gradually increasing the duration over time. Additionally, visit airports to get comfortable with the environment and observe planes taking off and landing. With time, you'll build confidence and overcome your fear.

  3. Learn About Air Travel Safety: Learning about air travel safety can provide peace of mind and reduce your anxiety. Educate yourself about statistics and facts surrounding air travel safety. Knowing that flying is a safe mode of transportation can be reassuring. Additionally, learning about the safety measures in place, such as backup systems, emergency protocols, and aircraft maintenance can give you a sense of control and reduce your anxiety.

  4. Try Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: Programs specifically designed to help people overcome their fear of flying like oVRcome are a low-cost, at-home way to get the same results as going to a psychologist for traditional exposure therapy. By using virtual reality technology, users can practice coping techniques and gain exposure to flight-related triggers in a safe and controlled environment, leading to increased confidence and reduced anxiety when flying in real life.

Need more tips on how to overcome the fear of flying? Check out: "How to Get Over The Fear of Flying: 11 Tips to Reduce Anxiety."


My Path To Overcoming Anxiety with VR Therapy And Finally Taking Off


Liam, 34, oVRcome user, tells his story and how he was able to overcome his fear of flying:


“In my own journey to overcome aviophobia, I decided to give Virtual Reality a try. Virtual reality has been gaining popularity as a tool for managing anxiety and phobias, including fear of flying. VR allows individuals to experience realistic simulations of feared situations in a safe and controlled environment. This can help them overcome their fears and reduce their anxiety.” Liam reveals.


“I found a VR program, such as oVRcome, that was specifically designed to help people overcome their fear of flying. The program provided me with a virtual experience of flying in a plane, including takeoff, turbulence, landing – and one of my worst fears – people freaking out around me during turbulence! This allowed me to face my fears and work through my anxiety in a safe and controlled environment.


One of the key benefits of VR for overcoming aviophobia is that it provides a sense of control. When you are in a virtual environment, you have the ability to pause, adjust, or exit the experience at any time. This sense of control can help reduce anxiety and make it easier to face your fears. Additionally, VR allows individuals to experience realistic simulations of flying without actually being in a real plane. This can help desensitize them to the fear-provoking stimulus and reduce their anxiety over time.


Another benefit of VR for overcoming aviophobia is that it provides immediate feedback. For example, if you experience an episode of anxiety during the virtual flight, the program can help you identify the triggers and work on developing coping strategies to manage your anxiety in the future. This can be incredibly valuable, as it allows individuals to work through their fears and develop effective coping strategies in a safe and controlled environment.


In my own experience, using VR to help overcome my fear of flying was incredibly effective. The virtual experience allowed me to face my fears in a safe and controlled environment, and the immediate feedback helped me identify and manage my triggers. Over time, I found that my anxiety was reduced and my confidence in flying increased.


I am happy to say that I have now overcome my fear of flying and can travel without any anxiety. It took time and effort, but it was worth it. I am now able to enjoy the many benefits of air travel and have been able to attend important events and visit new places that I would have otherwise missed out on.”


A Successful Journey to Fearless Flight


Overcoming aviophobia is a journey that requires time and effort, but it is possible with the right tools and resources. By seeking professional help, gradually exposing yourself to flying, focusing on the present moment, using deep breathing and relaxation techniques, and educating yourself about air travel safety, you can effectively manage your anxiety and overcome your fear of flying.


It's important to remember that you are not alone in this journey and that help is available. With dedication and a willingness to face your fears, you can experience the joy and freedom of air travel without the burden of anxiety. Whether it's visiting new destinations, attending important events, or simply enjoying the convenience of air travel, overcoming your fear of flying will open up a world of possibilities. So take the first step. You can see if a fear of flying affects you by doing this 3-minute tests psychologists use. You can seek help, whether professional or app-based if you prefer convenience, and begin your journey to a fearless flight experience today.




References:

  1. Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic. Guilford Press.

  2. Gallagher, M.W., Bentley, K.H. & Barlow, D.H. (2014). Perceived Control and Vulnerability to Anxiety Disorders: A Meta-analytic Review. Cogn Ther Res 38, 571–584. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-014-9624-x

  3. National Safety Council. (2019). Injury Facts 2019. National Safety Council.

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