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Overcome the Fear of Flying with VR Therapy: Charlotte’s Story

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Have you ever felt nervous about getting on a plane and flying thousands of feet up in the air? You're not alone! This fear of flying, also called aviophobia or aerophobia, is pretty common. It affects a lot of people, from mild discomfort to really scary panic attacks.


Let me give you an example:


“I remember the first time I flew on an airplane. I was a young girl, traveling with my family to visit my grandparents in another state. I was filled with excitement and anticipation as I boarded the plane. However, as soon as the plane took off, my excitement quickly turned to fear. The turbulence and unfamiliar sensations made me feel like I was trapped in an enclosed space with no escape. That experience stayed with me, and as I grew older, the thought of flying would fill me with anxiety and fear.” oVRcome user Charlotte, 52, says.

“For years, I let my fear of flying control my life. I would avoid it at all costs, even if it meant missing out on important events or opportunities. I felt like I was trapped, unable to live my life to the fullest because of my fear. That was until I decided to confront my fear head-on and seek help.”

So, what's behind this fear of flying? Is it irrational? Well, it's actually a complex issue that can stem from different sources, such as a traumatic experience, lack of information or understanding about flying, or just feeling out of control. It's important to remember that everyone's experience with fear of flying is different, and there's no shame in seeking help or resources to overcome it.


Why the Fear of Flying is So Common and Impactful in Daily Life


The fear of flying, or aviophobia, is a common phobia that affects many people around the world. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 6.5% of the U.S. population experiences aviophobia (NIMH, 2020). The fear of flying can range from mild nervousness to full-blown panic attacks and can greatly impact a person's life. It can lead to limitations on travel and opportunities, strained relationships with friends and family, and even physical health effects such as stress and anxiety.



Reasons Behind the Fear of Flying


There are many reasons why someone might develop a fear of flying. Here some examples:


  • Having had a previous bad experience while flying. For example, turbulence or a mechanical issue can cause someone to feel uneasy about flying in the future. Imagine being on a flight where the turbulence is so severe that it causes the plane to drop suddenly. This kind of experience can trigger a lasting fear of flying.

  • The fear of heights or enclosed spaces. For those who already fear these things, being in a small, bounded space high in the air can be especially terrifying. For example, Emily, 45, has always had a fear of heights and enclosed spaces. She remembers feeling nervous and uneasy the first time she went up in a tall building with her friends. When her boss asked her to travel to a conference in another state, she was excited about the opportunity but also apprehensive about the flight. During the flight, she felt trapped and uneasy, and the feeling of being so high in the air only intensified her fear.

  • Feeling anxious on planes due to a lack of control or feeling trapped in an enclosed space.

  • Negative media coverage of air accidents can contribute to the perception that flying is unsafe, which can increase fear and anxiety for some individuals.

  • The unfamiliar and unpredictable nature of flying can trigger feelings of anxiety and fear for some people. For instance, turbulence can be especially frightening for those who are not used to it.



The Risks of Flying: Are You Overestimating the Dangers?


When it comes to flying, one of the biggest causes of fear is the risk of accidents and falls. However, statistics show that flying is actually one of the safest forms of transportation. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 188,364, compared to 1 in 103 of dying in a car accident. In fact, the odds of dying in a plane crash are so low that you would have to fly every day for 55,000 years to have a fatal crash.


How Our Thoughts Affect Our Fears: Understanding How We Think Can Impact What Scares Us


Despite the low risk of accidents, fear of flying persists for many individuals. This is because fear is not always rational. Fear is often based on perception rather than reality. In the case of flying, fear may be influenced by a range of factors such as media coverage of airplane accidents, personal experiences, and cultural beliefs.


Many people are still afraid of flying despite the low risk of accidents. This is because fear is not always rational: it is often based on perception rather than reality. In the case of flying, fear can be influenced by a number of factors, such as media coverage of air accidents, personal experiences, and cultural beliefs.


But what can be done to overcome this anxiety? Understanding the role of perception in fear is an important first step. In addition, there are effective techniques and strategies to manage your anxiety and relax while flying. Find out how to overcome your fear of flying and enjoy all the benefits of air travel.


Conquer Your Fear of Flying: How Exposure Therapy Can Help You Overcome It


According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), exposure therapy is considered the gold standard for overcoming the fear of flying (APA, 2019). Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing an individual to the source of their fear, in this case, flying, in a controlled and safe environment. With the guidance of a mental health professional, individuals can face their fears, learn coping strategies to manage their anxiety, and reclaim their lives. You can find out more about this topic checking out: “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: A modern way forward”


For individuals who suffer from fear of flying, exposure therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the person to their fear in a safe and controlled environment. By doing so, the person learns that their fear is not justified and their brain is able to rewire its response to flying. This type of therapy can be done in-person or using virtual reality tools, such as the “Virtual Flight Experience” by Virgin Atlantic, and has been shown to be successful in reducing fear of flying in a majority of cases.


Defeat Fears with Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy


Research suggests that virtual reality exposure therapy can be effective in helping people overcome their fears. Studies have shown success rates ranging from 60% to 90% in treating various phobias, including the fear of flying (Stewart & Chambless, 2009). However, the success of the therapy can depend on various factors such as the severity of the phobia, the level of immersion in the virtual environment, the duration of the therapy, and the skills of the therapist conducting the sessions. Therefore, it is important to consult with a mental health professional who can assess your specific situation and provide individualized treatment.


Virtual reality exposure therapy is a modern approach to exposure therapy for fear of flying. This treatment involves the use of virtual reality technology to simulate the experience of flying. Patients are gradually exposed to different aspects of flying, such as turbulence and takeoff, while learning to manage anxiety. The therapy is conducted in a controlled environment, with a mental health professional present to provide support and guidance.


One example is the oVRcome virtual reality exposure therapy for fear of flying. oVRcome has helped people overcome their fear of flying, as well as other anxieties and phobias. Many people used the app and were able to overcome their fears, such as Wendy, 34, who says: “Wonderful Experience. This app has had quite a profound impact on my overall anxiety. I use it everyday. The grounding techniques within the app have had more of a positive impact on my anxiety than therapy ever has. Definitely recommend for all levels and types of phobias and anxiety."


Virtual reality exposure therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing fear and anxiety associated with flying (Rizzo, Kim, & Parsons, 2007). Advantages of this therapeutic approach include a safe and controlled environment, gradual exposure, and the ability to practice coping strategies. Virtual reality exposure therapy is a valuable tool for those who wish to overcome their fear of flying.


A Personal Tale of Irrational Fear


oVRcome user Charlotte, 52, tells about her experience and how she was able to overcome her fear.

Growing up, I had always been fascinated by airplanes and the idea of traveling to far-off destinations. However, my first experience flying as a young girl changed all of that. The turbulence and unfamiliar sensations during that flight filled me with fear and anxiety, and from that moment on, the thought of flying would fill me with dread.


As I grew older, my fear of flying became more and more intense. I would avoid flying at all costs, even if it meant missing out on important events or opportunities. My fear was irrational and out of proportion to the actual risks associated with flying. But no matter how much I tried to rationalize my fear, I couldn't shake the intense anxiety and panic that would grip me at the thought of flying.


I felt like I was trapped, unable to live my life to the fullest because of my fear. I missed out on visiting family members who lived far away, on exciting vacations, and on new experiences that I always dreamed of. My fear of flying controlled my life, and I felt helpless to do anything about it.


I decided to take control of my life and overcome my fear of flying with the help of virtual reality exposure therapy. I was hesitant at first, but when my friend sent me over this academic test measuring severity of aerophobia, I knew I needed to get serious about it because I scored in the “extreme” range!


I talked to my therapist about this. With her guidance, I learned that virtual reality exposure therapy was a safe and controlled way for me to face my fears.


During my therapy sessions, I was gradually exposed to different aspects of flying, such as takeoff and turbulence, using virtual reality technology. My therapist was there to provide support and guidance as I learned coping strategies to manage my anxiety. The controlled environment allowed me to practice these strategies in a safe and supportive environment.

At first, I was nervous and anxious during my virtual reality exposure therapy sessions. However, as I continued to practice and use the coping strategies I had learned, I began to feel more and more confident. I was able to face my fears and overcome my anxiety. Eventually, I was able to do the VR exposure at home on my own with the oVRcome app, which was a lot more convenient and cost-saving for me.


The virtual reality exposure therapy was a valuable tool for me in overcoming my fear of flying. The gradual exposure and ability to practice coping strategies allowed me to build confidence and learn to manage my anxiety. I was able to reclaim my life and live it to the fullest, free from the limitations imposed by my fear of flying.


I am grateful for my experience with virtual reality exposure therapy and the impact it has had on my life. I encourage anyone struggling with a fear of flying to consider virtual reality exposure therapy as a tool for overcoming their fear and reclaiming their life.


The Fear of Flying is Not Always Rational, But It Can Be Overcome


“While the fear of flying may not always be rational, it is a real and often debilitating experience for many individuals. However, with the right tools and support, it is possible to overcome it and enjoy the benefits of air travel.” Charlotte adds.

“Facing your fear of flying can be a daunting task, but it is possible with the help of a mental health professional or exposure therapy at home. By gradually exposing themselves to the source of their fear and learning coping strategies, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety and live a fulfilling life, free from the limitations imposed by aviophobia.

Just like I did, you too can take control of your life and overcome your fear of flying and reclaim your life. Don't let your fear of flying control your life any longer. Take control and live life to the fullest.”




References:

  1. Rasmussen, K. G., & Sandman, P. M. (2016). Fear and anxiety: Evolutionary, cognitive, and clinical perspectives. In E. Harmon-Jones & J. S. Beer (Eds.), Methods in Social Neuroscience (pp. 275-297). Guilford Press.

  2. Rothbaum, B. O., Hodges, L. F., Kooper, R., Opdyke, D., Williford, J. S., & North, M. (1995). Effectiveness of computer-generated (virtual reality) graded exposure in the treatment of acrophobia

  3. Maples-Keller, J. L., Bunnell, B. E., Kim, S. J., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2017). The use of virtual reality technology in the treatment of anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Harvard review of psychiatry, 25(3), 103–113. https://doi.org/10.1097/hrp.0000000000000138

  4. American Psychological Association. (2019). Exposure therapy: What it is and how it works. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/exposure-therapy

  5. National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Phobias. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/phobias/index.shtml

  6. Rizzo, A., Kim, G., & Parsons, T. (2007). Virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety and related disorders: A meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(6), 561-569.

  7. Stewart, R. E., & Chambless, D. L. (2009). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult anxiety disorders in clinical practice: A meta-analysis of effectiveness studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77(4), 595–606. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016032




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